Thursday, June 1, 2017

Sentence day

In late August, 1994, I would learn the fate of my husband and thus, my own. Leading up to that day we hoped that being a first time offender, the sentence would be reasonable. He had been convicted of 'Sale of a Controlled Substance' (namely, 3.84 oz of cocaine). That didn't seem like it was such a horrendous crime, though we understood it was a crime. Oh, and yeah, there was also that pesky 'Robbery' charge, too. That one was surely bogus; he wasn't there when it happened so he was convicted of being responsible for the actions of others (those who actually committed the robbery). Video evidence showed that my husband wasn't present, it was proof! Lessons were learned during those previous 10 months. One being that NYS Drug Laws (Rockefeller) have different sub-sections and one of them was invoked to substantiate the charge. It was unfair.

So here we were, sentence day had arrived. Alongside my young daughter I sat in the courtroom, awaiting the judge's decision. I prayed he would take one look at us, that he would consider how badly we needed this man (my husband) back in our lives and give him just enough time to pay for his crime. He was only 24 years old, with an entire lifetime ahead of him. And then the judge spoke "Mr. So-and-so, you are a menace to society and need to be put away for a long time." My heart sank; "menace to society?" I couldn't wrap my brain around that statement. Wouldn't that be more descriptive of a persistent felon, a violent person? I held my breath. Then came the time... 25 to life for the drugs and 12 and a half to 25 for the robbery, to be served CONSECUTIVELY (so in other words, 37 1/2 to life). WAIT, what?????  I thought I protested in silence but my disappointment and devastation poured out of me. The deputy escorted me out. I cried hysterically, I shouted at the prosecutor as he exited the courtroom. "My daughter will be older than I am today when her father gets out!!!!" He ignored me and walked on. My husband's lawyer came to my side and tried to console me but there was nothing in the world that would take my pain away. "He can appeal" she said. Yeah, he can appeal... sigh.

As a 21 year old, I didn't really understand the logic behind the sentence and much less about the immense hurdles I would face moving forward. I reached out to the NAACP and other agencies to see if there was any way they might be able to guide me, to no avail. Even though the time my husband received seemed excessive, his case wasn't notorious enough to get any attention. In the following years I would continue to seek help, advice and encouragement from many sources. The Rockefeller Drug Laws and sentencing guidelines have contributed to such an explosion in the Prison population... its criminal! Of course I know this now, but in 1994 I felt like the only woman that has ever gone through this ordeal

September arrived and I started my last semester at Community College. Incredibly, I held a high GPA and excelled in my classes. Meanwhile,  my husband was taken to State Prison two hours away. That day, a Prison Wife was born, and so began my life as such.

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