Good Parole Review is an All Staff Process

Vien Tran wrote to WCFP from Stafford Creek where he’s been incarcerated since December 2000. He suggests measures that will give the fullest perspective on incarcerated individuals’ motivations and lives, and enable parole review to identify incarcerated individuals ready to reenter and contribute to communities.

I collect all of my courage to write you to show my support for your work and dedication in order to bring parole back to Washington State. How can we get community support? What can change our communities’ and the media’s point of view about us – especially because of those who keep coming back to prison after they’ve been released?

I’ve been in prison since December 2000 (currently at Stafford Creek) and have experienced many changes in our prison system. Olympia is scrambling to impose change after change every time a crisis arises which causes many hardships for the rest of the prison population and staff (Jaime Biendl’s case is an example). Crimes and recidivism can be prevented if we really believe in education and rehabilitation. Counselors, Correction Officers and other staff members who are in contact with inmates daily, have ample opportunities to observe our behaviors. If these staff members are well-trained and equipped with special knowledge which encourages and motivates inmates to change, the result will be remarkably positive.

For example, California is granting very good proportional earned-time to inmates who perform exceptionally well in areas such as work ethic, attitude, education, moral values, goals, and growth orientation.

Here at Stafford Creek, many of our leaders in the Administration believe in change, and so do most inmates. The Redemption Project helps raise self-awareness and identify the need for a change of life style in order to function and repay society for the negative acts that we committed against it. The project keeps growing and producing many facilitators who, in turn, recruit others to join also. It was designed as a non-mandatory program to show inmates that it’s their choice to make changes for themselves willingly. Redemption is a platform for those who want to express their ideas and concerns for a better prison culture and create a positive impact on our outside communities. I’m a facilitator myself, and I can see that there are many inmates who have a potential to change and live a productive life but are still skeptical and hesitant to show a desire to do so.

I want to humbly propose some of my meager measures in hope it would be of help in this great cause.

  1. Float officers and counselors are encouraged to participate and support Redemption Project in group meetings and supervise classes. They are the ones who work closely with inmates and will eventually evaluate each inmate’s performance/behaviors.
  2. Psychologist and other medical staff members are also encouraged to get involved with the project and/or classification process. This will improve staff’s point of view of inmates and help build the trust between inmates and staff.

My fear is that a “One Size Fits All” model will be created that can punish the whole prison population for one individual’s mistake. Officers and Staff are the ones who can monitor the inmates closely because they work inside these fences and are in contact with us regularly. If you send in an expert who could only come once in a while or every three years to evaluate us, he wouldn’t know everything that is going on inside these fences; let alone what’s going on inside a criminal mind. For example, Clemmons, whose motive was to kill (4) officers (at Lakewood), had the capacity to hide his motive and hatred so well he went under the radar. I’m not an expert but I understand that if you can spend time with someone long enough, you will discover his motive in everything he does through his speech and action – not through several short conversations.

So, what can one do to know an inmate and evaluate him?

Here’s how the classification process works at Stafford Creek. In my case, I’m classified once a year, and I don’t have to meet the FRMT (Facility Risk Management Team) if I choose not to. I only need to see my counselor. That’s it.

Other inmates are classified every six months if they have shorter sentences. That means many of us can go under the radar and no one would know our motive.

Taking Anger Management classes and other self-help programs such as AA, NA, and earning certificates from educational and vocational classes are good. But, an inmate needs to psychologically be evaluated and recommended by expert, well-trained staff. Other considerations are family ties and community support. The evaluators must know if an inmate is still a threat to himself, his family, or society. An inmate who has a desire for change will seek help and must show his intention and (a) logical plan (s) for his future. Talking about a plan is not good enough. To distinguish between an inmate who is ready for release and who isn’t is a tough task, but not so tough it can’t be done.

I want to remind you that many of us in here are not all criminals. We were not born criminals. Some of us need more help than the others – “An ignorant mind needs instruction as much as condemnation”. We made our mistakes and we want to redeem ourselves. We still have emotion, love, regrets, dreams, and hope for a better future with our families. We are not caged animals. We are yearning for a normal life. I myself hope for a second chance to redeem myself and a normal life with my beautiful and loving wife. My family is praying for me every night.

Again, I want to thank you and your team for your time and I wish you the best. I believe that you will succeed in helping us. My family, my wife and I owe you a great deal of appreciation. God bless you! Sincerely,

Vien Tran

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