One Voice

by Jason Keag

1

I choose to call this One Voice based on a saying I often think of, which is;

All it takes is One Voice to reach the right ear and amazing things can happen. It doesn’t have to be the loudest or even the most educated voice. ALL it has to do is speak honestly and from the heart.

I have chosen to use my One Voice to talk about issues like; the Commutation process, Excessive sentences which in my view are Cruel & Unusual punishment, a “Second Chance” bill which is needed and why. I also feel a lot of these issues are misunderstood because of HOW they are explained.

Even though I’ve chosen to call this One Voice, I would like this to be a collective of voices. Like a choir, where a collective of voices become ONE powerful voice singing about the same song/ideas. I would like parolees, Local & State reps, and ALL others to be involved. Maybe then our One Voice can bring about the change that is needed.

There are many people who are fighting for the SAME causes & issues, IF all of them would become one and share information with each other maybe change could come around quicker for the tens of thousands of men & women who are incarcerated across Pennsylvania.

So I encourage everyone to share their knowledge and to pass on the knowledge that they’ve gained here in the hope that the right ear will hear our voice and bring about the change needed in our Criminal Justice system. We’ve seen that change CAN come when people and their voices are heard as one.

These issues I DO NOT base on race alone, I would base them more on social standings. The poor ALWAYS seem to pay the harshest punishments. That statement especially holds true in this day and age. It DOESN’T matter if you’re Black, Brown, White, or Other, IF you can afford the best defense, you WILL ALWAYS receive the best outcome.

What do I know, I am One Voice

2

There are MANY UNKNOWN VOICES speaking out for reform and change, to those UNSUNG HEROES I say THANK YOU. My voice is not famous enough to be heard in the White House or to be heard by team owners and such. I feel the ONLY way I can seek change or be heard is to share my voice with other’s causes or fight.

I see a lot of different people flying different flags for change. I also hear a lot of different arguments on why someone should join their fight, that is a lot of different voices saying how to seek change. It would be nice to see ALL of those voices that seek change and reform to find One Voice and use it.

Why are the Death penalty and Life sentences more offensive to a person than sentences of 30/40/50 years or more? A possible Death sentence with numbers is OK, but use the words Death or Life and it’s a cause to back. HERE’S THE REALITY; a Death sentence is a death sentence NO MATTER how it’s served, on Death row, with a Life or Excessive sentence, ALL of whom CAN die while incarcerated. NOT everyone receives that second chance NO MATTER what their may sentence be.

I know where to find the best ideas for for change and reform, they are found in the minds of the incarcerated men and women across Pennsylvania. Those ideas will most likely not be heard and when they are some people may try and claim them as their own for votes, notoriety, or whatever their cause may be.

If we changed the Criminal Justice system could we change the Death penalty, Life and Excessive sentences? We need change for ALL who may be sentenced in Pennsylvania in the future. We cannot say “there needs to be change” then not use our voice to get it. Find a platform, find your voice and use it. Seek change not JUST for a loved one or a friend but for the betterment of ALL who could get caught up in the Criminal Justice system.

WE AS A PEOPLE ARE BETTER THAN THE STATE AND JUSTICE SYSTEM PORTRAY US TO BE,

WE NEED LASTING CHANGE.

What do I know, I am One Voice

3

Let me state this, I DO NOT KNOW all there is to know about these issues. Everything I know comes from my decades of incarceration. I will talk about What I know of, heard, or experienced. I will do my best to make the most accurate statements I can. IF I make a misstatement about anything I discuss, I apologize in advance.

I would like to give you a brief history about myself and why I think I have an Excessive sentence. I was 22 when I was arrested for a crime I committed. My only adult crimes prior to that were for multiple Car thefts, I received 6 months and five, 5 year probations. As a Juvenile I had burglaries & thefts but NO cases of violence (assaults and such).

The charges for my current crime are; 2 Burglaries, 2 Aggravated Assaults, 2 Attempted Homicides, and Theft, ALL stemming from the same incident. I was offered a deal for 15-30 years, being young and misinformed I chose a jury trial. I was found guilty on all charges and at the age of 23 I was sentenced to 43½-87 years.

At my sentencing I knew I was going to prison, wishing to lessen the pain on my loved ones I did not speak up. I decided to not have my family or lawyer speak on my behalf. I had 2 reasons for this; First I felt it would lessen the pain on my loved ones, and Secondly I thought I WOULD NOT receive much more than the deal I was offered. My thinking was ” Just rip off the band-aid and get it over with”.

I was wrong on all accounts. I knew I did wrong and should have spoken up about the remorse I had for my victims, and for the regret I felt for committing that crime. What I did not realize at the time was the judge viewed that more as defiance than anything else. I did not receive a sentence that would Rehabilitate and prepare me for a return to society. My Rehabilitation came from my want to change and better myself not from my 40 year sentence.

Retribution or Rehabilitation what is or should a sentence be used for?

What do I know, I am One Voice

4

Let’s start with the obvious, IF a Long-term offender has filed it most likely means that their parole date won’t be reached for DECADES. Also I haven’t heard of any who have Homicides, but in reality they’re still serving Life sentences with numbers.

It is “suggested” that Long-term offenders should wait until they have at least half of their minimum sentence in before they file. I’ll use my sentence as an example; My sentence is 43½-87 years, I waited until I had about 23 years in before I filed for commutation, after 2½ years I was denied. I waited a year and refiled, I’ll wait about another 2½ years before it is heard, I’ll have about 28 years in then. Here’s the flip side to that coin, it is “suggested” that a person with a Life sentence wait until they have 20 years in.

Most of us doing long sentences that have filed have exhausted our appeals. Commutation is our last option for relief. I thought commutation was supposed to be used to show mercy to a person who has shown change. Is it mercy to have a person serve so much time that they are too old to even work if they’re released? That’s what happens to a lot of Long-term offenders because most DO NOT make commutation and have to wait for their parole date.

I AM BIAS because I am a Long-term offender. But see it through my eyes, I’m not eligible for parole until I am 66 years old. Commutation would allow me to be released in my 50’s, HOPEFULLY, giving me time to work and to have a positive impact on my community. IF I make my parole date, I will be paroled to what, a senior citizen’s home and will have to collect SSI. That will make me a further burden to the taxpayers. Does that make sense?

Who gains by not commuting Long-term offenders? Maybe the fear mongers, I’ll discuss them later on. So which is better commutation or make a person wait decades for parole? I’d say it’s obvious, BUT

What do I know, I am One Voice

5

We ALL know what the “carrot” means, something dangled in front of you with little or NO chance of reaching it. This applies to those that are incarcerated because, we are expected to change, better ourselves, and prepare for a life in society. We’re told to change for the better and better things will happen for us. The “carrot” is dangled, do this and you have a chance at that (Clemency/Parole).

The problem is most of is meet and exceed those expectations with no real benefits. There are not more of us making Commutation/Parole. There are very few that get a bite from the “carrot”, why not more? We are given prescriptive programs letting us know WHAT we need to do to have a chance at a lower custody level, to work, even make parole, we are also told it will look good when you go up for commutation. Like I have said MOST of us exceed what is asked of us because we chose to change and better ourselves.

It’s like a silent bully, you won’t get our vote for commutation/parole if you don’t do what is asked of you. Guess what, it doesn’t really matter because out of the thousands who seek relief how many receive any? As with commutation, MAYBE 8%, that can turn a “carrot” rotten quickly, but they keep dangling it though.

They need to stop dangling the “carrot” that way it would be a choice to change. Give a list of what you COULD do, not NEED to do while you’re incarcerated, let people choose. If they seek change and don’t know which things to attend, they can ask. This way there is NO “carrot” just a person doing the right ting for the right reasons. Then, when it comes time for Commutation/Parole it’s easier to see who is deserving of such things.

I will admit that remorse, empathy, acknowledgement of the crime you committed plays a BIG part in ALL decision made concerning your Commutation/Parole. What I am trying to say is create a better system with better chances for an individual to receive that second chance.

What do I know, I am One Voice

6

There are many little problems with the process. One of the BIGGEST ones are the fear mongers. I say that because when a person speaks of Commutation the FIRST thing they mention is, Reginald McFadden, the one person out of HUNDREDS that were commuted and committed another vicious crime. That is their ONLY real example, they fail to talk about ALL of the others who were commuted that have NOT returned. How about ALL of the Juvenile lifers who have been released, there is NO indication that they’re coming back to prison in droves.

Another problem is that there is NO criteria on how a person can be commuted. This goes back to my “carrot” statement, we exceed what’s asked of us but with no real benefit. There are 5 opinions voting on your possible release, all of which have their own criteria or reason for how they vote. I understand they’re there for the protection of the public. You can’t say that for that as many who file that there aren’t more people who deserve clemency. The fact is those who serve DECADES incarcerated have a LESS recidivism rate than ANY other population.

I feel there’s a problem with the letter you receive if you’re denied at your Merit review. The letter states ” The Board’s regulations do not require its members to state a reason for denying an application. All that is required is a review of the application and cast a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote”. If you don’t know WHAT you’re lacking, how can you further change? Especially since a majority have already exceeded what’s asked of them.

I felt Commutation/Clemency was/is based on; Justice has been served and mercy can be given. Looking out for Public safety and having Mercy should have a balance, look at ALL of those who have been commuted. HOW GOOD HAVE THEY DONE?

What do I know, I am One Voice

7

There are benefits for both sides IF people are commuted. First you lessen the prison populations which in turn can lessen your prison budget. You also lessen the burden on the State if a person is released before they’re 50 years or older because they can do more than JUST collect SSI. You can bring back to communities positive influences. Those men & women tend to volunteer or work to bring positive change to their communities. They speak with juveniles and first time offenders in the hope they can change their paths to something positive.

It benefits a community because you return a parent/parents back to their children/grandchildren which has multiple benefits. If we look at ALL of those men & women who have been commuted or released because of the Juvenile lifers bill, there is virtually NO recidivism for them. There is even an economic value, not only are they working and paying taxes/bills, the Public is not paying for their incarceration. There are plenty of benefits if people would just look for them.

As for this who are commuted, First and foremost they return to their family structure and loved ones. If it happens by the time they’re 50, they have about 20 years to work and build a 401k or whatever else they need for retirement. They pay into Social Security so they have it when the time comes and it’s needed. ALL of that lessens the burden on the State because they have the ability to “pay their own way”. For those who don’t have children they have the opportunity to have children and create a family of their own. They get a chance to speak with juveniles explaining to them the benefits of positive change, and WHY it’s best to stay away from criminal activity.

Positive changes SHOULD bring positive reward. MANY may argue against my point of view, I would say to them, LOOK at ALL of those who have been released after 20 years to see how well they’ve stayed out of prison.

What do I know, I am One Voice

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