The system of mass incarceration in the US offers few second chances to prisoners, and Maryland is no exception. As The Real News has previously reported, the state’s parole system puts incarcerated people at the mercy of an inefficient, capricious process that is unlikely to deliver a speedy release for many. Now, a new bill in the Maryland legislature could create new pathways to freedom for prisoners who’ve served 20 years or more behind bars. Alonzo Turner Bey and Desmond Haneef Perry of the MD Second Look Coalition join Rattling the Bars to discuss the Second Look Act (SB123).

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Studio / Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


Transcript

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Mansa Musa:

Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars: A podcast that amplifies the voices of people who are disenfranchised, marginalized, and subjugated while offering solutions. I’m your host, Mansa Musa. Maryland is currently in its legislative session and today, we are discussing two important bills proposed by the Second Look Coalition, which focuses on sentencing reform. Joining me to discuss these, are two formerly-incarcerated organizers from the coalition, Desmond Haneef Perry and Alonzo Turner-Bey. Thank you for joining me.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

All right. Thank you for having me, bro.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

All right. Thanks.

Mansa Musa:

All right. Let’s educate our audience on the legislative process. So the legislative session in the state of Maryland has convened and it’s in the process of looking at a series of bills around the interest of the state. What’s of interest to the Second Loop Coalition is specific bills as it relates to men and women that are incarcerated. One bill in particular that the Second Look Coalition is sponsoring and trying to get people to become more aware of is Senate Bill 123. All right. Haneef, first, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

All right. Thank you for having me on here, bro. My name is Desmond Haneef Perry. I’ve been home now, out of the division of corrections, for almost two years. I came home back in May of 2022. I was incarcerated when I was 18, and I did a total of 20 years and 78 days. I was a lifer — I had life plus 15 years. I successfully won a post-conviction so that’s how I was able to obtain my freedom, but also because of something that we’re going to talk about when we get into talking about the bill.

And talking about the significance of the Second Look bill, I’m from Prince George’s County originally, and because I was convicted and sentenced in Prince George’s County, I would say it’s that I had the benefit to have Aisha Braveboy as my state’s attorney. Her program that they have right now, the Sentencing and Conviction Integrity Unit was also a means that I benefited from to be able to get out and it’s somewhat connected to what we’re talking about here today. I’ll go on a little bit more about that, but I am also a forensic peer specialist right now. Since I’ve been home, I’m so humbled to have opportunities like this to be able to speak to the public, share my story and my experience, and also the things that I’m advocating for, like this particular bill right here.

I’m a forensic peer specialist with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. I’m also the co-founder of a reentry nonprofit organization called Rectify, which is focused on trauma-informed peer support and clinical case management, helping individuals return home equitably, and being treated with decency and given the things that they need. So that’s what we’re doing now.

Mansa Musa:

Okay. Turner-Bey, before we unpack this bill, tell our audience a little bit about yourself.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

My name is Alonzo Turner-Bey. I was arrested and convicted with a charge of a homicide when I was 17 years old. I was serving a sentence of life plus 5 years at 17 years old. I served 31 years, 6 months, 15 days, and 5 hours. I was released on parole on October 16, 2020 after serving over 31 years. Since I’ve been out, I’m a certified peer recovery specialist for a local county agency and I volunteer with a nonprofit organization called F.R.E.S.H, Fully Restoring Every Sons Hope. We go around the country teaching our youths about knowing their rights and how to interact with law enforcement in a manner where everybody can walk away with their life, safe, and — What’s the name — Teach them about their Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Sixth Amendment rights. We also feed the homeless.

We work with men and women who come home from prison and help them get reacclimated. Right now, we currently are doing a clothing drive for a nonprofit organization called Momma’s Safe Haven, where we are collecting clothes for women and children ’cause they work with battered women who leave their situation with nothing — They leave with the kids, they get up in the middle of the night, and they roll. So we’re trying to make sure that these women got clothes for going on job interviews and these children got clothes so they can go to school. We’re trying to help the women get back. One thing you know like me, Mansa Musa, for women who are in our situation, in prison or have been in prison, they don’t get as much attention and focus as the men do. So at Fully Restoring Every Sons Hope, we want to help the sisters out as much as we can. So we’re working with this battered women’s organization and we’re trying to provide some clothes to these women and these children and the everyday things they need.

