As I said in previous commentaries, the United States Supreme Court denied my petition for a writ of certiorari. Thus, declining to hear my case why the court should extend a constitutional right to rehabilitation for juvenile and youthful offenders, who end up in prison, or in prison-like juvenile facilities that make them worse.
This was upsetting to me because the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is robbing me for $505, which is collected out of my meager $12 I make every two weeks: money I was charged for making the argument in that court that juvenile and youthful offenders should be given a constitution right to rehabilitation. After charging me the $505, the Second Circuit turns around and dismisses my case without even hearing my argument.
So, what does this all tell me? First, our judicial system is biased against incarcerated pro se litigants. If the same argument was made by a lawyer, the courts would have respected it. But I couldn’t get no legal help from none of the legal service organizations that are supposed to help in cases like mine.
The rehabilitation of juvenile and youthful offenders is a big deal to ending mass incarceration. Most criminals have their start as teenagers and young adults. It’s the optimal time to intervene and change their trajectory. But the courts have signaled that they won’t allow a mere prisoner to make such a landmark argument. And current prison reform and juvenile justice advocates aren’t willing to fight any harder to ensure more kids don’t get caught up in the system.
So, the second thing this tells me is that the fight is left to guys like me. Nobody is going to save us, but us. But maybe with a little help. The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision isn’t committed to the reform and the rehabilitation of prisoners, young or old. And politicians in New York are slow to act in introducing new, well comprehensive, prison reform legislation.
But even if they do finally enact such reform, will governor Cuomo appoint a commissioner who can surmount what will be a Herculean effort to overcome rank-and-file resistance to a cultural shift within the department? Many correctional officers will not agree with the transformation of their roles as authoritarian administrators of discipline, order, and control to one focused more on reform and rehabilitation.
Me? I’m not holding my breath. Prisoners are the easiest demographic to scapegoat and exploit. The public doesn’t yet know or care how much of their tax dollars are being wasted by our prison system. Who’s going to tell them? They actually believe most of us prisoners are dangerous criminals who need to be locked up behind bars. Nobody would tell them how socioeconomic and racial inequalities are the cause of many crimes or how our prison system only makes prisoners worse, because nobody wants to tackle the difficult task of reforming this system. I now know, without a doubt, that UFD is the only hope for myself and countless other prisoners.
Again, if we don’t save ourselves, who will? DOC? Governor Cuomo? I see every day how this prison system is just making guys worse. It has did it to me. I know how difficult it is to avoid trouble. Just last week, I was threatened by one prisoner who said he would beat my ass, and by one correction officer who said he’ll handle me ole school if I complain again about my legal mail, not being mailed out. I had another correction officer call me a–because I spoke up about him having me put through an abusive frisk. See? DOC only records when we act out, but not the many times we walk away, nor the many times its own prison staff provokes the problem.
I see clear now. I must fight to get UFD recognized and approved so we can organize ourselves and other prisoners to reform and rehabilitate ourselves and to go out there and save at risk youth from getting caught up. This is my mission now. I ask that people support this effort.
This is Dontie S. Mitchell, better known as Mfalme Sikivu, reporting to you from Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. Follow me on Facebook @freeDontieMitchell. Thank you for listening, and God bless.
(Sound of a cell door closing.) These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.