For the first time, today I was a witness in a criminal justice hearing. As I wrote on 11 April 2016, I have been teaching in jail every week as part of Education for Ministry (EfM), an extension program of the University of the South – School of Theology, for which I am an Accredited Mentor and the El Camino Real Diocesan Coordinator.
One of the Elmwood Jail student-mentees in my EfM seminar had a Romero hearing today and I was in court as a character witness. “The People of the State of California v. Superior Court (Romero), 13 CAL. 4TH 497, 917 P.2D 628 (Cal. 1996), was a landmark case in the state of California that gave California Superior Court judges the ability to dismiss a criminal defendant’s ‘strike prior’ pursuant to the California Three-strikes law, thereby avoiding a 25-to-life minimum sentence” (quote from Wikipedia). In today’s Romero hearing, the Defendant (my student-mentee) had the opportunity to reduce his sentence from an indeterminate number of years (that is, being sentenced to triple digit years without parole) to a sentence that may be completed during his lifetime. I was the only witness present in court today but others had written letters to the judge asking for mercy in his case. The hearing was brief but thorough. The judge listened to me and the lawyers for the Defendant and Plaintiff (“the people”), then reviewed submitted documents. What seemed to make a positive difference in this case was that the Defendant:
- Has shown remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions
- Has demonstrated a sustained change in his behavior, character, and prospects for the future
- Did not use physical violence
- Is middle aged already
I was glad that the judge ruled in favor of the Defendant today and gave him a sentence of 30 years without parole. My student-mentee will be an old man when he gets out of prison but with luck and good behavior, he will get out someday. This was the result he had hoped for.
When I serve each year as a Mentor in the TechWomen program of the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, my Mentees may go on to start businesses, accelerate their professional careers, attend graduate school, and change the world for the better. When I am a Mentor each year for the EfM class hosted by Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, my student-mentees after four years of study graduate with more awareness of their personal ministry and with a solid education in the Bible, church history, theology, and ethics.
I am learning that as a Mentor for an EfM seminar in a county jail, my student-mentees gain the same education and potential for awareness of their personal ministry but have smaller potential to change the world for the better. Even after they leave jail or prison, their socioeconomic status is so low that their prospects are modest as members of the community. I am learning to celebrate the wins we can get, among them: passing the high school equivalency exam, reconciling with family, being accepted into a good reentry program, and getting a positive Romero judgement as we did today.
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Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson