Elderly inmates want to be useful!
We are a group of elderly prisoners writing to you from Federal Corrections Institute at Terminal Island in California.
Our hope is that you will hear our stories and help us along with members of the elder prison community who are currently incarcerated to have a second change at a meaningful life. We face long sentences, timely health issues, and are a group that is often overlooked in the current fight for prison reform.
The senior population has a very low recidivism risk if any, but the share of the budget they use is at the extreme high. The older prison population is costing the government and taxpayers billions – estimated at over 1/3 of the annual budget and growing rapidly. With no societal benefit to keeping the elderly imprisoned, combined with a non-existent cost-benefit ratio, the economic equation of keeping elderly prisoners incarcerated is literally upside down.
As we age, over half (and growing) of the cost to maintain elderly medical care is a huge issue across our free world. In a conventional business model, this would be a huge cause of profit loss to the operator. In this case, the United States, state government taxpayers, and families are left footing the bill. Keeping the elderly imprisoned does little to benefit society, but commands huge financial and emotional costs across the board.
On September 2 & 3, 2019, NBC aired a prime-time special “Prison Injustice,” which highlighted flaws in the criminal judicial system prevailing in the United States today. It also showed an equally defective incarceration system where men who were not guilty were punished with disproportionate years of imprisonment when they chose to fight and go to trial, rather than taking plea agreements. Conversely, there are men who were actually guilty and given lighter sentences because they took a plea agreement. There also exists a subset of people who plead guilty to avoid harsh life-ending punishments, promised and expected lenient punishment by lawyers, only to be shocked by the severity of the sentence they received.
These discrepancies oftentimes come from overzealous prosecutors who are focused on the pursuit of victory, but achieve this at the expense of truth and justice. It is widely reported that the federal conviction rate is nearly 100%, with most defendants taking plea deals, and nearly all of those that go to trial are convicted. This clearly shows that “innocent until proven guilty” is not how our courts see defendants because the odds are lopsided from the start. We must understand that when guilty defendants are treated better than innocent people who exercised their right to innocence just to make a painful point, the system is inherently flawed.
We are submitting this request for grace, mercy, and understanding because we have all suffered the above fate in some form or fashion. Our sentences not only affect us, but each member of our families. Our wives, children, families, churches and communities bear the brunt of persevering without a complete family unit and many families and support systems have unfortunately given up and walked away. Incarcerated men and women in their later years are suffering needlessly, and our society does not gain one thing by keeping them in prison except for higher tax bills. We spend all our time worried about children on the borders, who we do have compassion for, whose parents trekked them thousands of miles in search of a free America, yet we ignore the hundreds of thousand if not millions of children rendered parent-less because the Injustice system is destroying the lives of the “abandoned” children of our citizens. The system breaks up families and sends a negative ripple effect throughout every person and community directly and indirectly affected by this travesty. Meanwhile, the prison system is supposed to provide rehabilitation and correction, but it fails miserably in these two basic missions. Instead, it has become a for-profit business model which incentivizes maintaining a high prisoner count and long sentences to ensure long-term profitability.
Various statistical studies show that 25% of the incarcerated population of the world is in the United States, yet we represent just a small fraction of the global population. We therefore imprison more people not because Americans are a greater evil, but because the people which have a vested interest in keeping them locked up. The incarceration of human lives is not something to be bought and sold on the stock market for a return on investment.
The “First Step Act” signed by President Trump in a move in the right direction, but has yet to be implemented almost a year later. Releasing elderly prisoners to reunite with their families, and if like our men they are non-violent, or in most of our cases not even guilty, would save our taxpayers, counties, and states the unnecessary burden of effectively providing retirement beds and free meals to the aging prisoner population, who on a bet would not harm another.
In the pages/posts to follow you will read the stories of 8 men, all seeking assistance – presented together as “Cases of Grace.” Within these cases, our ages range from 56 to 82, and most have health issues in some form or fashion. While the facility is supposed to have a high level of medical care on paper, that is far from the reality. It has a non-existent medical system with no checks or balances – there is literally no care and no one to care. With no medical care, especially to the men over 70, the probability of this being a final resting place, without your assistance, is almost a given. What started out as a lengthy sentence will surely turn into a life sentence if proper medical care is not available or administered.
As you will see in the story of cases, at the age of each, all effectively given life sentences to be served. Faced with the unfathomable choice of gambling with our futures “had” we all elected to take the plea deal instead of choosing to fight for our innocence with the cards stacked against us, each would be home, and this document would not even exist. It’s a given that there are criminals in our society and there is a need for balance in justice, but economic crime punishments are out of control. They dramatically changed when Enron blew up, and now every single man or woman who tries and fails in business, is subject to this draconian system of punishment.
Each of us had absolutely no criminal history when we were sucked into the prison system. By life experience, we are immensely gifted to serve our society as a whole. We excelled in our respective fields of endeavors serving as a model for those growing up around and after us. Inclusive to these men, books have been written, companies have been built employing thousands in the past, as executives they have run large organizations, and as pastors have impacted the lives of those in need. Included, seemingly a ‘bell weather” of the United States, is even a Vietnam Highly Decorated Colonel, himself fighting at trial, now sentenced to die very soon if something is not done.
We all agree as a group that we will absolutely use our remaining productive years to impact the world, and rectify this grossly flawed system. Having experienced the injustice firsthand makes us driven to do what we can to correct the miscarriages of justice happening to families every single day. Laser focused as well on our chance to reunite with our families, purposely renewed in our drive to make a difference. We think of this mindset as “Better, not bitter.” With rich experience in past endeavors, we can still serve our society and make a huge difference with the rest of their lives. We jointly have a purpose of making the rest of our lives matter to the world we all live in.
Humbly we ask for whatever it takes to be given a new fresh start in life. The desire to move on, salvage a beautiful future, make a difference within our children, families and communities is our drive. We WILL make ourselves available for a purposeful change in our world. We WILL with our families be forever grateful for the grace you extend. We desire to live our lives anew, all contributing to the betterment of our world. With our passion, desire, purpose we can help make the world a better place for all of humanity. You will see through the pages in front of you, significant promises, and capacity to action to do just that.
With sincere thanks for your consideration,
Ramon Barrientos, Bob Holloway, Dino Gentile, Curtis Somoza, Bob Scully, Steven Zinnel, George Lindell, and Colonel Richard Estes