I felt the chill when I went into the Bank of America on Gage and Avalon [in Los Angeles] and changed the terms of a CD I manage. “Be sure you vote ‘yes’ on 66”, I told the young Latina who helped me. “Oh”, she replied, “we’re voting ‘no’ on 66 because the governor said violent criminals would be released into our neighborhoods”.
I was stunned.
After working eight years to amend California’s horrible “3 Strikes Law” and finally getting the amendment “Proposition 66” on the ballot, I knew by her remarks that the same communities I fight so hard to protect, would send themselves into the abyss of the prison industrial complex.
“Oh no”, I told her, “Schwarzenegger and the other terrorist governors lied. 26,000 violent criminals will not be released. Judge Raymond Cadei told them to stop saying that. Only the 4,300 people convicted of non-violent crimes like stealing two double “A” batteries will be sent back to a judge for re-sentencing.”
“That’s not what the governor said”, she told me.
And there you have it. A measure that would have restored a little justice and return billions back to California to stop the closures of hospitals and clinics, to provide money desperately needed by schools, to stop homelessness and provide jobs, was lost because four governors, all rich white men, told the black and brown communities that they should vote “no” on 66 to protect their communities.
When will people start thinking and stop reacting?
So to all people who say they value justice and to all communities of color who are most affected by the kidnapping of our young into a prison system where they are abused, tortured and thrown into holes, I say to you, stop being stupid and stop reacting to lies.
Ten years ago, half of the current membership of FACTS (Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes) voted for “3 Strikes”. These men and women subsequently saw their loved ones sentenced to 25 years-to-life for petty crimes such as forging a $142 check, aiding and abetting a shoplifting, taking a DMV test for a cousin who couldn’t read, so they joined FACTS to change the law. Ten years ago, Governor Pete Wilson and the media promised that “3 Strikes” would take murderers and rapists off the street. Today, less than 5% of the 42,000 people doing time under 3 Strikes, are there for murder and rape. What Wilson and the media didn’t say was that the business of prison, eager for bodies, would sweep up non-violent offenders whose “strikes” committed in their youth, were plea bargained for shortened sentences which now sends them to hell for life.
The 4,300 men and women locked up for life for nonviolent, non-serious crimes, are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. They belong to someone. A little 8 year old girl, Chayanne, prayed with us at the FACTS meeting on Monday, the day before the election. “Please God”, she prayed, “let my daddy come home”. Chayanne’s father has not held her since she was born. He’s serving a 25 years-to-life sentence for burglary of a garage.
My son was brutally murdered 7 years ago so I know what it means to be a victim but my prayer to God last Monday was that He not forsake the families and their loved ones buried alive in prison. At the election night party, Dorothy who’s nephew is doing 25 years-to-life for “aiding and abetting” a shoplifting, told me my prayers had been answered. That’s when Proposition 66 was winning by 54-46. Well, my God abandoned me. He did not touch the hearts of the people in San Bernardino, Orange, Ventura, Madera, Tulare, Riverside, Kings, Fresno, Mariposa, Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Colusa, and Modor Counties who listened to the lies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and voted more than 60% to defeat Proposition 66.
Until we think about the humanity of the people we are sending to prison, we will continue to fall for lies told by terrorist governors, manipulating district attorneys, and abusive prison guards. Three Strikes remain a scourge on all our communities. In poor communities of color, our youth are taken and services are denied; in white communities, services are curtailed and people live in a constant perceived fear.
Fairness, compassion and most importantly justice were badly hurt when Californians voted “no on 66”. In a moment of reflection, I hope these Californians anguish on what they did and weep.
Donna J. Warren is a member of Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS) and a former Department of Defense Auditor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Donna J. Warren