Mansa Musa:

Okay. This opens the door for the conversation about the bill. We recognize that the women that’s incarcerated, in the state of Maryland in particular and the country general, don’t get treated nowhere near the treatment that men get. And if men get mistreated, then what’s that say about what women are getting? Today we’re looking at the legislative session being convened and we are looking at a bill that the Second Look Coalition is endorsing and sponsoring. It’s Senate Bill 123. All right. Haneef, explain what Senate Bill 123 is for the benefit of our audience.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

Thank you. In a nutshell to keep it quite simple, Senate Bill 123 is our version of what we call a Second Look bill. This bill for the state of Maryland is a bill that would grant an individual the opportunity to come back for a relook at their sentence after the individual has served 20 years of incarceration. This bill doesn’t discriminate in gender, this bill doesn’t discriminate in age, nor does this bill discriminate in offenses of any type. One of the things that we emphasize with this bill… We’re saying that if an individual has served 20 years of incarceration and that person has demonstrated that they deserve a second chance, that they have reformed, that they have done all of the things that they could possibly do — They’ve went to school, got an education, college degrees, they’ve completed all types of cognitive behavioral programming, they’ve been somewhat of a model inmate in regards to their infraction record, and they held jobs — They’ve demonstrated throughout the 20 years that they have changed, that they’ve gained the remorse and empathy that we all are looking for in such tragic crimes, that this individual should be given a second look.

His or her case now should come up before a judge and they should be given an opportunity to look at that individual and determine whether they want to reduce that individual’s sentence and give this individual a second chance. Again, we’re saying this is the second chance for all in the state of Maryland. We want the public to be aware that there are some other bills that are advocating for something similar to what we’re advocating for, however, these bills are not for everyone. One of them is focused on geriatric individuals, individuals who are 68 years old and above. Another bill is focused on giving the prosecutors the ability to bring these individuals back up. We know that can be problematic if we don’t have a complete bill that is saying, hey, look, it’s simple: 20 years or better with a great institutional record, 20 years or better demonstrating that they have reformed and gone above and beyond, then this individual should come back up.

We should be looking at their cases and reexamining it not from the perspective of the offense and the crime, because that’s one of the things that can’t change. That’s something that we like to elaborate on and talk about is that we cannot revisit that person’s offense and say, well, because of the nature of the offense or because of the offense that took place, now we’re looking at all of the good that the person has done, this man or woman has done, and we’re going to say, well, because of that, it outweighs their good, as if they’re irredeemable. It’s something that we feel like, man, it shouldn’t be done. But basically in a nutshell, this particular bill is that it’s a second chance for all; 20 years of better, a person should be able to come back up for a relook at their sentence.

Mansa Musa:

Turner-Bey, as Haneef just outlined, it’s a bill for all. Okay, we recognize that, and we recognize that it’s all hinged on if a person has a significant amount of time they have served. I was looking at the bill — Unpack this bill, if you can, about some of the factors they’re going to take into account in assessing once the person has filed a petition with the court to get a modification or to get their sentence free. Turner-Bey, talk about some of the things that the court is going to be looking at in terms of making their determination. So that it won’t just look like, well, a person did 30 years or a person did 20 years, filed a petition, said they’ve been doing good, and ain’t got no tickets. Okay, that’s all good. Now they get out. Is that the gist of it, or is it going to be a more in-depth analysis on the part of the court, Turner-Bey?

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

It’s going to be a more in-depth analysis. Let’s get this understood; We’re talking about a person who’s doing 20 years day for day, not including good days. 20 years day for day. When they came into incarceration, they got their GED, they may have went to anger management, they went to Thinking For a Change, they’ve been to all of these programs that aid in the system in becoming a better individual — They went to school, they have veiled their self to every opportunity. They have worked, they have changed. We’re going to look at their family. When a person puts a petition to a court, let’s get this clear, it is not a guarantee that you’re going to be released.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

I forgot to add that.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

This bill does not give a guarantee release. All it says is you’ll be given the opportunity to present your case before a judicial body. A judge can say, okay. Right now, you’re serving life plus 20 years. You’ve been locked up since you were 18. Okay, we’re going to take and cut your life to 50 years. Then you may go for parole in another 10 years. So it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to be released. The judge can cut your sentence to a point where you don’t have life. You can have 50 years. You can have 60 years. He can reduce your sentence based upon how he looked at your record. Victims will be notified in this case, so it’s not —

Mansa Musa:

Yeah, talk about that.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

— This bill does, in fact, have victim notification in it. If you have a crime or a case where there is a victim, the victim will be notified by the state’s attorney’s office and will be informed that you have petitioned the court and you have ask the court for a reduction of sentence. And the victim or the victim’s family or representatives will be given an opportunity to appear before this court and say what they want to say. Whether they are for it or they’re against it, they will be given an opportunity.

Mansa Musa:

Let me ask you this, Turner-Bey, then Haneef, you can weigh in on too. Okay, I’m going to push him back. In the Maryland prison system, we’re talking about introducing a bill that says if you serve 20 years that you have a right to petition the court to have your sentence reviewed. I served 20 years, I’m eligible for parole. Why do I need a law to say in addition to this, I served 20 years, I got a right to modification when I first come into the system. When you juxtapose these things to what you’re talking about with this bill, how do these things gel, Turner-Bey? Because I’m seeing they do have, in the state of Maryland, different situations where a person can gain relief post-conviction. Haneef just talked about he filed post-conviction and got released. So why do we need another law or bill to come out and say, yeah, well, we going to give you preferential treatment?

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

No, let’s get it understood. We are not saying a right, you don’t have a right. We’re saying we are giving you an opportunity. Parole is an opportunity to present yourself before two commissioners or two agents to give an opportunity to see if you’re worthy or should be given or granted parole. The first modification that any person get after incarceration, you must be filed within the first five years of your incarceration. If a person is serving a sentence of life in prison, there’s no judge on the face of the earth after your first five years of incarceration, that is going to give you some type of relief or modification. Why? Because you have not demonstrated before that court that you are not the same person you were five years ago. They want you to do some time for the crime that you have committed. So we have come to the conclusion that 20 years day for day, not including diminishing credit, 20 years from the date of your arrest all the way up to now, then you become eligible. This is not a right, you become eligible.

It’s not guaranteed that you will be released. We look at 20 years because we’re saying that after being incarcerated 20 years, if a person goes in prison and does everything that he or she is supposed to do to aid and assist in their rehabilitation process, their changing of their mindset, their thought process, and educate their self, after 20 years, this person should not be the same person they were when they came to prison regardless of what their age is. This is not a guarantee. It only presents the court with an opportunity to consider and weigh in all of the factors and then making a decision from a judicial process and saying, hey, this person may deserve an opportunity but I ain’t going to give them the complete opportunity today. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to reduce your sentence. You’re serving life with parole, well, I’m going to reduce it to maybe 50 years.

Mansa Musa:

Okay. Okay.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

So over 50 years you go back up and see the parole board and then the parole board may make a determination and say, hey, come back in three years. Come back in five years. It’s not a guarantee —

Mansa Musa:

All right. Haneef, come on.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

— Go ahead.

Mansa Musa:

Let me ask you this then you can go ahead and say that.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

Go ahead. Yes, sir.

Mansa Musa:

Okay. Why do you think this bill is important in terms of the mindset of the prison population in the state of Maryland? What do you think this bill represents for them?

Desmond Haneef Perry:

I believe first and foremost, this bill represents hope, and that’s something that we have to continue to give individuals who are incarcerated. Me coming from that setting… First let me say it like this because Turner-Bey touched on some things that I want to piggyback off of before I go into this. But it definitely represents hope, and this is the reason why. For those in the public who may be wondering, why are we pushing for this? Because there are other mechanisms set up for an individual, as we currently speak, to be able to petition the court to come back for some type of reduction, modification, or review of sentence. There’s no doubt about that. However, when a person has done a substantial amount of time, you end up exhausting all of those remedies, sometime before 20 years.

You’re exhausting all those remedies because everything has a time limit and a deadline that you have to get those things in. Just like Turner-Bey talked about, if you have the right or ability to file a modification of sentence in the state of Maryland, but there’s a five-year cap on it, then what? That means you get to that five years and there’s a possibility that you go up for that modification you’re not going to get it because you didn’t have enough time to demonstrate that you have reformed or that you have changed. That’s a significant thing. The number is very significant. A person may look at it like, okay, it’s 20 years. Some people may look at that and diminish that, but 20 years in reality as we know, that’s a generation. 20 years is a generation, we’re talking about a person who has been incarcerated for an entire generation of their life.

That’s key that we point that out. And that this mechanism would be a mechanism that will give individuals hope. One of the things that we don’t want to do with our individuals who are incarcerated is take away that hope. Right now, the US — And Maryland as being one state in part as we know — Incarcerates more people than anyone else on the face of this earth. Let alone that, as we now have determined, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Public Defender have come together because the numbers in the state of Maryland are out of this world. It’s unacceptable that we make up 29%, 30%, or some say 31% of the population in this state, but we lock up 71%. You know what I’m saying? That doesn’t make sense.

Mansa Musa:

That math is crazy.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

That doesn’t make sense. That math is crazy and that’s not even talking about the math for the entire country. So when we’re talking about this right here and this particular bill, this bill does a lot. It gives individuals who are incarcerated something to work for, something to strive for. Like myself, for example. There’s no doubt about it, man, that had not these two things happened by the permission of God, I would not be sitting here right now talking to you. For one, I had a post-conviction and my post-conviction was denied. First and foremost, my post-conviction was denied. I filed an application for leave to appeal and the higher courts overturned my case and then the lower court granted me post-conviction relief.

The prosecutors, even after that, wanted to retry me and reconvict me again even after the higher court said, no, there was an egregious prosecutory misconduct issue here. Constitutional right was violated of this young man and you need to correct that. However, the prosecutor still wanted to prosecute me; that particular assistant state’s attorney at that time. Had it not been for something that… The only thing going on in the state of Maryland right now is that Aisha Braveboy and her team put together a Sentencing and Conviction Integrity Unit, which is similar but not quite the same to what we’re talking about right now. What they did was they put together a unit that would go and look at the individual’s constitutional record and look at how long they’ve been locked up and seeing what they have done to determine whether they would want to give them that second chance.

Mansa Musa:

You outlined your situation and how much time and what you’ve done, but put on top of that, you’ve done over 20 years. So the reality is that you’re demonstrating what this bill is representing, you and Turner-Bey are proof positive of that. Even if we take out of the equation the post-conviction, if we take out of the equation that Turner-Bey got relief, even we take that out the equation how I got relief, and put into the equation a 20-year cap or opportunity for men and women to petition the court to look at me and look at my circumstances and see if I’m worthy to be released. Turner-Bey?

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

Yes.

Mansa Musa:

Talk about how you see this bill going forward. Because you got your ear to the ground. How do you see this bill going forward? What are y’all saying?

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

This bill is imperative. We’ve got to look at this. As a whole, people of African descent make up less than 30% of the population in Maryland, but we make up 78% of the prison population. The JRA does not affect anybody who comes to prison at 18.

Mansa Musa:

For our audience, what’s the JRA, if they don’t know the acronym?

