Ron Givens to carry messages from UNION families on prisons 3 strikes law to New Zealand Speaking tour of New Zealand begins May 12, 2010
Rev. Ron Givens, one on our most dynamic UNION members, will educate the people of New Zealand about the absolute financial and humanitarian destruction that the Three Strikes Law has caused to Californians
I really dread opening my email. After 12 years of taking complaints from 33 California prisons and helping scores of grieving families find lawyers for wrongful death lawsuits, I never have less than 27,000 emails in my inbox. The regular mail that is sent from desperate people each week is equivalent to ten grocery bags full. The problem is that there is no place in the bureaucracy to go for help in a life and death emergency, and because a prisoner dies every day. and we have sometimes won lawsuits in the past, my inbox is always overflowing.
A few weeks ago though, I received an email that was not the usual person looking for a rescue. It was from a high profile lawyer in New Zealand named Peter Williams, QC (Queen´s Counsel, the most senior level of attorney/barrister) asking me if I could do a speaking tour right away to help prevent the passage of the Three Strikes Law. You see, the Tories, equivalent to our Republicans, are telling all the people in New Zealand that the Three Strikes Law is a big success in California. They argue that because no legislation is being carried forward to amend 3 strikes and the people affected aren´t even marching, organizing and posting beneath news articles in great numbers that everyone is happy with this draconian law. The decadent Tories are taking that silence and using it as a selling tool for passing a similar law to the horrible one that we have here in California. Barrister Williams and the visionary Howard League appealed for my help since the UNION members are the most outspoken in the news media.
I am totally booked up until June with commitments and, sadly, couldn't break away. I could certainly use an all-expense paid vacation to such a beautiful country as New Zealand after twelve years of one stressful day after another watching the bodies stack up at my feet but too much could go wrong with the vital lawsuits in progress in my absence. However, an appeal to help save an entire country because our citizens are too quiet about such widespread devastation taking place is not one that a responsible US citizen should ignore.
Plus, I was so impressed with the earnestness of Barrister Williams, a noted freedom-fighter and the people of the Howard League in New Zealand who surround him, that I agreed to send Rev. Ron Givens, one on our most dynamic UNION members, to tell them about the absolute financial and humanitarian destruction that the Three Strikes Law has caused to our State.
Rev. Givens´ experience as the past director of the State Chaplain´s Association, which has been hurt by all the firings of prison chaplains, and his many years of appearing before the legislature with and for me, his educational background and other experience makes him the perfect choice. I feel confident that he will do as well or even better than I in explaining what happened and why the law still exists, even though it is far more cruel than the one just passed around illegal immigrants in Arizona that brought such an outcry from our lawmakers this week.
Rev. Givens will begin a rigorous speaking tour in New Zealand on May 12 bringing the stories of how the law passed based on lies and he will be sharing letters written by our UNION families and professionals about the injustices that took place in their cases. We are working on the Power Point presentation now. With the legalization of cannabis in the news, I am wondering if anyone out there was sentenced to prison for life due to simple possession of marijuana and/or some tiny amount of drugs? If so please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can include that story too.
If you lost a loved one to a three strikes sentence and you are not a UNION member, but would like to have our Ambassador Rev. Givens share your letter warning the people of New Zealand not to pass this law, please do feel free to send it to me. Letters are also welcome from people working within the system or from those who have retired. School teachers have been fired, entire neighborhoods have been wiped out but the Three Strikes Law lives on. We, the people, are the Government but only if we do the work of organizing and taking the right action at the right time. There will be no rescue except by we, the people, through the initiative process which requires at least one million dollars and 6500 actual field workers just to get it launched.
These articles at the links below that I wrote were published in various magazines in newspapers from 1998 to about 2002. The history of what happened and what was done or not done about it by we, the people, is very important for the New Zealanders to understand. You can help save a country who thinks that all of you are satisfied with the three strikes law since you haven't set up a large enough voting group to change it.
People in other countries and those making decisions only read what is posted beneath articles at news sites. If there aren't rallies and lots of posts on criminal justice, they assume everyone is happy.
Are you happy? No? Then please keep up with your posting beneath news articles, recruiting new people to the UNION to be trained as activists, voter registration and always be prepared to show up and bring people when one of our lawsuits needs support or a position needs to be taken against injustice. No one feels sorry for inactive or silent people. We must organize and fight to change laws, file lawsuits and elect the right people to office in the first place via voter registration. Vote for no one taking money from law enforcement labor unions if you want to see prison and criminal justice reform. This includes all of the Republicans and several of those who pretend to be Democrats. This part is our job as citizens, otherwise the punishers get into power.
