Commentary: Veteran Says System Is Broken

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By Samuel E. Harris

My name is Samuel E Harris and I am an incarcerated disabled veteran. I would like to start off by saying “HELP!” The Veterans Administration is broken. I’m in no way trying to negate my (our) responsibility in committing the crimes for which I am serving this very lengthy sentence.

I was recently interviewed by the Virginia Parole Board in regards to a pending clemency petition that was filed in January 2018. Many have noted the injustice and unfairness in my case.

I was sentenced to 220 years, with 60 years to serve. I’ve served 22 ½ years for crimes committed in 1999 while under the influence of crack cocaine. I was suffering from diagnosed PTSD by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not only during the time I committed these crimes but I was actually suffering from PTSD since 1988 from an accident that occurred while on active duty in the U.S. Army. I was abruptly discharged from the Hampton VA medical center two weeks prior to committing the crimes for which I’m currently incarcerated.

I feel that what I did does not deserve a life sentence. Many of us in here state that we are changed. I know that I’m not the same individual who committed those crimes back in 1999. I’ve taken the last 22 plus years to honestly learn about myself and to change. Many resources aren’t available to offenders serving a sentence such as mine. However, I’ve utilized every resource offered to me by the Department of Corrections. From day one, I was determined not to allow my sentence to define me. My attitude was to stay positive and to seek ways to better myself in preparation for my release.

Changes with the laws and statutes would possibly have me serving a lesser sentence if my crimes were committed today. Therefore when I see how a law is changed, doesn’t that say the previous law was unjust in some way? Many of the changes or “new laws” are not retroactive, leaving those like myself to serve very lengthy sentences. Many who committed more heinous acts leave.

I believe that the 22 years that I’ve already served sufficiently reflect the seriousness of my conduct and take into account the need for deterrent, public safety and respect of the law. I am 52 now and I have matured significantly. My clean disciplinary record while incarcerated will suggest that I am not a danger to any person or community. The sentencing guidelines recommend my sentence as “22 years 2 months to 34 years 4 months” with 29 years 7 months as the midpoint.

I am infraction free and employed during the duration of my incarceration. Since my incarceration my behavior has confirmed my rehabilitative state. I’ve earned several certificates, completed drug and alcohol programs, several educational programs, accepted mental health treatment, and participated in rehabilitation programs. I’ve developed and maintain a strong family support system. I co-authored two books, Beyond the Shackles and Speaking Out for a Change. I am in the process of completing my novel, A Double-Minded Man.

I will admit, when the new governor and his administration took office, the moods here dampened. However, from day one I was determined to always make the most of my incarceration. This prison, Lawrenceville Correctional Center, has a severe drug problem. Within my housing unit, I created a “Life Recovery Group.” This group tackles many issues, for example drug/alcohol use, anger management, handling stressful situations, etc. I’m determined to help in any way possible.

Upon my release, I’m hoping that my non-profit “In-Vet” will assist in the re-entry process, hoping to help others get help and preventing them from committing crimes. I look forward to meeting with you and others to learn ways to help others not only with the criminal justice system but also mental health issues. I hope to help creat avenues for successful re-entry back into society.

Facts about The Case of Samuel E. Harris

  • Samuel became addicted to crack cocaine in 1995. He sought help at several places including the Hampton VA hospital which he was abruptly discharged after 6 days.
  • In an attempt to support his addiction, he committed several criminal offenses. During one of these, a young lady was injured.
  • During a breaking and entering, the occupants returned and Sam asked for their keys and wallets. No one was physically injured.
  • He took full responsibility by pleading guilty, hoping to receive drug treatment.
  • He was sentenced to 220 years with 60 years to serve.

Read Samuel’s story on change.org

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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