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

The Juvenile Restoration Act is a bill that passed in 2021 for individuals who are under the age of 18 and are serving long sentences. After 20 years in prison, they can come back, petition the court ,and ask to have their sentences reviewed. This is the exact same thing but for those who are 18 years and older. There are individuals that I know — Just like you know, Mansa Musa — Who came to prison two days, three days, or a week after their 18 birthday. So they missed the Juvenile Restoration Act. They have been in prison for 30, 40, or even 50 years, as first-time offenders. The bar ain’t set low, the bar set high in this bill. The bar is set high, but if you meet this and you have done everything that you’re supposed to do, we are saying that this bill will allow you the opportunity to present your case to a judicial body, to a sitting judge, and have the judge review your case and make a deciding factor in writing on why they’re going to give you some relief, and they’re going to spell it all out.

The average person is not just going to be released. You’re going to be given some parole, some probation. You’re going to have some restrictions that you’re going to have to do. There’s a lot, it’s not an immediate answer. Some people won’t get a relief, they may get a reduction, but some people may get turned down. So let’s look at all of the ramifications. This is not an opening of the valve, but the Maryland prison system need this because we’re behind Mississippi and Alabama when it comes to locking up people of African descent. As small as Maryland is, we are behind Mississippi and Alabama, so this is imperative.

Mansa Musa:

Listen, all of us been in that system. All of us been in that system when they locked it down. All of us been in that system where they had no program. All of us been in that system where we had to create our own program. Haneef, going forward, how do you look at the bill? What is the Second Chance Coalition advocating? How people can support the effort of trying to get some support and more importantly, get the legislative body in Maryland to be receptive to voting? I think today they had a hearing on it to get people receptive on passing this bill.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

First and foremost, everyone, whoever is listening to this, and if you’re interested in learning more about it, you can go to the Maryland Second Look Coalition’s website. On there you can see more about the bill. Secondly, if you would like to, after you have read it, if you agree with it, and if you heard something today that we’ve said that you agree with, then the next step is to reach out to your representative. The next step is to reach out to the senator, delegate, or congressman or woman in your district. Reach out to them and let them know that you want them to support this bill, that you are asking them to support this bill. Make that phone call. It’s very simple, it’s very easy. You can look it up and find out who in your district is the person that you need to go to no matter where you are in the state of Maryland, and you can ask and request they support the House bill for the Second Look Act and the Senate bill for the Second Look Act.

Mansa Musa:

Turner-Bey, as we close out, I saw in the bill where they talk about the role of the state’s attorney and the prosecutor. It has in there that the prosecutor can either agree with the request or disagree with the request. But you have a relationship when you get out, you build a network and you build a relationship with the prosecutor’s office. Let it be known so they can be aware of the importance that you have, in terms of helping people, and more importantly, to be able to give other people coming behind you the opportunity to see that they got the same rights that you got. Talk about how you think that’s going to play out, mainly in PG County or the state of Maryland in general. How do you think the prosecutors are looking at this bill?

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

Every prosecutor is looking at this bill. Every prosecutor is looking at it because let’s be real, the prosecutors get a say. This bill makes sure that the prosecutor gets a say. Some prosecutors are going to say no to some cases. Some prosecutors may say yeah to some cases. Some prosecutors may have an offensive mindset because they want stipulations with the reduction of sentence. All of that is welcome.

Mansa Musa:

Facts.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

Now, nobody is left out. You got a judge, you’ve got victims right advocates, you have the prosecutor, and you have the defendant and his counsel. This is imperative because in my case, Honorable Aisha Braveboy out of Prince George’s County, she sent a letter to the governor and to the parole commission on my behalf. I was the second person that she stood up for and sent letters on their behalf and said she did not oppose my release. Even my trial judge who had retired from Maryland Court of Special Appeals, he came back, because during my trial he called me everything but the child of God, but after he seen everything I’d done in prison and talked to some people, he said, this is not the same person he was at 17, and as his trial judge, I believe he deserves a second chance. So second chances are imperative. Even for us who are believers in God. If you read Acts 9, God gave Saul who later became Paul, a second chance.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

That’s right.

