ORLANDO – If you get arrested and are brought to trial, a lawyer could be the only thing that stands between you a prison sentence. That defense attorney is suddenly your best friend.
But if you get convicted and given time in prison, Garry L. Jones warns, then stop talking to your lawyer, and any other attorney that contacts you. Chances are, he said, that lawyer is no longer your primary advocate.
“I used to tell inmates, when they imposed mandatory minimum sentencing, there’s nothing the lawyers can do,” said Jones, a retired corrections officer. “One you’re sentenced to that mandatory minimum, that’s it, you have to do the time you got sentenced to.”
All too often, he warned, lawyers write to the inmates, promising to appeal their conviction or try to get their sentence reduced – if the inmate or their family can pony up some cash for their efforts. Don’t bother, Jones said, because it’s all a waste of the inmates’ time – and money.
“I wrote and told the inmates, if anyone writes to you and says they can get your sentence reduced, they’re just trying to get your money,” he said. “The fact of the matter is inmates sentences will not be reduced unless the laws change. A lot of inmates felt vulnerable and believed these people could get their sentence reduced and paid a lot of money out to the so-called firms, and never got released or a sentence reduction.”
Jones, who now lives in Atlanta, is a retired lieutenant with the Federal Correctional Institute in Tallahassee. After retiring, he formed Advocate4Justice, a non-profit group committed to promoting a more humane treatment of inmates. His goal, he said, has been to bring justice back to the criminal justice system, and to be a vocal critic of a system that elminated GED and other education programs in prisons, and provides inmates with substandard medical treatment — at best.
It’s also the reason why Jones has written a three part book series called “Straight Out Of Hell,” that aims to expose what he calls the corruption and abuse in the state and federal prison systems he’s worked in.
“I definitely wanted to expose the problems in the system – and what happens to you when you expose the system, the retaliation,” he said.
The first two books — “Straight Out Of Hell 1: Wrong Place Wrong Time” and “Straight Out Of Hell 2: The true Character of a Man” — are already available from A4JPublishing of Orlando and can be purchased on Amazon.com. The third book, “I Wasn’t Raised To Play By The Rules,” is being published this summer by A4J. Jones said he wrote the series for the same reason he formed Advocate4Justice: to become a voice for change in an otherwise bad system. Too often, he said, inmates are simply treated as if they have no basic human rights whatsoever.
“I wanted to be a voice for them,” he said. “I’ve worked at six different prisons and there are some good people who are incarcerated. Don’t get me wrong, there are some badasses in there, too. But there are some intelligent people and skillful people incarcerated, too.”
Too many of them, he said, are locked up for victimless crimes – including people charged with violating federal drug laws when they may simply have been at the wrong place at the wrong time, or hanging out with the wrong crowd.
“A lot of inmates get trapped,” he said, and get incarcerated for what amounts to guilt by association – associating with people who use or sell drugs more frequently than they do.
The system, he said, doesn’t want to hear their story and treats them no differently than the most hardened, violent offender who legitimately poses a threat to society.
When he complained about this to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Jones said, he faced harassment on the job – details that he describes vividly in “Straight Out Of Hell 3.”
“I wanted to bring out evefrything that happened to me at the bureau,” he said. “They were allowed to stress me. They critiqued me down to a science. This stuff is still political – it’s who you know. This is their favorite term: ‘You’re not a team player.’ That was everywhere. It’s state or federal prisons – I worked both. If you didn’t do what they wanted you to do, you weren’t a ‘team player. ‘ “
Jones said he hopes Advocate4Justice and the book series put a spotlight on what he sees as a discriminatory sentencing system, particularly federal anti-drug laws that disproportionately target urban minority neighborhoods. He also wants inmates to understand that not everyone who works in the system is out to get them or make their time in prison miserable.
“Most inmates are anti-authority when they first walk in,” he said. “They are against authority figures. They think we’re bad people. But we didn’t do anything to you. You got arrested and went to trial and the courts did this to you. We’re just here to babysit you during your sentence.”
At the same time, he said, inmates deserve to be treated fairly, and humanely – and not get abused by prison staff, or exploited by those who make money off this system, including lawyers promising often fruitless appeals.
“I’m not in there to hurt inmates and take their money,” Jones said.
He also hopes the books appeal to the average reader who wants to learn more about how the prison system operates today.
So far, he said, he’s gotten a good response from people who have purchased the first two installments.
“The compliments I get from people on my first two books is ‘I just wanted to read a chapter or two before bed, but I couldn’t put it down,’ “ he said.
To learn more about Jones’ book series, log on to Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/garry+jones+straight+out+of+hell, or A4JPublishing at www.a4jpublishing.com.
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