By Glenn E. Martin published on Medium, October 30, 2018
On Labor Day 2017, Giovanni Jerry Reid of Philadelphia was released from Graterford Prison in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He had served 26 years of a life sentence without possibility of parole, imposed when he was only 16 years old. On that warm, sunny morning, as he took his very first steps as a free adult, Giovanni was greeted by his family, his friends, and his lawyer in an emotional reunion. Giovanni Reid is not the first, nor will he be the last “juvenile lifer” to leave prison behind. There is a quiet drama unfolding in Pennsylvania as more than 500 men and 10 women, many now in their 50s and 60s, are re-sentenced. Many will return to their communities. Read More Here
People rally in Harrisburg against life without parole
Thursday October 26, 2017 12:01 AM
HARRISBURG – To his mother, Felix Rosado, a Reading man serving a life sentence for a 1995 murder, is redemption personified, an example of why Pennsylvania’s 5,100 lifers should get a chance at parole.
In his 22 years in prison, Rosado has earned a liberal arts degree from Villanova University, and wants to be free to share his story with troubled youths, said Iris Drey of Reading, who visits her son twice a month at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, where he’s imprisoned.At the age of 18, Rosado pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for the shooting death of Hiep Q. Nguyen, 24, whose body was found in a car. Drey blames drugs and the wrong crowd as factors in her son’s life.Rosado has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that his attorney failed to tell him he could plead guilty to third-degree murder if he admitted to an “intoxication defense.”Lower courts have ruled against him, but his mother hopes two new bills introduced this week in the Pennsylvania Legislature will one day give her son a chance at parole, at freedom.
Drey joined a large crowd, mostly inmates’ families, at a rally Wednesday for the bills, one in the Senate and another in the House, that would give inmates serving life sentences a chance at parole after serving 15 years.Supporters say life sentences are inhuman, and deny inmates who are rehabilitated a chance to contribute to society. Freeing those inmates who deserve parole also would save taxpayers money, they say.Drey is certain her son, now 40, has shown that he has earned freedom.”He’s changed a lot,” she said. “He learned his lesson a long time ago, and he’s waiting for an opportunity to give back.”
Capitol Rotunda packed
The rally drew a large number of supporters, many of them members of the Philadelphia-based Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration. They filled the Capitol Rotunda and marched through the hallways, singing songs in an attempt to sway legislators.
Among the rally’s speakers were the legislators who are sponsoring the bills and Rosado, who has become one of the voices for reform. Speaking from a phone in cellblock B of Graterford and amplified by speakers into the Rotunda, Rosado decried the hopelessness of life in prison and “the unrecognized potential trapped behind prison walls.””Let’s do something different – let’s live, let us bring light instead of death,” he told the crowd. “We have damage to repair, and we’re ready to pull our sleeves up.”
Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of inmates serving life sentences, a number that defies society’s belief in redemption, said Sen. Sharif Street, a Philadelphia Democrat who is one of the sponsors a bill introduced Monday to allow for parole after 15 years behind bars.”There comes a point in time when people have to be forgiven,” Street said. “We have to be a society like all other civilized societies that understands redemption and correction is what our criminal justice system is for.”Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said that he hadn’t seen the bills. The association will review them and take a position in the future, he said.”
Our focus is to represent the victims and their families and also make certain that the defendants are held accountable for their actions,” Adams said. “This legislation seems to want to circumvent holding people accountable for their behavior.”Inmates currently can appeal for a commutation of their sentence by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, Adams said, though he acknowledged that commutations “apparently are rarely granted any longer.”
Twenty-five nations have declared life without parole unconstitutional, and parolees have low rates of recidivism, many becoming peer educators, according to the coalition.Taxpayers would save money if lifers who qualified for parole were to be freed, the coalition says: It costs an average of $42,000 a year to incarcerate someone in a Pennsylvania prison.”Maybe (life without parole) worked in old times, but now it’s the time to reevaluate this thing and see what works,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton, a Philadelphia Democrat who supports the House version of a bill to give lifers a chance at parole.
‘Free my son’
Of Pennsylvania’s 5,100 lifers, 65 percent are black and 8.5 percent are Latino, and the racial disproportion can be a factor in whether people outside cities are willing to consider parole eligibility for inmates, some supporters said.
“They literally think our loved ones are savage animals,” said Lorraine Haw, a Philadelphia mother whose son is serving a life sentence. “We all make mistakes – they’re just paying with their lives for theirs.”At the rally, Drey held a handmade sign, fashioned from letter-sized paper and ink pen, that read, “Free my son.”While she’s attended other rallies by the coalition, she has not lobbied Berks County legislators on the issue, at least not yet.”People who did not go through what I went through, they don’t care,” she said.