Second Chance

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Since I have been in this prison I have noticed something that’s been heavy on my heart: The number of gray-haired “hard-core” criminals locked up here, serving long prison terms.

I have also noticed the difference in thinking among the young prisoners — those with no gray in their hair — and the older inmates. About this time every year the youngsters sit around the television set or wait to hear from attorneys concerning the latest on the “Second Chance Act.” There is supposed to be a rule or law out there somewhere that says if a prisoner shows signs of being reformed he could possibly be released and have a second chance to prove he can be a good, law-abiding citizen. So among the younger prisoners there is some excitement, starting in September, that Congress will pass retroactive laws to reduce their sentences and permit early release. They are hoping for a second chance.

The older inmates I’ve met know there are no second chances. There is no “Second Chance Act” and the chance that the laws will be changed is zero. The sad part is that there are people in a minimal-security facilities like this serving sentences of 10 years or more. These people are not Al Capones, terrorists, murderers, violent criminals, child porno kings or any other type of heinous criminals. These are people who committed conspiracy crimes or other “white collar” non-violent offenses.

Take the case of a former pastor from around Cleveland, Tenn. He was accused of conspiracy to buy drugs. He protested his innocence. According to him he even confronted the prosecutor who offered him a plea bargain. He said he told the prosecutor, “You know I have done nothing wrong.” According to him the prosecutor replied, “That will be up to a jury to decide, won’t it?”

Now the State of Tennessee had already investigated and found nothing out of the ordinary. But the federal prosecutor told him to “either accept the plea bargain or we will go after your son.” The prosecutor also bragged that he had “a couple of convicted federal criminals who are very good at testifying in court. And those men will swear they supplied you with drugs.” My friend, the pastor, pleaded guilty to protect his son. He did not have the money to fight the charge.

This pastor’s family visited him recently. He has a sick wife wife back home, children and grandkids. This 63-year-old man is also sickly. He lost his vision in one eye while in prison and if something isn’t done soon, he may lose vision in his other eye. This man also suffers from vertigo, and no one here apparently knows how to treat it.

This brought to mind two verses in Proverbs. Proverbs 19:5 says, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies will not escape.” Proverbs 14:25 says,  “A true witness delivers souls, but a deceitful witness speaks lies.” I wonder how many times these reliable/unreliable witnesses have been used to put innocent people in prison.

There is no second chance for him. Only five years or more of uncertainty.

Then there is an almost 80-year-old “hard-core” criminal who has already served over eight years here. This “dangerous to society” criminal was charged with a crime after he refused to help government prosecutors get evidence his son had committed a crime. Prosecutors felt his son was breaking some law related to his business. They wanted the father to gather information on the son. He refused to “rat out” his child. So at the age of 71 he gets a long prison term. Prosecutors had to get somebody.

So once again justice has been served. Our streets are safer. Oh, yeah, the son is still doing business. No charges against him for anything. But for dad — there is no Second Chance Act for him. He’s too old, anyway.

Then there is the 85-plus-year-old man whose only mistake is that he loaned his son some money. The son used the money to buy illegal drugs. So dad gets convicted on a conspiracy charge, as a drug kingpin! One less gray-haired old drug dealer out on the street. Our communities are safer. No Second Chance. Just an old man getting what he deserved. Right!

It’s amazing. At this prison camp, you have first-time or non-violent criminals locked up for long periods of time. It’s even more amazing that these are old men convicted of all sorts of conspiracy violations.

And it gets worse as I listen at night to the continuous coughing of another “dangerous” inmate from Florida. He has lung disease. He is just another sick old man. A non-violent criminal who has already served 11 years.

A lot of the younger offenders are looking at Congress to change the laws and give them one more chance. The older guys have heard Eric Holder and other U.S. attorney generals discuss changes that never took place. And they have waited as Congress has debated and debated yet done nothing. They know the drill. It made the politicians feel better, but that’s all.

The spirits of the inmates rise or fall based on what they hear on radio, from the attorneys, or on the television. It’s a sad thing to observe.

Well, at least I know I am guilty of my Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud charge. I got 46 months at the age of 62. I may be old enough for a second chance when I get out. I won’t need Congress to help me. But I will need an employer. Back in the 1970s there were television ads encouraging employers to hire older workers. The ad said we had a wealth of knowledge and figures showed we missed fewer days of work.

And since I will be on Medicare, I won’t drive up your group insurance rates either. (Smile)

*****

Email comments to bernardaddison@outlook.com or write him at the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp at:

Bernard Addison/ 44863-074/ FPC-Atlanta; Dorm D/ P.O. Box 150160/ Atlanta, GA 30315.

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