Guest Commentary: Why Aren’t More Rehabilitated, Aging Prisoners Being Released?

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

By Robert E. Ehrenberg

On Aug. 23, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo granted me executive clemency. I have been elated since then, but on one particular morning, I awoke with tears in my eyes as I thought of Stanley Bellamy, one of my closest friends who I would be leaving behind.

Over seven years ago, I made a conscious decision to turn my life over to God, and I transformed myself from the lowly individual I used to be and secured a transfer to Sullivan Correctional Facility, where I could pursue dual college degrees.

I met Stan in the Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison program, where we vied to be class valedictorian. Neck and neck, we set the bar for our classmates. Side by side, we also taught pre-college English and math to incoming students.

Stan had been a troubled young man when he committed the crimes that led to a death-by-incarceration sentence that left him no room for redemption. While I prepare for my release back into society, he is sitting at Green Haven Correctional Facility, where he now resides about 70 miles east of Sullivan.

Three years ago, I got a visit from a man I had never met before. In the prison visiting room, David George extended his hand to introduce himself as the associate director for the advocacy group, Release Aging People in Prison. David had apparently been visiting Green Haven when he met Stan. “The next time you go to Sullivan, you’ve got to meet this guy,” Stan had told him, speaking of me.

Soon after that meeting, I began participating in teleconferences with state senators, chiefs of staff, and legislative directors, all in an effort to bring awareness about rehabilitated aging men with lengthy sentences ahead of them.

The number of aging inmates, like me, is staggering.

According to a Marshall Project analysis of data from the National Corrections Reporting Program, the percentage of people in state prisons who were 55 and older tripled to 150,000 in 2016, compared to 2000. According to Bureau of Prisons data as of Sept. 11, 2021, more than 18,000 of the federal prison population are 56 and older.

I know there are many people in society who believe in letting prisoners go if they’re rehabilitated. But if society promotes forgiveness, why then are men like Stan left behind and forgotten? There should be a way to re-evaluate and release worthy individuals through clemency, so they have a shot at redemption. I should not be an exception.

As I sit here in my cell, days out from release, I hear their voices crying out. I feel their pain and longing for a new life. I hear Stan’s voice, yearning for his second chance, even as he continues to mentor his fellow prisoners.

Stanley, stay strong. As I leave the confines of prison soon, it is my solemn promise – you will not be left behind.

Originally published through the Prison Journalism Project.  The article was originally published on their site.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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