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No Inmates Released By the Holidays Despite Promising "First Step Act"

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Blue Christmas for Gary White

For first-time readers, Gary White was a county commissioner in Jefferson County, Alabama. Good friends with Les Siegelman, he introduced Les's brother, [former] Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to Richard Scrushy, a local Republican businessman. Because of this, White became inextricably intertwined with Siegelman, who was one of the biggest targets of the Rove-directed, heavily politicized Department of Justice.

Scrushy and Siegelman were later indicted and convicted on charges stemming from that relationship. According to affidavits provided by Gary [and Judy, who was also in the room] White was asked to perjure himself before a Grand Jury in order to make the case against Siegelman and Scrushy. White refused and the very next day, the DOJ started delivering subpoenas to build a case against him. White is now serving ten years. During that time, he has been shunted from one federal facility to another. This is installment #34 of our ongoing series*.

Gary and Judy in Gatlinburg, TN before last Christmas together
Gary and Judy in Gatlinburg, TN before last Christmas together
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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My guest today is frequent contributor, Judy White. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Judy.

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Joan Brunwasser: There have been some very interesting legislative moves recently that bear discussing. Would you like to get the ball rolling?

Judy White: I would love to, and thanks for your interest, Joan. On May 22, 2018, the House passed the First Step Act by a vote of 360-59, giving prisoners and their families a spark of hope for relief for the first time in a long time. But then Mitch McConnell did nothing with the bill in the Senate as time was wasted and hope waned. (McConnell is pro-prison, for reasons we can discuss later.) At some point, McConnell promised advocates that he would bring the bill up for a vote after the mid-term elections, if 60 favorable votes could be secured, something that was far from certain as some Democrats seemed to oppose the bill claiming it did not go far enough and some Republicans opposed the bill claiming it went too far.

Having set a challenging condition, McConnell may have been surprised when the challenge was met. Advocates and activists spent months contacting their Senators and making the case for passage of the bill, holding a rally in Washington, scheduling "call-ins" to Senate offices, writing letters, making videos -- doing whatever was possible to secure 60 (or more) commitments to vote in favor of the bill. But this was not only a case of grassroots support and advocacy by prison-related organizations and lobbyists. As McConnell backtracked and said he would not set the bill for a vote in the Senate blaming time constraints and not wanting to divide what is arguably the most-divided Senate in recent memory, on November 14th, President Trump stepped up, holding a major public endorsement of the compromise reached between Republicans, Democrats and his administration, led by Jared Kushner, whose father had experienced the "hospitality" of the federal prison system and who had been actively committed to reform from the beginning of the president's term.

With the support of major law enforcement organizations, religious leaders, conservative organizations and leaders, rather than 60 votes, support grew to over 70 Senators co-sponsoring and committing to vote for passage of the bill. McConnell finally relented and on Monday, December 17th, the Senate voted 82-12 to end debate and advance the bill. Paul Ryan had promised a House vote on whatever passed the Senate and the President had promised to sign. That afternoon, I emailed Gary: YOU ARE COMING HOME. The next day, the Senate passed the bill 87-12 and I made chicken salad.

JB: Why chicken salad?

JW: Like all federal prisoners, and I imagine all state prisoners as well, Gary has been hungry every day since he has been in prison. You and I have discussed the constant diet of inedible, contaminated, expired and "not for human consumption" labeled substances the prisoners are given to eat. Gary has frequently mentioned missing real food and wishing for particular meals he used to enjoy when he was home. As we have recently talked about his wishes for homecoming, he has said he would like for me to make chicken salad. I was expecting Gary to be released and home immediately, so I made chicken salad.

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Going back to November and even before then, information had been circulated that upon passage of the bill and the President's signature, approximately 4000 prisoners would return home "immediately" based only on the codification of additional "good time." Gary is one of the 4000 who would be entitled to "immediately" return home. We were filled with gratitude and hope and a hint of joy began to formulate. THIS would be our Christmas Miracle - Gary would be HOME!

On Thursday, December 20th, the House passed the Senate version of the bill and the following day, the President signed the First Step Act of 2018, entitling Gary and many others to return home. IMMEDIATELY! And while it was long delayed and should have/could have passed back in the summer getting Gary home even sooner, it felt like the greatest Christmas gift since the birth of Jesus Christ. For the first time in almost a decade, our family could spend Christmas together! In the words of Dr. Seuss, "It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." (Dr. Seuss, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas")

Even before the Senate vote, I had been corresponding with the BOP to ensure they were preparing to release Gary "immediately" as required and avoid unlawful/illegal imprisonment, something that should not have been necessary as the increase in good time had been in the bill before the House vote in March, giving the BOP plenty of time to program recalculations and plan for compliance with the law immediately upon passage. Surely the BOP would not have ignored the impending changes and surely they would not deprive all those prisoners and families of Christmas. Or would they? Would the BOP be the Grinch and steal Christmas?

The devastating answer is yes. They would and they did. Today, December 26th, is Day 5 of Gary's unlawful imprisonment.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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