NEW YORK—(ENEWSPF)—January 3, 2017
By: Anthony Papa, Drug Policy Alliance
On Dec. 30, 2016 I received a call from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office informing me that I was just granted a pardon. My knees shook and arms got numb as the news sunk in. It was the exact feeling I had in 1996 in Sing Sing prison when I was told by the Deputy of Security that I was granted executive clemency by then Governor George Pataki. But now was different than then. Back then I was on the tail end of serving a 15 to Life sentence for passing an envelope of 4 and a half ounces of cocaine to under-cover officers. I was to make a fast 500 dollars for the delivery. Being desperate I wound up doing a stupid thing to make some fast money. I not only ruined my life, I ruined the life of my 7-year-old daughter Stephanie who until this day has never recovered from the stigma generated from the crime that I committed.
When released I had to learn how to be free once again. I had served twelve years in prison and five years on parole and lived in total fear that I would violate my conditions of parole and be thrown back into prison. I found out quickly that a simple walk in my crime infested South Bronx neighborhood or a train ride in the NYC subway system could easily escalate into a situation that would cause me to lose my freedom. Overwhelming joy and happiness dominated my first few days’ home, but once these initial emotions began to fade, I realized the freedom I fought so long and hard to win was not what I imagined it to be. The way of life I once knew was gone, along with my friends and most of my support base. I discovered I was alone in a new world that had drastically changed without me.
Getting my life back on track was no easy matter especially finding out that governmental road blocks existed at almost every level of my re-entry. I searched for a solution to my problems and realized that when my cell door was shut behind me, I did not leave behind those twelve years of hard time. When those prison doors close behind you and you leave its confines, you are not free. You are still doing time—just doing it on the other side of the bars. I soon found out that prison life was deeply rooted into my present existence; a decade of life in an environment where survival mechanisms and behaviors were hardwired into daily existence had changed me profoundly.
Being hard-wired for survival was a good thing. In the free world, though, it was another matter, especially when these mechanisms would surface suddenly and without warning. The tools that were once lifesaving had become a tremendous burden as I tried to get my life back together. I had survived the prison experience and made my way to freedom by creative self-expression, painting, but I was soon to learn that freedom had its costs. I talk about this in my new memoir “This Side of Freedom: Life after Clemency. For many, including myself, carrying the stigma of being an ex-offender is often debilitating. From being denied employment and housing, to not knowing how to establish healthy relationships, life became exceedingly difficult.
With this pardon I become the first individual in New York State to receive clemency and a pardon which helps vindicate the draconian 15-to-life sentence I received as a fist time non-violent offender. It indicates forgiveness of my crime from the government because the punishment I received was not appropriate. It is also a public proclamation that I have demonstrated exemplary behavior since being released and it shows that people in prison can successfully re-enter society without negative results. I pray that Governor Cuomo continues to show compassion for those that deserve it and he continues to use his pardon power.
This commentary appeared in the Huffington Post at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-papa/what-my-pardon-from-gover_b_13928944.html
Wall Street Journal
Cuomo Pardons 101 New Yorkers Convicted as Minors; New York’s governor also commutes the sentences of seven, including the getaway driver in deadly 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored car – By: Corinne Ramey, December 30, 2016 http://www.wsj.com/articles/cuomo-pardons-101-new-yorkers-convicted-as-minors-1483140011
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pardoned 101 New Yorkers who were convicted when they were 16 or 17 years old, in what state officials said was part of an effort to remove barriers to housing and employment for those who committed crimes in their youth.
The pardons by Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, went only to those convicted of nonviolent felonies or misdemeanors who have remained conviction-free for at least 10 years, officials said. The pardons are conditional, meaning they can be withdrawn if a person is convicted.
He also pardoned five people who had been convicted as adults and commuted the sentences of seven still in prison.
Friday’s pardons are a notable departure from past years. In 2015, the governor pardoned three people and commuted the sentences of three others, and in 2014, he pardoned two. Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel, said those pardoned who committed crimes as young people had demonstrated they had been rehabilitated. “If you made a mistake at 16 or 17 you shouldn’t be affected by that mistake at 40 years old,” he said.
The state plans to continue issuing such pardons in the coming years, Mr. David said. State officials estimate 10,000 people fit the eligibility for such pardons. This year, about 260 applied, Mr. David said.
Ruthie Epstein, deputy advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, praised Friday’s pardons but said they are a stopgap measure for what she views as the state’s harsh sentencing laws. New York is one of only two states nationwide that treats 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults, she said.
“It doesn’t rectify the underlying injustice that got them in prison in the first place,” Ms. Epstein said.
One of those whose sentence was commuted was Judith Clark, 67 years old, a political activist who was a member of the Weather Underground. She was convicted in 1983 for driving the getaway vehicle in a 1981 Brink’s armored car robbery, in Nanuet, N.Y., in which two police offers and a security guard were killed. Ms. Clark has served 35 years of a 75 years-to-life sentence, state officials said. Friday’s commutation makes her eligible to appear before the state parole board.
State officials said Ms. Clark had “made exceptional strides in self-development” while in prison. They said she had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, founded an HIV/AIDS education program and trained service dogs as part of the Puppies Behind Bars program.
Anthony Papa, who was pardoned Friday, was convicted of drug charges in 1985. While he has been out of prison since 1997, he said he views the pardon as a vindication. It also removes some barriers that come with a criminal record, he said.
“Every time I went for an apartment I was always terrified they would find out and throw me in the street,” said Mr. Papa, 62 years old, an author and artist who works at advocacy-group the Drug Policy Alliance.
Write to Corinne Ramey at Corinne.Ramey@wsj.com
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