Julie on Justice: When Did Revenge Overtake Justice?

Post Date: October 7, 2013

Julie Stewart, FAMM President

Julie Stewart, FAMM President

I want to believe in the innate goodness of mankind and the general fairness of prosecutors.  But sometimes I just can’t.  Sometimes a story is so incredible that you have to ask yourself, “How do these people sleep at night?!”

The story I’m trying to make sense of today is that of Herman Wallace, a 71 year-old who spent 40 years in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison for the murder of a prison guard.  I don’t know if he was guilty or innocent, though it’s pretty clear he didn’t get a fair trial.  But guilty or not, spending 40 years in a cell for 23 hours a day is a very brutal punishment. 

Unbelievably, his punishment wasn’t enough for state prosecutors. After a federal judge ruled last week that Mr. Wallace, who had terminal liver cancer, should be freed from prison because of a flaw in the indictment, a Louisiana district attorney successfully persuaded a grand jury to re-indict Mr. Wallace for the murder. 

Herman Wallace

Herman Wallace

That’s right: though Mr. Wallace was close to death after spending 40 years in solitary confinement and presented no threat to the public, the district attorney was concerned that he hadn’t served his full life sentence.  I can’t help but ask, “At what point did revenge overtake justice?”

The district attorney will not get the pleasure of retrying Mr. Wallace because Mr. Wallace died last Friday, just three days after his release.

Are all prosecutors heartless, revengeful, and out for victories instead of justice?  No. There are many good prosecutors.  I just had lunch with one (well, he’s a former prosecutor now).  But in my 23 years running FAMM, I have heard from too many people sentenced to prison for too long. Yes, mandatory sentences are often to blame, but some of the responsibility also lies with the prosecutors who abuse the awesome discretion our laws give to them.

We need those who lead our federal and state justice systems to exercise greater oversight of prosecutorial decision-making. That’s why U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s memorandum to federal prosecutors gives me hope.  The “Holder Memo” issued in August basically tells prosecutors not to bring outrageous charges in drug cases.  It lays out policies for prosecutors to follow in charging drug cases with an eye toward reducing the number of nonviolent people getting mandatory minimum prison sentences.  The memo even directs prosecutors to go back and look at cases of individuals who have been convicted, but not yet sentenced, and decide if the person should be re-charged with offenses that don’t carry mandatory minimum terms.  FAMM’s general counsel, Mary Price, explains the impact of the Holder Memo in this op-ed.

These are welcome developments.  Of course, the Holder Memo doesn’t apply to non-drug cases, which is a problem. If we’re serious about improving our justice system and downsizing overcrowded federal prisons, we shouldn’t have mandatory minimum sentences at all – and certainly not for nonviolent offenses, regardless of whether they involved drugs. But the Holder Memo does set a tone for moving beyond revenge and toward justice, and that’s a direction we can all support. 

My best,

Julie

Julie Stewart
FAMM President

16 Responses to “Julie on Justice: When Did Revenge Overtake Justice?”

  1. Dusty Rodriguez

    Julie I just preached this to my husband last night. I feel as though it is more about revenge rather than rehabilitation. I can’t even explain the destruction that these prosecutors are causing families around the country. Arrogance has to allow these prosecutors to sleep at night because I can’t imagine being locked up like a caged animal would do any good for anyone. Some serious changes need to be made in this country’s justice system. I am sure that there are some great prosecutors and I don’t encourage criminal activity but at what point does a normal human being say enough is enough! The punishments just don’t match up with the crime. I am scared to death of breaking the law (if I can even understand what law I am breaking) after what has happened to my family. Great news though our appeal is going great after a promising oral argument. I think that we may have won ourselves a new trial. Fighting for justice is time consuming but those who seek it find it! Thanks for all of your efforts in the fight for justice!

    Reply
  2. Judy Geer

    It is so sad that there are people like that in this world and even worse that they can hold positions of any kind of authority . When their time comes , should we pray that they have loving and forgiving people around them ? God have mercy on their cold hearts…

    Reply
  3. Melissa younas

    Thank you Julie for all that you do to make a better world. When i read this story i cried. I sometimes believe that these prosecutors do not have a heart. and they should also be punished for cruelty to human beings.

