An open letter on the importance of second chances

On October 25, hundreds traveled to the State Capitol in Harrisburg for a rally in support of two bills (HB135 and SB942) that would create parole eligibility for those serving life sentences in Pennsylvania. The event was organized by the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI). Jim Lewis covered the story for the Reading Eagle. David Bookman, a CADBI member who is serving a Death By Incarceration sentence (also known as Life Without Parole), read the article and penned the following letter sharing his perspective on the issue with Mr. Lewis. 

David Bookman

Dear Mr. Lewis,

My name is David Bookman, and I am a rehabilitated prisoner who is serving a life sentence. I would respectfully like to offer a different perspective to your comments from the Reading Eagle Newspaper in regards to the rally in the state capital about the bill that would grant parole eligibility to those serving life sentences. I respect and understand your position, I would however like to humbly ask that instead of just seeing this legislation as something that seems like a way to circumvent holding people accountable for their behavior, that you maybe see it as a way to find out, at the very least if they have accepted accountability for their behaviors or not.

I would respectfully offer that this legislation is aimed at the men and women who have, over the many years of being incarcerated, learned to become better people. That these men/woman have, over the many years, learned to not only accept accountability for what they did, the crime that they committed, but to also accept accountability for the damaging effect their choices have had on the community, the victim’s family, along with their own. Some have made the conscience effort to do everything in their power to better themselves and to help educate the young men/woman that come through the doors of these institutions, and in their families.

They do these things because they know they can never giveback what they took from this world, yet they have an overwhelming desire to atone for the wrongs that they have done, to live up to the potential that the people who love and support them have always known existed inside them. I am not speaking on a blanket platform; there are those who have yet to accept accountability and maybe some who never will. However, how can it be just to place individuals in a system that is designed to correct them, then never do anything to determine if they have been corrected or acknowledge the ones who have? Prison for most individuals has served its purpose, it has rehabilitated them. Is it just to ignore that fact or to say that it doesn't matter?

Once a prisoner accepts accountability for his/her behavior then and only then can the rehabilitation process truly begin. Most prisoners can, with the help of their unit team, the many programs geared towards changing their thinking, along with victim awareness classes, that educate the men/woman about the impact of their crimes. If you mix in a loving and supportive family and the most important aspect of rehabilitation, God, people can make great changes in their lives. The sad reality is that the vast majority of those programs are denied to the men and woman serving life. There is also no system in place to even determine if a lifer has accepted accountability for his/her behavior. There is no place for recognition of a changed man or woman. There is currently no parole eligibility for lifers. 

No one takes a lifers conduct history, unit team reports, work reports, prescriptive program reports, or volunteer program reports into consideration to say whether or not a lifer has taken accountability and redirected the course of their lives. Why would they? The only people who would know that a lifer has been rehabilitated are the staff people who have witnessed their development from the beginning. That is why this legislation is crucial, it will give everyone involved the opportunity to evaluate a lifers’ progress to determine if the mission statement of the D.O.C. has been achieved. Then and only then will we truly have justice for ALL!  Because what we have now is vengeance, disguised as justice. If the only way we can determine if a lifer has accepted accountability for their behavior is to punish them until they grow old and die, then justice no longer carries her scales, nor does she still wear her blindfold; she has taken up the sword and become vengeance. If blood is the only thing that can satisfy her, then all is lost. Is that now the face of justice?  Does grace and mercy still live in her? Or is vengeance the only option left.

Please also understand that I am in no way minimizing the live that was lost or the pain of the family.  I am simply saying that some people should have a second chance.  A second chance to do something good, a second chance to help another lost person possibly not go astray. We know and acknowledge that we were wrong and have done the unthinkable, we want hope to someday make a positive impact on the community.  

Thank you for your time and your willingness to hear me out. May God bless you.

Praying for a second chance,

David Bookman
S.C.I. Mahanoy
301 Morea Road
Frackville, PA 17932