Does The Punishment Fit The Crime?

Does The Punishment Fit The Crime?

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Christine Best started this petition to Indiana State Legislators and

            Hello to everyone, my name is Larry and I ask you to please take a few minutes to read about my situation.

            On December 6th, 2002 I was arrested in Portland, Indiana, and have been in prison ever since. I was 24 years old then and this May I’ll be 42 years old. To be clear I don’t claim to be innocent – the truth is I am guilty. I made poor (you could even say stupid) decisions that have proven to be the biggest mistake of my life, haunting me daily for the past two decades.

            When someone learns the length of my sentence the most common response is “Who did you kill?” But, though many of my cellmates over the years have been convicted of brutal crimes like rape, child molestation, and murder, more often than not they have been sentenced to significantly less time than me, I am not a killer! I am not a violent person and was not accused of anything even remotely violent.

            Instead, I was convicted of one count of dealing meth for the sale of half gram for $50, and one count of conspiracy to deal for answering my cousin’s home phone two days later when the same confidential informant (C.I.) who made the previous buy called to ask if another person had anything to sell and I answered “yes”.

            In what would be the second biggest mistake of my life, because I was hard headed and stubborn, because the 12 year plea offered to me was twice the six years given to my co-defendant who set up both buys and made the second, and given the former prosecutor refused to give me credit for the first two years I served in jail – but mostly because I was hard headed and suborn, and young and naive if not ignorant – I declined the plea and was sentenced to 45 years in prison after losing at trial.

            Public perception in recent years has changed dramatically due in part to understanding these low level sales are often not done by the typical drug “dealer” but by those acting as a middle man only as a means to support their own habits and addictions. In these cases, incarceration alone albeit some form of treatment is almost always futile. Lawmakers also realized that, through a serious crime which warrants punishment, these drug offenses simply should not carry what amounts to life in prison equal to a murder conviction! So, significant changes were made both to (drug) enhancement requirements and to the felony sentencing guidelines.

            If arrested today under new law, the maximum time I could be sentenced to is six years! Despite already serving three time what the law now deems to be the maximum appropriate sentence, I still have close to 10 more years before my earliest possible release date.

            This is because even though legislators agreed resoundingly that those convicted of low level non-violent crimes were being over charged and (often grossly) over sentenced – taking much needed resources and prison bed space far better utilized for seriously violent offenders, not to mention the cost of about a million dollars to tax payers to house just me alone! – the changes made to our charging and sentencing laws would only have prospective application. In other words there would be no (retroactive) help for someone like me who is already served most of the exact decade’s long sentence, which the overwhelming majority of our state policy makers – both republican and democrat – essentially now deem unjust.

            Short of legislators passing into law some sort of (legal) relief, my only hopes of an “early” release is limited to a sentence modification through the Jay Circuit Court / Honorable Judge Hutchinson or by clemency from our Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. So, in explaining my prior and upcoming attempts at release, I want to tell you not only about my many accomplishments, but to be completely open and honest I also want to go over what I’ve done wrong while in prison.

            First, two times I mentioned the Court for a sentence modification but both were denied. I expected this, but after having already been in prison some 15 years at that time, I only wished I’d at least been allowed a hearing in order to preset and be questioned about the changes I’ve made in my life. I also felt a hearing was warranted and necessary since the court ordered prison progress report only listed my conduct and left out most of my accomplishments.

            That prison conduct, used in support of denying my requests for modification, involved two issues. One was possession/use of cellphones/chargers. I know I was wrong for using cellphones to call home from prison and I shouldn’t have done it. It was against prison rules and I’ve not done it in years. Deserving of 10 more years in an 8x12 cell?

            The second issue of my prison conduct involves what admittedly has been my biggest struggle in life. Possession or use of a controlled substance including positive drug screenings. I accept responsibility for my actions because I know it is the first vital step to fighting the disease. I also know the Court was justified in having this concern in light of my conviction but there is one thing I don’t understand that I believe deserves noting and having people know about.

            Prior to requesting a sentence mod, I also petitioned the Court on two separate occasions to order what is called “Purposeful Incarceration” (P.I.) which includes substance abuse treatment/counseling, all but begging the Court for help. As outlines in my petition(s), though I was still struggling with the same thing that sent me to prison and because of this had requested counseling some dozen times, I was repeatedly turned away due to the length of my sentence. I provided these written denials – indicating “not eligible, time restricted” – to the Court, explaining prison staff’s unwillingness to provide treatment until much closer to my release date, unless done in response to Court Ordered P.I. as is common.

            Instead, my petitions for rehabilitative help through P.I. were denied, then my untreated struggles later used as grounds to deny my motion(s) for modification of sentence. More ironic, those motions were not made to ask at that time that I be sent home that very day with no questions or strings, not to have all of my then remaining time suspended, but a very small portion of the then remaining approx. 13 years so that I might then qualify for treatment!

