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LOCAL Commentary :: Prisons

VAPrisonJustice: The Return on VA's Investment

Read the words of Rashid Qawi Al-Amin. He is a Muslim, an African American, an ex-soldier, and a prisoner in the state of Virginia. Al-Amin
is a long-time prison justice activist and jail house lawyer. He writes us from Greenville Correction Center.
The Return on Virginia’s Investment
By Rashi’d Qawi’ Al-Ami’n

Virginia has invested in me about four hundred thousand dollars of taxpayers’ money over the last sixteen years (25,000 a year times 16). The last one hundred and seventy- five thousand dollars was spent while denying me parole seven times. If you factor in all the wasted parole hearings, where they’ve already made a decision before they’ve talked to me, all the trades, life skill classes, and college courses I’ve completed, the taxpayers’ investment in me grows much higher. And for all intents and purposes I have consistently demonstrated that I, like many others, am ready to assume a productive role in society, if given the chance. However, I am a violent offender. My crime is murder. And no matter the circumstances, violent offenders are packaged together and sold to the public as hopelessly incorrigible and still as dangerous as they were at their worse.

Recently, former Governor George Allen and former secretary of public safety Jerry Kilgore publicly celebrated the tenth anniversary of their abolishing parole for post 1995 offenders. What they didn’t mention is that in that same sweep they have all but formally abolished parole for pre-1995 offenders as well. What they couldn’t do retroactively by law, they have done ‘administratively’. They have taken a parole rate that was forty-seven percent before they came into office, to an eight percent max over the last five years. And eighty percent of those who make up that annual parole rate for 2001, 2002, and 2003 are actually people who have maxed out their sentences and were mandatory released. The other 1.6% is the actual discretionary parole rate being granted throughout the state. So for the more than 90% of us who are summarily denied parole every year, to us parole has been abolished.

The important point here is that a lot of good people are being blanketly denied parole after serving ten, fifteen, twenty, and even thirty years in this system. Zakka Ali has served 35 years straight! And this is being done primarily to cover up the over building of prisons, the dependency of rural communities on the corrections industry for jobs, and the political will of ‘our’ leading politicians.

And despite these things; whether we’re paroled or not, many of us will eventually be released. Our sentences do have an end. But how are we supposed to fare in a society that we perceive to be hostile towards us? It may have been politically expedient to whip the citizenry of Virginia into a frenzy against convicted criminals so as to get them to allow the state to build more prisons, implement 85% statutes, and to turn a blind eye to the changes it would implement against old law offenders. But it will not be politically expedient or in the interests of VA citizens and it’s former prisoners to continue to hold us in contempt after we’ve done everything we can to atone for our crimes.

To have invested half a million dollars in each old law prisoner, in keeping him locked up, teaching him new marketable skills, and correcting his attitude and behavior, and then turn around and deny him parole at every hearing, citing only the crime he originally committed as reason enough, in one way to spit on your investment in me and other old law offenders. But to sentence us, make us do every bit of the time imposed, and to close every heart, mind, and door in society in our faces, upon our release, is quite another way. You almost certainly guarantee that we will return to the streets, that we will return to crime, and that we may become a problem for the society again; no matter what our noble intentions are right now. Especially those of us who are losing our families and safety nets as we wait for your answers every year.

It would seem to me that even in this time of celebration, at some point Virginia citizens would look at all the money they’re spending on us, look at each one of us individually (and thoroughly), and see how many of us are actually salvageable. Doing so not merely to save money or to keep to the intent of the old law sentences, which are longer because of the (former) potential for parole. But doing so to save our families too; to prevent our mistakes from flowing into our neglected youth who are also growing bitter as they wait for us. Why not put forward faces of hope and great expectations for Virginia towards us (your errants) rather than that face of disdain and contempt; of ill will and negative forecasts?

It just makes sense that before we all reach the point of actually becoming incorrigible that Virginia citizens would want to reap the benefits of their investments. Or what is it that you want from us in return?

Rashi’d Qawi’ Al-Ami’n #178990
Greensville Correctional Center
901 Corrections Way
Jarratt, VA 23870-9614

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