    Reply
  4. Rick Parks

    Julie, Godbless you all that has worked so hard to create change in the so flawed system.
    It has been many years since we have talked. You gave me and my family hope
    While I was serving a 188 month sentence. I vacated my sentence after serving 121 months on a drug case. I was released in 2003.
    I have shared my story with 30,000 plus people with my outreach…

    My prayers are with all of you, Rick

    Reply
  5. Davada Davis

    I am so encouraged after reading this. I was beginning to wonder if anybody was thinking of those who have had their lives taken away and their family’s broken because they were given to long in prison for other crimes than drugs. I am so tired of people being so judgemental. Yes there is people who do need to go to prison for some time so they take what they did serious and take the second chance seriously. So I am hopeful again that my son will be given a second chance for a horrible choice he made. Although he didn’t physically hurt anyone he did intimidate someone and that was wrong. So yes again I will say I’m o.k. with him doing some time but not 15 years. I read somewhere that most people get it after 2 or 3 years sometimes longer and would totally change their lives if given a chance but we keep them in prison for so long and label them in ways that when they get out they don’t have a chance.
    Thank you for acknowledging that minimum/maximium sentencing needs to be done away with and people be looked at as individuals.

    Reply
  6. Carol

    Our family is having to deal with one of these revengeful Federal prosecutors. Our son is a heroin addict and so were some of his friends. One day a friend called my son because he was getting dope sick (heroin withdrawals); and an addict knows how bad that can get. This boy called and asked my son if he had anything and he could come and get. Supposedly he came by and picked up something and then supposedly went home, who knows where he went after he left our home. Anyway the boy overdosed at home and died. He came from a family that are high up in the fire department and police department here. They come and arrest my son, take him downtown, and interview or interrogate him, while he is under the influence of heroin and gets a statement, confession or whatever with out our lawyer there. He has one prosecutor who was willing to work a plea deal and I can not go into what the plea deal contains; but before my son was sentenced they switched prosecutors on us at the last minute and he told our attorney that he was not going to honor the agreement that the other prosecutor offered and my son signed and accepted. He made the statement our son needed to do the 20 years mandatory sentence. Our son had no other convictions, this was his first conviction and they convicted him of distribution of heroin which contributed to the death of another and 2nd degree murder. My son was 23 and so was the other boy; they were both adults and knew the risks because they both were heroin addicts. There was no investigation of any kind, the autopsy showed the boy had a combination of the following drugs amphetamines’, Acetone, Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Cannabinoids, Cocaine, Ethanol, and Heroin Metabolite. Which is a deadly mixture of drugs and anyone of those combinations could have caused the boys death. He also had an enlarged spleen, enlarged liver. Put I think because he came from a family of Fire and police that the “good ole boy” system kicked in and the parents were looking for someone to blame and they came after my son. My son did not kill this boy and I am very sorry for his lose;but my son does not belong in a federal prison for twenty years. He needs rehab and taught coping skills on how to stay clean now that he has been in prison for 2 years.
    Julie what you and your group are doing is amazing and you give us hope. The power does need to be put back in the hands of the Judges and taking away from the prosecutors especially the federal ones they are just adding more checks in their win column. My son was an athlete, honor student with a 3.8 GPA, full academic scholarship; I am not ready for him to rot or waste away in a prison in Arkansas where they have no classes for them to take, no books, no programs, he ask if there was anyway he could learn Spanish, Italian and all they gave him was an old tape recorder with headphones and the tape for French. He was ranked 14th out of 1000 in the National Honor Society test. He said there are no weights for them to work out with and they feed the guards and warden decent food and they get cold cut sandwiches and cold cereal for breakfast.

    Please forgive me for rambling. I did not have time to sit and write this in a clear, concise manner and I apologize, I am just a very tired, frustrated mother. I have written to our senators and of course it has done me no good for I am from Tennessee and Alexander and Corker are two worthless people. One did not respond and the other sent me a very rude letter and neither voted for the Justice Safety Valve Act. I will not vote for either of them in the next election.

    Keep up the good work and May God Bless you and your family and staff.

    Reply
    • wannanah33

      Don’t apologize for not being able to write that in a clear and concise manner. Sometimes, it’s the desire to make things perfect like that that holds people back. You acted. You wrote a comment on this website, and you have written letter to various officials. You are doing something. But you can’t stop. Even to those officials to whom you’ve written letters before, and whether or not you’ve received a response, do not stop. Write a letter every day to those who can make decisions or influence those who make decisions.

      Every day. Write these letters. Do not stop.

      You will get results.

      It might take a year or two, but your letters will have an impact.

      Every day.

