23 Years A Prisoner: My
Struggle For Freedom Continues
By Uhuru B. Rowe
REVISED December 29, 2018
Happy New Year to all of you!
First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for everyone who took the time to write letters and make phone calls to the Governor on my behalf urging him to grant me clemency. Your love and support brought an increased level of optimism and energy to my freedom struggle. Unfortunately, we were not successful.
That’s because in a January 8, 2018 letter from Traci J. DeShazor, the Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I was advised that my “petition for executive clemency has concluded and the petition has been denied.” In an instant, any expectation I had of returning home to my loved-ones last year was dashed to pieces, at least until January 2020. Clemency petitions can be refiled two years after the date of the letter denying the petition. So I have until January 8, 2020, to reorganize my freedom struggle. So, what can we do differently this time around?
One of the issues I think worked against me the last time was the fact that, after the clemency petition was filed in 2014, I received three serious disciplinary infractions which ultimately resulted in me being transferred to Sussex 2 State Prison (S2SP) — a level 4 maximum security prison. Two of these infractions (participating in/encouraging others to participate in a group demonstration, and possession of contraband, which was later upgraded to Stealing) were lodged against me out of retaliation for my continuing to write about and organize against the inhumane living conditions we are made to endure. I addressed the Stealing infraction in a post on my blog titled, “Retaliation In The VA Prison System.”
The calculated use of disciplinary infractions is often a retaliatory tool of reactionary prison officials against incarcerated activists because they know the Virginia Parole Board — which has the dual task of determining if parole-eligible inmates are a suitable candidates for parole, and investigating clemency requests — views an incarcerated person’s poor disciplinary record as being indicative of his/her inability to follow the rules of society. Based on a record of disciplinary infractions alone, the Parole Board will usually deny parole or recommend that a request for clemency be denied. I suspect the reason why my clemency request was denied was because of these three infractions.
As of the date of this post, I have been infraction-free for almost three years. If all goes well, I’ll be almost four years infraction-free when my next clemency request is due to be filed in January 2020. But in order to continue on this trajectory, I need to figure out how I can continue agitating for better prison conditions while at the same time avoiding any retaliatory disciplinary infractions. Remaining infraction-free will satisfy a suggestion made by DeShazor in her denial letter, that I “continue to build a strong record as good citizen.” As a politically-active prisoner, accomplishing such a feat will be difficult but not entirely impossible. I merely have to change tactics and only choose winnable battles.
Another issue that worked against us is the fact that all of the support letters that were written on my behalf were sent directly to the Secretary of the Commonwealth Office after the clemency petition was already filed on June 26, 2014. Unbeknownst to me and my attorney at the time, government policy dictates that all support letters must be included with the clemency petition at the time of filing. So there’s a good chance that none of the support letters that were sent directly to the Governor’s office on my behalf were considered. Not acquiring these support letters beforehand so they could be included with the petition at the time of filing was a tactical error made by both me and my attorney. So this time around, I am organizing a letter writing campaign early so that all support letters will be received way ahead of the January 2020 deadline.
So starting today, I humbly ask all of you — those of you who support me and my cause, and sympathize with my plight — to please write a support letter, addressed to the new Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, a Democrat, urging him to commute my 93 year prison sentence. I suggest that you begin your letters this way:
“Dear Governor Ralph Northam: I am writing you on behalf of Uhuru B. Rowe, #1131545, who has been incarcerated in the Virginia Department of Corrections for 25 consecutive years. I am urging you to commute (reduce) Rowe’s 93 year prison sentence because his sentence exceeds Virginia’s discretionary sentencing guidelines by a whopping eighty (80) years. I feel that such a sentence represents an egregious abuse of power and discretion by the sentencing judge in his case………”
After this, you can write whatever your heart inclines you to write. However, I add that it’s important that you also mention if you are a friend or family member, how you came to know me, and stress how much my release from prison will positively impact your life and the community as a whole.
Be sure to include your contact info (i.e. phone number and/or e-mail address) in your completed letter (just in case the Governor or his staff wish to contact you) and send it to my e-mail at:
firstname.lastname@example.org. And please write “Clemency Support Letter” in the subject line.
If you need any additional insight into the circumstances of my case, my accomplishments in prison, or further guidance on how to draft your letter, please search for a post on my blog titled, “21 YEARS A PRISONER” or go to http://sfbayview.com/2015/09/my-struggle-for-freedom-in-the-midst-of-virginia-s-truth-in-sentencing-and-abolition-of-parole-law/.
I thank you in advance for your continued love and support.