Mansa Musa:

All right. I heard that.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

I think all of us should look at this bill, and contact our legislators, our state delegates, and our state senators. Call them. Ask them where do they stand on this bill? Explain to them why you think they should support it, and what are your opinions and your views. You don’t have to always have somebody in your family incarcerated to support this, you can believe that we deserve second chances after serving a long, extended period of incarceration. So we ask that the audience educate themselves on this bill and then come forward and let us know your decision.

Mansa Musa:

Haneef?

Desmond Haneef Perry:

This is connected to the humanity of the people, what Turner-Bey is talking about right now. This is something that I’d like to add is that we’re talking about humanity right now. We’re talking about us being human beings when you’re talking about second chances. Every one of us forgets, every one of us makes mistakes. Just like the brother said from a religious perspective, spiritual perspective, every last one of us sins. So it’s no doubt about it, man, that when we have fallen in a situation where we have made a mistake, we want someone to forgive us and get that second chance. So it’s important that we look at this from a human perspective as well. But I want to say quickly — I wanted to make sure that I added this — Is that we already had the oral testimony done for Senate Bill 123 on the Second Look. You can look it up on YouTube. If you go to YouTube and look up the judicial committees hearings, you can find the testimony and you’ll see —

Mansa Musa:

That’s Maryland Judicial Hearings.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

— Maryland Judicial Hearings. And you’ll see, for everyone in Baltimore, that Ivan Bates on record said he supports this bill.

Mansa Musa:

Okay. Ivan Bates is the state’s attorney for Baltimore City.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

Ivan Bates is the state’s attorney for Baltimore City. You will see on record that Aisha Braveboy from Prince George’s County says she supports this bill. So we have prosecutors, individuals who are basically saturated with the responsibility of defending the public and being the representatives and attorneys for the public and victims of crime, they support this bill. Because it is comprehensive legislation of this crisis that we’re living in right now of mass incarceration, especially of Black and Brown people. So the bill is Senate Bill SB 123 and House Bill 724. We have two great sponsors for this bill and I make sure that I put their names out there —

Mansa Musa:

Go on and put their names out there.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

— Because they are doing wonderful work. That is Senator Jill Carter. She is sponsoring the bill from the Senate. And this is the amazing Delegate Cheryl Pasteur. She has sponsored this bill from the House. We are getting great traction and great support with this bill from the public because from a human perspective, everyone understands that a person deserves a second chance. We should be doing that right now for our individuals who are incarcerated in the state of Maryland who have demonstrated that they deserve that second chance — Not because we’re saying we simply want to give it to them. No. As Turner-Bey pointed out, we’re saying because they have demonstrated themselves that they are worthy or deserving of that.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

We’re asking for them to give the opportunity. No guarantee, only an opportunity.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

That’s right.

Mansa Musa:

Okay. I appreciate both of you brothers for coming in. In the 20 years and 30 years that we talk about, we did a lot of that time together in the most arduous, inhumane conditions. So the fact that we are here advocating for change and advocating for change in a manner such as getting a bill passed, getting some laws passed, and letting our brothers and sisters that’s left behind that we’re trying to create a mechanism where they can have some hope and that your record is going to be what gets you out. Your record got you in and your record is going to get you out. Thank y’all. Thank y’all for joining me today.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

I appreciate y’all, bro.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

Please visit the website. Visit the website marylandsecondlook.com, marylandsecondlook.com, www.mdsecondlook.com. Visit the website and you’ll see all of it on there.

Mansa Musa:

Thank y’all for joining me.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

Thank you.

Alonzo Turner-Bey:

Appreciate y’all two brothers, man.

Desmond Haneef Perry:

Appreciate you, brother.

Visit the original post at https://therealnews.com/second-look-bills-offer-a-chance-at-freedom-to-longtime-prisoners.