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 isn’t 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 people flying a lot of 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. I would like to see ALL of those voices who seek change and reform to find One Voice and use it.

Why is the Death penalty or Life sentences more offensive to a person than sentences of 30 years or more? A Death sentence with numbers is OK, but use the words Death or Life and it’s a cause to back. Here’s reality, a Death sentence is a death sentence NO MATTER how it’s served, on Death row, with a Life sentence, or with an Excessive sentence, ALL of whom are likely to die while incarcerated.

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

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

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

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 ANY issue I discuss, I apologize in advance.

I would like to give you a brief legal history about myself, and why I feel I have an Excessive sentence, or why I received it.

I was 22 when I was arrested for a crime I committed. My ONLY adult crimes prior to that were for car thefts which I had received 6 months time served and five, 5 year probations. As a juvenile I had burglaries and thefts, but NO cases of violence (assaults and such).

The charges for my crime were; Burglary, 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 received a sentence of 43½-87 years.

At my sentencing I knew I was going to prison, wishing to lessen the pain on my loved ones I did at speak up. I also decided to not let my family or lawyer speak on my behalf. I had two reasons for this; First because I felt it would lessen the pain on my loved ones, and Secondly because I thought I wouldn’t receive much more than the deal I was offered.

I was wrong on ALL accounts. I knew I did wrong and I should’ve spoken up about the remorse I had for my victims and for the regret I felt for committing that crime. My thinking was “Just rip off the band-aid and get it over with”. What I didn’t realize is that the Judge viewed that more as defiance and not being remorseful. So I DIDN’T receive a sentence that would Rehabilitate and return me to society.

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 at getting it.

That applies to this topic in the fact that, we are expected to change, better ourselves, and prepare for possible release. We’re told change for the better and better things will happen for us. The “carrot” is dangled, do this and you have a chance at that (commutation/parole).

The problem is most of us meet and exceed those expectations with no real benefits. There are not more of us making commutation/parole. Rumor has it that there was a case recently where a person did nothing but work and stay out of trouble, he received commutation. I’m HAPPY for him, but how about all of those who aren’t allowed to get a bite of the “carrot”? We receive a prescriptive program letting us know WHAT we need to do to have a chance at a lower custody level, to work, even make parole, or that it will look good for commutation when it comes up. Like I said MOST exceed what is asked of is 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’s asked of you. Guest what, it really doesn’t matter because out of the thousands who do file for commutation, how many receive anything? Maybe 1%, 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 while 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 things for the right reasons. Then when it comes to commutation/parole it’s easier to see who is deserving of such things.

How long can you dangle the same “carrot” before its realized that its just a trick?

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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