      Reply
  7. Jim Hunsucker

    I have studied this federal issue from front to back, and the number one root cause I find with all of this is how and where does the money come from that pays for all of this? There is a very good reason our Founders set up our money system to be held in check by silver and gold. A very good read is a book by Pastor Sheldon Emery, Titled: Billions For The Bankers, Debt For The People.” Basically, we have a federal government running on power and greed with unlimited credit to private bankers that print money out of thin air…which is exactly what our Founders warned us against. Thomas Jefferson got rid of the first private bank. Andrew Jackson got rid of the second one. In 1913, with the creation of th unconstitutional Federal Reserve, it sprung up again. John Kennedy tried to get rid of it…. and now Ron Paul, with his campaign to END THE FED.

    Reply
  8. Roberta Lee

    My goal is to inform agencies involved in Prison Reform of the Illinois Correctional Facilities Forced Toxic Artificial Soy Food Poisoning Diet on the Inmates,all info can be found at http://www.Weston A. Price Foundation under the Soy Alert Articles and also under the Videos listed in the Sally Fallon Category…those are videos of the Chicago Press Conference about this Toxic Diet, it is cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment, the inmates have no Political Voice and this is a Human Rights Issue that must be addressed but I stand alone apparently opposing this Toxic Soy Diet, but I send letters and emails out to those persons/agencies I hope step up to oppose this Diet of Artificial Soy Food and return to Real Food , not Gourmet Food but Real Food in the inmates Diet. This is like the Holocaust in my opinion of our new Century on American Soil. I hope your organization will help stop this tortuous Diet …Thank you for your time Mrs. Lee

    Reply
  9. Kendra Richardson

    I really think it’s do sad how the mandatory min is set up. I really have a question I need to ask & it is: my husband is serving 78 months federal time for 0.5 grams of herion & selling his prescription pain pills & being in the possession of his legally owned gun. He has never been convicted of anything & he’s 48yrs old, we own 2 funeral homes & have kids whom he love & they love him dearly. The bulk of the time comes from the gun. Would the Holder Memo help him or is there anything we can do to get him home earlier than 10-22-18. Thanks for your help in advance.

    Reply
  10. Anthea M. Boarman, J.D.

    Oh, how very, very sad. I have had to watch 3 of my prisoners (I wasn’t there, all were ill) and want to write for them. I was a PCR attorney in the prison in 1970, and have testified as recently as 3 years ago for a client who had been released from a 100-year sentence, then became re-addicted despite 12 years of treatment, in and out of “Rehab” year after year, currently serving life for a ‘murder’ the same day I saw him stopping off from the Public Advocate’s olffice. This kind of practice wore me down into a massive stroke, and I can’t practice now. But long-term imprisonment IS a DEATH PENALTY!

    Reply
    • Shirley Henry

      Even if they survive the imprisonment it is still a death penalty to the person they are, this is a lose, lose situation.

      Reply
  11. Shirley Henry

    i just received an essay from my son, it does not address the sentencing issue, but it does address the wastefulness of the Federal Penal System. My son too received an excessive sentence for the charge which was possession of too many pills, is that even a defined crime. Anyway his sentence was 12 years, he has served 5 and even if they reduce the mandatory sentences he will still have to serve at least 2 more years. Here is his essay concerning the wasteful practices of the system.

    WASTE IN THE BUREAU OF PRISONS

    I am writing this because I fell that the injustice of the waste that is taking place in United States Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is out of control. I will start by telling you about how the BOP implemented a ‘water conservation project’ back in 2010. Prior to the implementation of this project inmates bought their own laundry detergent and did their own laundry in the hosing units whenever it was dirty. The washing machine and dryers that they used were purchased with the profits made at the commissary where inmates buy their hygiene, food, and clothing items. This saved a lot of money for the BOP in machinery as well as laundry detergent and laundry staff wages. When the water conservation was put into place all of the washing machines and dryers were taken out and inmates were forced to take their clothing to the institutional laundry. Now the BOP has to pay for the upkeep of the machines as well as laundry detergent to wash everyone’s clothes and bed linen. Because of the huge amount of clothing they have to wash they do not get clean. A memo was put out stating that because clothing and bed linens were getting dingy they are switching to all brown clothing and linen so it won’t be noticeable. This caused an increase in sickness and staph infections at the institution further increasing costs on the taxpayers. Another aspect of the water conservation project was to take out the existing faucets in the showers and put in push button faucets . Before these were put in an inmate could get wet, turn off the water, lather with soap, then turn the water back on and rinse. Now inmates must get in get wet, step out of the shower to lather up while the shower continues to run. When you get back in to rinse, the water shuts off because it is on a timer. Therefore, the button must be pushed again in order to rinse. When you get out after you finish the water continues to run and continues to run when leave the shower. The institution uses more water than ever before since the implementation of the above mentioned water conservation measures.

