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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Story of Healing and Forgiveness.

Last week I got a call from a woman who wanted to talk about creating a victim reconciliation program for people incarcerated in Ohio. Her name is Lynette Grace and she's a survivor of a violent crime. She has, completely on her own, reconciled with Johnny Bell, the man who stabbed her 20 years ago.

When I met with her, I started to say "I did a little research and the ODRC has a reconciliation program but..." before I could finish saying "I doubt it's much good" she said, "oh, they hate me!" What followed was a very interesting conversation, full of anger and frustration. The ODRC has turned this story of forgiveness and restoration into a trap, a means to further confine and torture Mr Bell. They used a support letter from Lynnette against Johnny at a parole hearing, removed her from his visiting list, called her a liar, and have generally done everything they could to make her "stay a victim" so they can justify continuing to hold Johnny captive. We'll be following up in the future, but for now, here's the story in Lynette and Johnny's words:

I was living in Atlanta GA when I received word that my mother died in Toledo, Ohio. I got on a plane to come to Ohio to bury my mother. While in town I thought I would visit some friends before returning to Atlanta. I was spending the night with a church friend when about 6:00 a.m., her 16 year old son got into an argument with her and ultimately stabbed her to death. Without provocation he began stabbing me, but I survived the attack. 20 years later I wanted to find out what happened that morning that Johnny killed his mother and stabbed me. I went to the prison to ask the young man these questions I had wanted to ask him for years. It never occurred to me that he needed to find forgiveness and healing for himself as well. He asked for my forgiveness for his actions against me and I forgave him and we are good friends now.  I feel if you cannot exercise forgiveness  towards others how can you expect forgiveness.

Johnny and I are hoping to help other inmates and victims achieve forgiveness of oneself and thus begin the healing process for themselves as well. We just don’t know how to go about doing this with him still being incarcerated. Hopefully you can help us shed some light on how to achieve this goal.

 – Lynette

Behind The Bars of Ohio’s Most Dangerous Prisons

Written by: Johnny D. Bell

The real life men and women who reside in prisons across Ohio after a much clearer picture of today’s reality. For many of these inmates it is a lonely, tension filled existence. Many of the inmates in today’s prison have committed murder, felonious assault, armed robberies, kidnapping, arson, drug abuse, breaking and entering, driving under the influence and drug trafficking charges and so on.

For some they have short sentences, but for many they face a long time in prison if not their entire lives. Home for a person convicted is an enclosed environment where money, sex and drugs rule.

The fortunate adjust by using whatever currency is available. The noise of prison is relentless. Twenty-four hours a day, remote control locks clang open. Inmates scream when their nightmares become too vivid. Some moan softly with sexual ecstasy and others cry with hopelessness. From the moment a person has been sentenced, their life takes on a different significance. As an inmate walks through the gates of prison for the first time in their life, they know from that moment forward that they are marked for life.

The officials who run these facilities from the Warden to the Correctional Officers have witnessed just about everything that involves the human species. Their job is to run these establishments coolly and professionally. Prisons are supposed to be orderly places, organized with careful precision because many hundreds of prisoners need to be housed, fed and controlled.

Even some staff members concede that often the rules have to be broken in order to keep the peace in such a volatile atmosphere. At its worst it can be likened to a living nightmare where morals have long since disappeared and only the strong and shrewd can survive. Certainly, increasing numbers of states are building vast state-of-the-art facilities. But that doesn’t change the face of the inmates. 

There are few boundaries morally or socially. The secret of surviving a long sentence is finding a way to pass time. Some inmates become homosexuals or lesbians while in prison because the pursuit of sexual activity enables them to thrive in an often dangerous environment. Others pour themselves into educational studies often trying to catch up with what they failed to achieve on the outside.

Whether there is an actual transformation, or an even partial rehabilitation of inmates while in prison remains a highly questionable point. Many inmates who seem strong, bright and capable while behind bars find it virtually impossible to survive in the outside world after serving a lengthy sentence.

The United States currently holds the dubious distinction of being first among industrialized nations in the rate at which we imprison our people. By 2006 more than eight million adults were under the direction of some type of correctional agency. While the rate of male imprisonment has increased by 232% during the past ten years, the female prison population increased by 420% during the same period. The next century promises to see the figures rise even higher. The daily cost per inmate is between $45.21 to $80.25 at the most. Ohio now has 30 correctional institutions. Ohio prisons are plagued by severe overcrowding but the inmates biggest complaint centers around health care.

Even prison staff admit that inmates often have to wait 3 weeks to see one of 3 contracted doctors who serve the institutions. Across Ohio inmate-on-inmate violence is rising compared with the previous decade. 

As the population continues to grow the system is already put under more severe pressure. No one can deny there have been numerous cases of rough treatment sometimes even murder at the hands of a Corrections Officer.

It is a fast and growing problem in Ohio’s prisons. Staff and Correction Officers have wrongly beaten an inmate so severely that an inmate sometimes can’t even walk or go to the bathroom on his own. These days, the prison system across the nation has been actively geared against retribution not for rehabilitation. The goal now is to release men and women prepared to start a new life, a constructive life that will never again lead them into trouble.

The average age today of the offender is anywhere from 19 – 24 years of age. The average budget to run an Ohio Prison is between $26,394.00, 476 to $45,320,088. In Ohio you have what is known as old-law-inmates and new-law-inmates. Old-law-inmates over a period of time have to appear before the Ohio Adult Parole Board.

New-law-inmates are given a specified flat term of time to serve. Old law inmates that were sentenced under House Bill No. 511 use to be able to apply themselves to get good time credit, furlough, half time review and shock probation. The new-law-inmates can apply for judicial release, post release control, transitional control and the first time offenders program.

In 1996 when Senate Bill 2 went into effect it wiped the state clean for all old-law-inmates with the exception of clemency, parole board, or a reconsideration hearing from the parole board. If the jobs of the Ohio Parole Board depend on inmates under the old-law then why would the Parole Board let someone such as myself go?

The Ohio Parole board would probably find the smallest reasons to keep someone like me incarcerated rather than to let me go. Many men and women become so institutionalized that they just cannot handle the reality of the outside world. The half way house sometimes provide the answer, but with certain inmates it creates more problems than what it solves.

When a man or woman is released from prison they need family and friends for support because the state hands out a few hundred dollars, food stamps and social security will not go very far. Without anyone that has someone to help them many will return to an environment with all the problems that go with it.

Written by Johnny D. Bell
Warren Correctional Institution

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