I was heartbroken when I heard the news. The anguish you must feel right now may seem to be more than you can bear, but you are not alone. I know that sitting in a segregated cell, far away from the people you love, not knowing when you will breathe free air again, is the jailer’s way of compounding hopelessness.
I want to remind you that you are still the person who worked with all your heart to recover from addiction. You took an honest look at yourself, and determined to become a man your sons can admire. You didn’t blame your chaotic past for you actions; although, I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had.
Your family was no stranger to addiction, and the men in your life pretended to be outlaws. They ripped through the lives of others without regard for you. You deserved better, and they deserved better from the men who came before them.
Yet, you decided to break the cycle. You had five more years to serve in prison, but you acted as though there wasn’t a moment to spare. I admired you for pursuing a degree. It was a goal that few of your friends had ever considered.
You had to subtly step away from the people in your circle who remained hell bent on outlaw ways. I didn’t fully appreciate until later how difficult that must have been for you. Where you come from, turning one’s back on a friend, no matter how destructive that person may be, is a nearly unforgivable betrayal. I respect you all the more for trying to break away. I now understand how challenging it must have been for you to return home to the social circles of your youth.
This may come as a surprise, but I know how you feel. I was also given a second chance at freedom, only to relapse - spinning out of control, committing dire criminal acts to remain high, desperately trying to avoid the sober realization of the damage I had done to everyone I loved. I have never in my life felt so alone.
I also know how afraid you must be right now. We live in a society where it’s easy to throw someone away. This is how the criminal justice system is designed. Specialty courts, jail/prison diversion programs, pretrial interventions – these are alternatives to the norm.
The truth is that courts process cases, not people.
This is why the average length of sentence for those sent to prison in Texas is more than 19 years. There are prosperous and democratic countries in the world where it would be unthinkable to send someone away for more than 15 years, no matter how egregious the offense. In those countries, they never give up on rehabilitation, even for those people that Texans casually refer to as “the worst of the worst.”
I want you to know that you are worth more than that. You made a serious mistake. So did I. There will be a consequence for that mistake, and it may be years before you can fully make it right. But, there must also be a path to redemption.
A system that metes out punishment without also creating a pathway to rehabilitation cannot be called justice.
I’m writing this not to cause you more despair, but to remind you of who you are - courageous, determined, and responsible. I want the people in charge of processing your “case” to see you as a human being with dignity and worth. You have value – to your sons and to your community. Our society loses nothing if the court determines to send you to long-term intensive treatment instead of another decade in prison;
and what we gain when you succeed is beyond measure.