            Now to my accomplishments. After my several requests for treatment were denied, I was finally able to save my own money to buy “Guides Self Study Substance Abuse Manuals Phase I-III” and read, study, and basically counsel myself. On its surface self-teaching on this subject might seem crazy but as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures, and something as basic as learning and living by the 12 steps can make a huge difference in a guy’s life who previous to this had no knowledge or concept of these basic tools. The several written tests and essays from these studies were all reviewed by my case worker and one of the few of my several achievements which were recorded in my case notes for the Court to see.

            I completed an extensive two part six month anger management class. As stated previously I am not a violent person. But this class included many invaluable lessons and counseling, including the need to admit wrong and accept criticism as the first step(s) and spring board toward change and growth, the value of self-reflection and humility (something I was never taught or knew as a kid or a young man), how to develop assertive communication skills and why they matter and identifying and coping the triggers (what might cause a person to lash out in anger or, in my case, to use drugs/alcohol to mask other problems).

            Through the U.S. Department of Labor, I completed a one year course for sanitation/janitorial certification which included classes and testing on federal OSHA standards and Hazmat (hazardous material) handling requirements. I’m happy to have finished this with the honor of Instructor Johnson certifying that for the entire year of what amounted to classroom learning coupled with on the job training, my attendance, attitude and interest, ability to learn, initiative, adaptability, judgement and dependability were all “Excellent”.

            Next only possible with the financial support and sacrifice of my wife, I completed an 18 month course for certification in paralegal (legal assistant) studies through nationally accredited Blackstone Career Institute. I am especially proud that in covering all areas of law and litigation I completed some 30+ tests and exams (including finals) with an A (97%) average. Following that I completed a one year advanced course on business and corporate law, also through Blackstone, also finished with a B average.

            Through Oakland City University and offered here at the prison by a partnership with the Department of Corrections but without the possibility of any grants or student loans, last year I started working towards a degree in business management. Every test, exam, and finals in each class I’ve taken so far was completed with an A 90% or above. Unfortunately I’ve had to suspect class for now as the $400 per class ($1,600 per 4 class semester) cost was just too much of a financial burden for me to ask or expect my life to shoulder on her own at this time.

            Lastly, with my remaining sentence being just under ten years I was finally accepted into the Purposeful Incarceration.

            I’d be lying if I said still being in prison after all this time doesn’t leave me at all angry or bitter. Especially when I see violent criminals sentenced to less time than I was, or others with the same charges as me come back (to prison) two, three, even four times in the span of my sentence as they keep getting new charges and I can’t help but be angry at them for screwing up multiple opportunities when I’d give anything for just one more chance to get my life back. But even more than bitterness or anger, the overwhelming feelings I still have day in and day out are guilt and regret.

            For my daughter, Bailey, who was only two years old at the time of my arrest and is now a college student going on 20. A smart, hard-working, amazing, grounded young woman, no thanks to her father. Not only am I over and over again faced with the consequences of my actions with every missed Christmas, birthday, soccer games, and dad talk, but please imagine if the “best gift” you could give your only child is to hope she learns the lessons of your own mistakes, and tell me how to live with that.

            My wife, Christine, whose sacrifice is more than words can say and whose devotion is unlike anything I’ve ever known. Because she waits on me to come home she is without a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on, without a companion day and night, without a partner to share her struggles, all the while supporting me in every way. Lord knows I don’t deserve her and she could do better. She gives so much of herself and demands little more than I stay out of trouble and keep working to get home, and through our hardest times she reminds me to pray and have faith as she does the same.

            My Granny, who we lost just two months ago. As I bawled my eyes out from the biggest loss of my life it was not only from grief and knowing I’ll never feel her hug again, but the heart wrenching guilt of knowing I missed out on the last several years of my amazing grandmother’s life as one more consequence of my own actions. Almost immediately followed by the fear that my Pa will be next and not knowing how I can possibility life with myself if I’m still in prison when he does.

            My parents who, also getting up there in age with their own health problems, need me more than ever. My two younger brothers who, in fighting their own addictions, I’ve not been there to mentor and be a role model to. And so many other friends and family already gone in the past 20 years that I’ve literally lost track.

            But yes, also for myself. Because every morning I wake up in a maximum security prison and each time I look in the mirror I’m reminded again and again of the mistake I made as long as 6,246 days ago. Because I know I am better than this and then my past mistakes. And yes, because I’m not getting any younger so I’m faced with the constant reality that with each year that goes by it will be even harder for me to finish my degree or get a decent job and work to build a decent productive life for myself.

            So now, in what might be my last hope – short of some change in the law – of any early release, I am petitioning the Governor for clemency. I know this what would basically suspend the remainder of my sentence and allow me to go home on parole is a long shot but I have to try!

            Part of the clemency process requires that the Parole Board may be called to conduct “an investigation of the attitudes of the community…” Because I hope and believe public opinion is mostly in my favor and supportive of giving a decent guy a second chance after he’s already served substantial time and paid a heavy price for his mistakes, I ask that those within my community and the public as a whole please sign this in support of my petition. I also appreciate anyone who’d like to offer their own opinion, whether it is for or against my request.

            Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this and especially for any support you might offer as I believe in my heart that public support is the only thing that might make a difference in my case!

                                                                                                                 Larry Best Jr.

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At 1,000 signatures, this petition is more likely to be featured in recommendations!