Too many people in Florida are serving long prison terms that don’t make communities safer. There are plenty of people locked up like Stephan Stuckey, who do not pose a risk to public safety yet languish in prison for decades, some of them seriously ill. There is no mechanism for Florida to do the humane, commonsense thing and give people like Stephan a second look and the potential for relief.
“I can see how wrong I was earlier in my life and how it took from me precious things like time with my daughter. Time with my granddaughter. Time with my sisters, mother, father, brothers, and time with all my loved ones and friends. I have little time left. Lupus is eating away at the fabric of my life.” — Stephan Stuckey
Decades before the 2004 conviction that landed him in the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC), five-year-old Stephan Stuckey was in a car accident in his small hometown of Titusville, Florida. He went flying through the windshield of a pick-up truck and was left with a traumatic brain injury and a lifetime of severe learning disabilities. School became an ordeal, and any attempt at learning was nearly impossible as Stephan struggled with processing questions and understanding simple directions.
Life for Stephan didn’t get better. After the accident he was subjected to bullying, the accidental shooting death of his brother, and sexual abuse.
“I have very few memories of my childhood and teenage years. Those that I do have are mostly painful and confusing,” Stephan recalls of his formative years and being pulled into crime. “I remember my brother-in-law handing me a hacksaw and instructing me, ‘Go over there and cut that chain. When you’re done, come get me.’ Like a fool I did what he told me to. In my broken mind, I was of some value to someone, and not just to the ones who were molesting me.”
From that day on Stephan spiraled into a life of broken relationships, drug and alcohol addiction, and a string of misdemeanors and felonies, ranging from burglary to theft — all leading to the day in 2004 when he shoplifted six DVDs from a Sam’s Club in Seminole County. He was charged with robbery, a second-degree felony. Because of his long list of priors, Stephan was already categorized as a “prisoner releasee reoffender.”
Even though there was no violence in his crime, with this last conviction Stephan was now classified as a “violent career criminal.” This designation mandated a 30-year sentence, to be served concurrently with a mandatory 15 years because of his prison releasee reoffender status.
The total value of the six stolen DVDs was less than $90.
I begged for years to be treated, but was mostly ignored, partly intimidated, and ultimately demoralized, emasculated, and discouraged from attempting to get help.
Stephan has been in prison now for almost 18 years, with no disciplinary reports or formal reprimands. He has completed an extensive amount of educational courses, including Refrigerant Recycling, Mobile Air Conditioning and ETA International Mobile Communication & Electric Installation. He worked as an electrician in the PRIDE program. Stephan also completed the Horizon faith-based program and served as a facilitator. For years, he has been a mentor to the other men in prison. Notably, four years ago while on work duty, Stephan saved a Pinellas Park police officer from certain death when the officer’s head was being crushed by a pneumatic MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) door.
Meanwhile, Stephan’s health is seriously deteriorating. He suffers from seizures, severe headaches, and lupus, an inflammatory disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues.
Currently there is no cure for lupus, but the painful symptoms can be adequately managed with proper treatment. But that’s not what Stephan is getting. “As far as lupus goes,” he says, “I’ve given up. I begged for years to be treated, but was mostly ignored, partly intimidated, and ultimately demoralized, emasculated, and discouraged from attempting to get help. I can feel the deterioration of my health now. The sun burns my skin like it’s on fire. My joints ache constantly. The headaches put me down more days in the month than I’m able to ambulate about without feeling each step smash the back of my head. The ulcers in my mouth burn and cause my weight to fluctuate up and down drastically primarily because it hurts so bad to masticate or swallow anything. It even hurts to simply drink water. Parts of my body are numb, and my feet feel like they are on fire about 50 percent of the time.”
Stephan also has battled COVID, four times. It’s clear that he is in dire need of sentence relief, which could come through clemency or medical parole.
One bright light in his sad story is the advocacy of his wife, Karen. Recently, she and Stephan’s daughter, Stephanie, visited him. The visit was meaningful, loving, and bittersweet. Both were troubled to see how sick Stephan is.
“The change in Stephan’s health from a mere two weeks ago was disturbing,” says Karen. “Lupus destroys the connective tissue in the body, things like the pericardial sac, the tissue surrounding the heart, kidneys, and pancreas. He never complains but I watch helplessly as he cringes in pain.
“The Florida DOC is not able to meet the needs of my husband and so many like him. Release these individuals – the elderly, the very ill, people who are no danger to society. Geriatric parole, medical parole, this kind of sentence relief just makes sense and is humane and responsible. Send Stephan home to medical care and his family. That’s justice and mercy – the kind of system that makes sense.”
Join us in fighting for medical parole in your state. Time is running out for Stephan Stuckey and so many others.
Name: Stephan Stuckey
Sentence: 30 years
Priors: Burglary and petty theft (11)
Year sentenced: 2004
Projected release date: 2029