Commentary: Lifers Have to Fight against Obstacles

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By Danida Corbin

People incarcerated with a life sentence are punished in multiple ways. First and foremost, they are kept from their family and friends. After time a lot of them vanish into thin air. A few as myself have a mother and sisters that remain a strong support system, yet they are doing time as well by making a decision to stand by me. Not all lifers have that.

Lifers are told to further their education, get minimum to no infractions, and keep a job. Despite this, once in prison when lifers try to take a vocational class or even a cognitive class that are told they can’t because of their sentence or offenders with shorter time are placed before them and they are pushed back.

Also, because of being a lifer, you are automatically a level 3 and that will not change. Being security level 3 keeps you from being able to get shipped to a lower, better prison with better incentives.

Although your GPA (good time behavior level) is a level 1, lifers cannot go to a work release or minimum security prison. Therefore, like other offenders it stops us from being able to show our true progress outside of maximum confinement. Progression to lower security levels was one way of demonstrating “progress during confinement.”

Progress also can be shown in completing educational and rehabilitation programs. Something lifers have to fight for. However, based on the testimony of two parole commissioners “that an assignment to pre-release or minimum security custody would be crucial to determining whether an inmate without a previous work history could successfully adjust to life outside prison. Lifers also do not receive any good time credit no matter how well behaved they are. This leaves a question!

How can lifers show rehabilitation when we cannot progress within the penal system?

Lifers tend to suffer from PTSD. You did everything and still nothing. Lifers cannot hold certain jobs within the prison. I even applied to attend the prison fellowship program in the prison and was told if it came down to me or a short timer (someone with less time than myself) that I wouldn’t be picked.

Unless lifers file under the fishback law, old parole, pediatric parole, it is a very slim chance with clemency.

The chance of returning to society does not look too good. It is like the keys are thrown away and lifers are left to die in a cold place—even if you have rehabilitated yourself.

We are told never to give up, to keep writing, let our voices be heard, you’ll get a lot of no’s but that one yes will come. I have been incarcerated since I was 29.

Now I am 52 years old. In spite of having hope and faith in God, despair still sets in. Lifers who have rehabilitated themselves and are fighting for a second chance, such as myself, reach a point where we do not know who, where, or what to write anymore. We just do not know what to do.

At times even praying gets hard. Then you find someone who says they can help, only to charge you a lot of money with no guarantee, and you don’t have the money. “Life without parole” is the “new death row.” Lifers like myself take advantage and keep fighting against obstacles, all odds, to rehabilitate ourselves.

We furthered our education, held a job, stopped getting infractions. “It is truly like a jungle trying to keep from going under” as the old school song goes. I encourage all lifers I know first hand through the darkest days but we have to hold on until our day will come. We just have to do our part. And just keep trying and going. It is best said by Tyler Perry: “Climb and maintain, climb and maintain.”

I want to end with this. It is not logical to just put lifers into little boxes because of their sentence. The whole thing needs to be looked at. That will be hard to try to do without talking about the specifics of that individual. The purpose of sending people to prison is so that they can get rehabilitated, and redeem themself. The way lifers are treated is just cruel and unusual punishment

Danida Corbin is incarcerated in Virginia

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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