FROMTHETHINKTANK- BLOG 1- UNDERSTANDING TIS sent 7.12.19
Hello to all those in prison and on the outside. Share the hashtag #fromthethinktank if you agree with what you read.
I want first say to all the men and women in prison, you know this struggle, I don’t have to say anymore than that. There are no words to ease this pain, but I stand with you. To my new readers on the outside, I will pull no punches here because the full disclosure will help you better understand than any sugar-coat. So be assured that you will get the real in my posts. I will be using all the slang and proper terms and best info for you and my personal opinions to make this like no other blog you’ve heard or read.
I should start things off with who I am and what I hope to accomplish. My name is Jermaine, and I have been serving a life sentence since 2003 for 1st Deg. Intent. Homicide. I spent the bigger part of my time being angry at the world and taking it out on those around me going back and forth to the hole because I was mad at myself and blaming others for my mistakes.
One day while I was in the Wisconsin Supermax on Admin. Conf. I realized that change does not come to Wisconsin through the strength of my fists, but through the power of my mind. I decided to tap into this and use this power and started talking with a group of intelligent men that want to do better by being better. We share ideas to improve prison conditions and prison reform as well as litigate in civil and criminal law. Our purpose is simple, to come home by whatever means and help others do the same. So I started sharing these with others using the phrase “#from the think tank”. It represents education, struggle through much work, and determination. One must have a sense of ambition in order to generate success in his endeavors because without it, he or she will never have a philosophy they can live by.
Most people incarcerated and free do not completely understand, if at all, what the law is in Wisconsin and how it works, and for most men and women in prison, it is a very harsh reality that comes too late in the game, as they find themselves in court facing anywhere between a few years and life. And for their loved ones it is confusing to navigate because the language so much verbiage and technical legal terminology. So my aim is to provide you a summary version of it, make it plain, and reveal the ignorance of our elected officials so that you can understand the struggle of the man and woman behind prison walls.
Truth in Sentencing, or TIS as it is known to most, and “The Truth” to inmates, is a law that was enacted by the state legislature in 1999 and brought to the floor by then Governor Tommy Thompson, a fool that was more about mass incarceration, profiteering, and lining his own pockets with kickbacks from special interest groups, than the needs and issues of Wisconsin’s prisons, infrastructure, and increasing debt. It went into effect on January 1, 2000, and has been the law ever since. This is a law that was used by several other states such as Minnesota, and within the first few years their states legislature had repealed it due to severe overcrowding, increased state debt to pay for housing the increase of inmates, and the realization that it does not deter crime nor offer rehabilitation opportunities for incarcerated inmates, leading to higher recidivism rates. This was all known to former Gov. Thompson, but he still wanted it in Wi. Just in case you didn’t know…he was on the news earlier this year stating regret for signing the law and for its destructive effects on Wisconsin’s prisons.
TIS requires mandatory time in prison which is generally a long sentence. For example, someone convicted of Armed Robbery faces 60 years in prison. Under the Truth, the judge will sentence him or her to 40 years in prison with the remaining 20 years to be served on Extended Supervision (another thing I will explain later). This is what’s called a bifurcated sentence, something not uncommon to sentencing in another form, but the unrealistic use of sentencing someone to the maximum amount of time without any real consideration of the circumstances of the case is. According to existing caselaw, a sentencing court should sentence you to the LEAST amount of time based on the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of a case. This is your taxpayer dollars at work people, and you wonder why your paychecks lose more and more money every year. And for you homeowners, the steady increase of property taxes go to more prisons, and the pockets of law makers that have no real intent to reform the harsh conditions of prisons or the disparity in sentencing. This type of sentencing does not apply to everyone convicted under the truth. Oh, it gets much worse.
There is only one class A felony in Wisconsin, 1st Deg. Intentional Homicide. Upon conviction, you must be sentenced to a mandatory life sentence. But the Judge is allowed to consider allowing you to “become eligible” for Extended Supervision, (remember this phrase?) by choosing one of three options. Under the law the first option is that you become eligible after serving the mandatory minimum of 20 years. The second is that a judge can set a date beyond 20 years for you to become eligible. And the third? Well as you guessed, the only way you leave prison is in a body bag. Most judges have chosen the third option, and the ones that choose the second set a date that is beyond a persons expected lifetime, equating to the third option. Begs the question, “If you’re gonna do that, why not just choose the third option??”