Here are a few of the letters from UNION members so far.
To The People of New Zealand:
I do not have a loved one in prison but my life has been affected by the Three Strikes Law. At the time it was passed, I never dreamed that one day I would be let go from my job as a school teacher so that prison guards could be paid instead of me.
I was trusting that our elected representatives would protect education, services for the disabled and other critical programs. Instead they passed more stiff laws that lock people up for minor reasons and now our education programs are slashed. There is little rehabilitation taking place in the prisons and almost no money spent on the prevention of mental illness.
The prisoners are little more than slaves who grind eye glasses, build furniture for the bureaucracy, harvest almonds and 75% of the firefighters are inmates working for $1 an hour. The prison industry fueled by laws like three strikes and Jessica's law is the largest in our State.
The very sad part is that the prisoners will remain slaves until enough of their family members set up the voting block necessary to change such a law. It is taking a very long time for people at the lower levels of society to learn that they have the power to do this. In the meantime, our economy is destroyed so that prison guards with very little education can earn about four times more than we as citizens should be willing to pay.
A vote for three strikes could mean the end of your education and human services budgets, all going to the prisons. You may never be able to change the law if you allow it to get into place. Most educators that I know are planning to leave California.
To the People of New Zealand:
The 3 Strikes law was sold to us in California under false pretenses.
1. It was supposed to reduce crime:
a. crime had been reducing nationwide for several years before 3 strikes passed.
b. crime went down in California counties that used the law sparingly.
c. crime went down in states that did not pass a similar law.
2. It was intended for the career criminal:
a. 3 crimes can and often are charged for a single incident (example: A break in robbery with a weapon)
b. Prior crimes from years in the past count. (youthful crimes which the offended plea bargains to gain release)
c. California can charge a petty crime as a felony if the offender has a prior felony.
d. criminal activity decreases as people age with most crimes from late teens and before age 35. Incarcerate the reformed?
e. few noticed that there was a 2 strike penalty included that doubled sentences for a second felony.
f. fewer noticed that the parole board rarely approved the release of lifers so the 25 year minimum sentence can continue for decades longer.
3. What are the results of the law:
a. prison population has soared to 170,000 not one 3 striker is eligible for parole before the year 2019.
b. cells built to hold a single prisoner is expanded to 2. Women rooms went from 4 to 8 prisoners.
c. cost of incarceration in California has passed $10 Billion per year. 10% of the state budget, more than higher education.
d. medical care became so bad the Federal government has taken it over.
e. virtually no rehabilitation exists ergo a 70 percent recidivism rate for prisoners who can be released.
f. family breakdown.
g. one county District of Attorney´s office was rumored to have a contest for who could get a 3 strike conviction for the least offense.
h. The state is broke.
Politicians who promote the tough on crime legislation have passed 1,000 crime laws and enhancements in the last 30 years. The U.S. Supreme Court has members who state correctly that penalties have reached the point where we have sentences that are 5 to 7 times longer than the rest of the civilized world. The largest employer in California is the Department of Corrections, now over 60,000 very highly paid individuals. The lifers here are dependant upon a political board to obtain release. Politics is never a way to evaluate any person.
The law was supported by victims´ rights organizations some of which were financed by the guard´s union and even provided office space. The guards union also contributed large sums to promote the bill. Buyer´s remorse has set in, but those who benefit from the mistake fight tooth and nail to discredit any opposition to the draconian 3 Strikes law.
To the People of New Zealand:
I worked at San Quentin and Soledad prison for a number of years and I can tell you from firsthand experience that many inmates serving life sentences under California´s three strikes law suffer unjustly. In conversations with administrators and correctional officers, they often justified the law referring to the "broken window" theory of law enforcement. "We know these are bad guys so we're going to get them off the street anyway we can." I can´t speak with authority about all prisoners, but the men I worked with often had severe emotional problems as well as drug dependencies. Their third strikes were often attempts to get enough money to self-medicate. They needed help not incarceration.
Ron Greene, Ph.D.
You have a chance to help save an entire country with your participation and to possibly gain some exposure to the injustice in your own case. I will also be posting links in my daily newsletter once the speeches begin giving UNION members an opportunity to post beneath articles there.
The New Zealanders can´t understand why, if there are 3 million people related to a state prisoner, we are tolerating the three strikes law and allowing Conservatives to get elected in the first place. These are good questions.
B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in Journalism, Liberal Studies, and Humanities (Cultural Anthropology) she has focused on prison reform making great strides in Calif. supporting the landmark Plata-Coleman case for a decade which resulted in major prison reform. She writes scholarly articles too but prefers op-eds.