Last week in the Governor's office, I stood alongside fellow sentence reform advocates, exonerated Death Row individuals, victim advocates, attorneys, and so many others fighting for change to witness Governor Newsom speak on halting the Death Penalty in California. I am thankful that he sees the importance of this issue and commend him for taking the necessary steps in the right direction to put an end to the death sentence in California. Ending the death penalty is so important because it is fundamentally inhumane and disregards the principle of redemption -- that every person is capable of change.
And while ending the death sentence is an urgent necessity, for California to move fully towards the direction of justice we must move to end all death sentences in California equally. When people hear the ending of the death penalty, they think of those who die in gas chambers and from injections – but the truth is there are literally thousands who are also dying in prison, due to the sentence of “Life Without the Possibility of Parole.” I call this the "other death sentence."
My husband, Frankie, is serving a Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) sentence. LWOP falls into a grey area, as it isn’t a “Death Row” sentence but a sentence to spend the rest of your natural life in prison. He is 32 years old, was 18 years old when he started his sentence, and if the laws do not change is scheduled to spend the rest of his life in prison.
At the briefing I was at, Governor Newsom said, “The death penalty has been an abject failure. It discriminates based on the color of your skin or how much money you make. It’s ineffective, irreversible, and immoral. It goes against the very values that we stand for – which is why CA is putting a stop to this failed system.” The very same logic and values apply to LWOP. I see no difference in the two inhumane sentences as those who serve it live everyday knowing they are just awaiting death, and entire families serve this cruel sentence with them.
Frankie and I have been facing and living this LWOP sentence for fourteen years now. People are redeemable and Frankie strives everyday to take the necessary steps to rehabilitate and better himself as a human being. He’s obtained his GED, completed multiple self-help programs, holds steady jobs, aided in establishing the first “Inmate Leisure Time Activity Group” where he is housed and so much more. He has a tremendous amount of support helping him stay focused and keeping him on the right path.
In California, more than 5,200 men and women are serving LWOP and are sentenced to die in prison. People on Death Row and folks serving a Life Without the Possibility of Parole sentences face the same reality of being excluded from all the recent legislative bills that bring relief to thousands of people serving lengthy sentences. Governor Newsom sees the Death Penalty as a moral issue and sentencing anyone to die in prison is the same. Any Death Penalty is not a solution to crime. Ridding the Death Sentence and Life Without the Possibility of Parole does not mean an automatic release for anyone, but it does give these individuals hope and the opportunity to heal, rehabilitate, and prove themselves as redeemable.
There are entire support systems and more lives at stake than just the incarcerated individuals – there are children, spouses, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters that are affected by these inhumane sentences. Further destroying and separating families is not how to right a wrong and that is why I urge Governor Newsom to continue to move forward to end all death penalties in California, including LWOP.
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