FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Clemency and Restoration in New York

by ANTHONY PAPA

Every year about this time I write to the governor of New York and ask him to go on a rescue mission and to people convicted under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws.  These are individuals who have already served enormous amounts of time but are stuck in prison and have no legal remedies to regain their freedom. This year I am making the request to Governor Andrew Cuomo. In the past Governor Cuomo has worked with me and others to reform these laws so he is someone who knows first-hand about their draconian nature.

I have made this request to several other NY Governors.  The first time was to Governor George Pataki while I was rotting away in a 6×9 cell in 1994.  I was serving a 15 to life sentence for a first time non-violent drug offense. To my surprise he granted me executive clemency in 1996. When I got out I decided to save the many individuals that I had left behind.  I became an activist and dedicated my life to change the laws that wasted valuable tax dollars and have destroyed so many lives.

I lobbied for years to Governor Pataki to reform these laws and grant clemency to those who deserved a second chance in life.  Pataki was a tough on crime politician but to his credit he managed to give 32 clemencies, with 28 of them to Rock Law offenders. After he left office I made the same request to Governor Elliot Spitzer in 2007 who in response granted zero clemencies. It was an insult to those many men and women who were rehabilitated and had served many years in prison under the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. This prompted massive criticism from prisoner advocates who argued that his failure to show mercy to worthy prisoners was unacceptable.  His denial to grant any clemencies was counter to a promise Spitzer made during his 2006 campaign to continue to support efforts to reform the Rockefeller Drug laws. Bob Gangi of the Correction Association compared Spitzer to Ebenezer Scrooge before he was visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley. Spitzer’s approval ratings sharply declined after this and in 2008 he left office in disgrace.

Governor Spitzer was replaced by Governor David Paterson who as a Senator from Harlem New York understood the ineffectiveness of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.  For years he also stood by our side advocating for change of these laws and in he pushed through historic Rockefeller reforms. While in office he granted 37 clemencies and pardons and followed the trend set by Governor Mario Cuomo who granted 33 and Governor Hugh Carey who granted 155.

I recently sat on a panel discussion at the New School and learned a lot about this issue of governors granting clemencies and pardons to individuals. The former Governor of Maryland Robert L. Ehrlish spoke frankly about this and was disappointed with the lack of use of the power to grant pardons and clemencies.  He wrote about this in the NY Times in an op-ed titled A Broken System, and Too Few Pardons.”  He blamed the lack of use of the powers of clemency and pardons on the “Willie Horton syndrome.”  This refers to the early release of a prisoner who then committed a murder and the case was used against Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts when he ran for president in 1988 against George H. W. Bush. His lost to Bush was blamed on Dukakis’s support of a prison furlough program that was responsible for Horton’s release.  This one bad apple forever ruined the way executives would use the powers of clemency and pardons.

Despite the “Horton syndrome” Gov. Ehrlish granted an amazing 249 pardons and commutations. When interviewed by the Baltimore Sun he said that by granting individuals their freedom he was met with neither moral outrage nor wild cheering. But on a personal level Governor Ehrlish was extremely gratified to hear from those who received clemency from him and had expressed their gratitude for giving them a second chance in life by restoring their freedom and the many civil rights that were taken away. It was this sense of restoration that drove the process for Governor Ehrlish.

Perhaps this sense of restoration might be an example for Governor Cuomo to follow while in office. To be sentenced under unjust laws to a tremendous amount of time is unconscionable.  I know because it happened to me. There will be many families praying this holiday season that Governor Cuomo shows his compassion for those who are have fallen through the cracks of the criminal justice system and have no alternative means of escaping the living hell they and their families face every day.

Anthony Papa is the author of 15 to Life and the Manager of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Anthony Papa is the Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance and the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Lockdown.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail