Southern Collective Blog Guest Writer – Dolwin Cormiá

Currently pursuing an Associate’s Degree with Roane State Community College. Participant with Tennessee Higher Education Initiative.

It is a well known fact that the state of Tennessee has the harshest life sentence law in the United States. A person who has been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole must complete fifty-one calendar years of incarceration just to be eligible for parole, and parole isn’t a guarantee then. In essence, there is no difference between life with parole or life without parole in the state of Tennessee. Life with and life without parole are both equal to a death sentence, as you can’t be expected to live up to or beyond the fifty-one years to become eligible for parole.

Studies have been done and show that the average life expectancy of a man in the United States, who is not in prison, is sixty-nine years of age. Compared to an incarcerated man who receives inadequate health care, food that barely passes FDA standards, commissary foods that are high in salt content, stressors of the world outside of prison that are beyond our control, and guards who are indifferent, brutal in their treatment and tactics, and racist – the life expectance of a man in prison drops significantly to sixty years old. All of the above factors, plus others, make it impossible for a man/woman to complete fifty-one calendar years of incarceration, in order to become eligible for parole. The state of Tennessee would have to start convicting children as young as ten or twelve years old just to come close to completed those fifty-one years.

David Raybin, a lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee was one of the people who helped to draft the fifty-one year life sentence law. Now, Mr. Raybin has come to the realization that fifty-one calendar years of incarceration is an impossible feat for a person convicted of life with the possibility of parole, and is now fighting to reverse the life sentence law to something reasonable, along with other lawyers, politicians, and everyday citizens.

There are one thousand plus persons who have been convicted and given a life sentence with the possibility of parole in Tennessee, and more are being convicted on a weekly basis. This makes prison a very dangerous environment, not just incarcerated peoples, but for staff and employees. As all hope has been taken away from the persons who have been convicted of life with the possibility of parole. The mindset of the convicted persons is at a loss, there are no incentives for them to do the right thing or to try to become a better person, because they can not see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

In a normal society, things change every five years and society adapts to the changes and continue to grow. In prison, people who have done extended amounts of time and sentences, have changed on their own or through various programs that are available to them. I, myself, am such a person as I will be graduating with an associates of science degree in 2023 from Roane State Community College.

People grow and change for the better in prison when there is hope for the future. I am pleading with whomever is reading this letter, help to reduce the life sentence law in Tennessee from fifty-one to twenty-five years. Give us a chance to show you that we are not the same people who committed our crimes, that we are better people than we were before, and that we can be productive citizens in society upon our release.

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