Let’s talk about Extended Supervision, or ES. Its nothing like parole and a lot worse, depending what class of felon you are. For a TIS lifer, we have no idea what to expect because the first ones to become eligible to “petition” for ES do so in October of this year. Wisconsin has no real forms to petition for it, no agents that specialize in dealing with lifers under the truth, and no experience with what to do with the petitions. In fact, there have been PBS programs where DOC reps and court judges have stated that they have no idea on what to do when the first lifers petition. What we have gleaned from the law books and legal aids, is that you must petition the court that originally sentenced you for release to ES. There are a number of factors such as what you did while incarcerated (good and bad deeds), the opinions and recommendations of the victim (yes, they have the power to recommend), the recommendation of the DA that tried you, and comments from anyone you can bring in.(no they don’t have the power to recommend) The judge also has to weigh to nature of the crime, the character and rehabilitative needs of the person, and the need to protect the public before making a decision. Sounds a lot like a sentencing hearing right? That’s because IT IS according to the language of the law regarding a sentencing hearing. Now here’s the really scary part, if you are denied ES, the panel interviewed stated that since they have no idea what to do when the first lifers petition for ES, the court will most likely set the mandatory minimum sentence period to petition again. Remember how long that was? Shocking!
Inmates with a lot of time are excluded from most all of the schooling and programming offered in prison with “due to sentence structure” being the reason depending on what prison you are at. It has only been since 2018 that Waupun Corr. Inst. has started allowing long timers get into programs as we have been denied Medium Custody in some cases due to not taking any programs that have been recommended or ordered by a Social worker upon entry to the DOC. This means in my case I had to wait 16 years before I could even take a program because I am a Lifer. The variety of programs we used to have 15-20 Years ago have all but been taken away, denial of entry into the few that exist, a general disinterest to provide any real help by prison social workers, and no time cuts for good behavior for all inmates regardless of felony class have left inmates with no incentive to rehabilitate, and the thinking of, “Why should I care about changing? I’m gonna have to do (x amount) of years no matter what I do”. My friends, do you like having people with that kind of mindset coming out of prison? People out there have no idea what breed of criminal prison creates because all most think is “commit a crime, lock em up”. But you have no idea that prison is not about rehabilitation anymore.
I have had people on the outside ask me why I did some of the things I did while locked up. Then they suggest that I do all these unrealistic things that work great on the outside. My answer is always the same, its real easy to say what I should be doing when you’re on the other side of the wall. Sometimes you cannot avoid things especially nowadays. In 2003 The DOC cut state pay from almost $14.00 per month to $8.00. Over the years the canteen has gone up and up in price that it will take you about 2 months to save up the money to get all of you basic hygiene for a month. Oh, and let’s not talk about feeding yourself. State food has gone down in portions over the years that you could eat all three meals and still be starving before the sun sets. In order to feed yourself properly for one week would cost you exactly $29.01. And trust me, there are no chips, soft drinks, candy, snack cakes, or any luxury items added in this cost. We’re talkin 14 ramen noodles, 5 pouches of chilli to mix with the noodles, 2 bags of cereal, 2 boxes of oatmeal, and 2 bottles of squeeze cheese. Oh, and if you drink coffee, 2 bags brings that price up to $35.51. Can you believe it? It costs over $35 to feed ONE inmate for one week…just to be properly fed because of cuts to our nutrition and food portions.
Most inmates take to stealing from the prison kitchens because of this pay and food cuts and increases in canteen prices. Ever since 2016, the DOC has decided to violate court orders and take what they call 50% of all funds an inmate gets to pay for court ordered fees. Allow me to break the facts down. A judge can sentence an inmate to pay restitution, and any other fees at a rate of 25% of any money he or she gets. The DOC got in its head that they are above the authority of a court of law and take a so-called 50%…or so they would have you believe.
Truth is, let’s say you owe restitution, medical co-pays, misc. loans, and a legal loan. If you get some money sent in, let’s say $100, they will take 10% to put into your release account, then 50% of what’s left to pay restitution, then 50% of what’s left of that to pay off your medical co-pay, then 50% of what’s left of that to pay the misc. loan, and if there’s anything left, 50% of that to pay off the legal loan. Now I may not be a scholar in math, but that ain’t taking 50%. I know inmates that had $100 sent to them and only got $3.60 of it. That ain’t no typo folks…now how does taking 50% of $100 leave you with $3.60? Just saying…
With that I leave these facts and my opinions with you to think about. Please share with me your comments, questions, or even your criticisms. You can ask to have them forwarded, or write me directly at:
Jermaine Smith #394890;WCI PO Box 351; Waupun, Wi 53963-0351.