    Water as at an all time high before the installation of the hot water dispensers. I have told you about the water conservation project now I will tell you about the new way inmates cook their food. Until 2013 the profits from the inmate commissary was used to purchase microwaves for use by inmates to cook the food purchased in the commissary. However, the BOP decided to take the microwaves and purchase hot water machines that the inmates now use to cook their food. This means taking bags of food and putting them in trash cans or other containers filled with hot water to heat the contents. This totally goes against the water conservation project. 2014 should have larger water bill than ever before. This will be paid by the BOP, which is ultimately paid by taxpayers. Not to mention the electricity that is used to heat water twenty-four hours a day even though it is only used from 5:00 am until 9:15 pm. It is no wonder the government is going broke with poor choices like this being made all the time.

    The government is now paying 800,000 ‘non-essential workers’ right now as I write this. Yet the BOP is going strong and wasting money every day. Let me tell you about the waste in the upkeep of the cellblocks. The floors are cement and they are being waxed and stripped and re-waxes constantly at taxpayers’ expense. The BOP pays for the was as well as the buffers to buff the floors and the wages of the inmates to wax and buff the floors. It is bad enough they wax the cellblocks. However. the new warden, Warden Fox is forcing inmates to wax their cells as well. Inmates are not properly trained on how to strip floors or wax them. They are not properly trained to use the buffers to buff the floors either. They are turned loose with these caustic chemicals with no supervision. If thrown into another inmates or correctional officers eyes it could blind them. Toilets are constantly being broken by inmates hitting them with buffers. Again all of this cost is paid by taxpayers’, Inmates are hurt using these chemicals and buffers and the medical costs without a second thought. Inmates use the buffers to blow dry their floors and this burns them up so the cost of fixing and replacing the buffers is an ongoing problem. I ask you:Is this an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money? I personally am outraged over the gross misuse of taxpayers’ money. This is just one institution and this is taking place in every BOP institution across America. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent on buffers and wax as well as the water that is being wasted? I assure you it is a very costly endeavor. In closing I will bring up another policy change that forces more cost onto the taxpayers’ unnecessarily. Inmates used to be allowed to purchase their own eyeglasses from an outside source as long as the price was not exorbitant This is no longer possible; inmates are now forced to get all of their eyeglasses from the institution at the expense of the taxpayers. Everything mentioned in this letter should be public record and can be checked out.

    I am putting this on this site to help open the eyes of the public to the gross misuse of public funds as well as the fact that they use these kind of things to make the inmates feel less like men or women and more like cattle to be controlled and abused. Our families are not animals, they are simply people who made a mistake and being locked away from their families is their punishment. It is not the facilities job to mead out punishment, it is their job to keep these inmates locked up, but it is not their job to take away the things that the inmates earn or that help them maintain their self esteem. We as families are affected because it hurts our loved ones so it hurts us. We need to address these kind of problems as well as the mandatory sentences. After all our family members have to live with these excesses and abuses while we fight to free them sooner.

    Reply
  12. Gayle Farinha

    Julie..please help me. I am I victim in a domestic violence case. My case was one of violence. My abuser a person with a past. He has been I incarcerated since the night it happened a yeR ago. While inside jail he applied to the Delancey Street Rehabilitation Program, and was accepted. The prosecution made him a deal..give us a videotaped confession and as 16 year 8 month suspended sentence and you may go to the program (two year program). Upon completion you are free. My abuser took the deal and confessed on videotape to everything they asked him to. My abuser thanked everyone, including the judge for the opportunity. The judge is no longer willing to accept the plea agreement. The program is world class, proven rehabilitation. Nobody that has graduated from this program, that is free with no cost to the taxpayer, that has been in business since 1960, that only accepts 500 people each year, that is radical by nature, has ever, not once, committed a crime since graduation. This program has accepted many murderers, rapist, drug addicts, men that have been on death row for many years. Why does the court not want to save this man. He is one that is worth saving, as any life is. I believe in rehabilitation. How can we deny someone their live in a rehabilitated state? How can the prosecutors make a deal, accept confession based on that deal, and turn around and not honor their own offer. This justice system has given the power of unyielding strengths to the DA’s and Judges in this country. I understand it is all about the almighty dollar. When do the lives of our people begin to matter. This situation is impossible to deal with as a typical middle class Americana. The kind of attorney one needs to fight this is completely out of reach. I don’t know what to do next, as I stand here stunned by the distrust and unfairness I am witnessing. Please reply. Sacramento, CA.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Note: All comments are held for moderation before being published.