Letters by Michael Lanning

Dear Friends, 

Greetings in the love of Jesus who is always in control over those who are in charge. 

I see, as probably all of you are seeing, more campaign commercials airing now that we are coming close to elections. 

In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 we are commanded to pray for our country and our leaders.  The elections in the United States, whether they are small local elections or major national elections, are vital to the future of this nation.  It’s vitally important that the right people be elected. 

Lets not wait until election time is upon us before we start seeking GOD for whom to vote.  Begin to pray now so that the news media and other voices cannot influence us.  Pray so that we won’t be influenced by natural responses to cleverly designed commercials.  I hope that we consider all the information obtainable and look at the person’s actions of his heart, along with the prompting of the Holy Spirit guiding us, before we cast our vote.  Then thank the Spirit of God for His wisdom concerning our vote. 

With the 1990 election of Governor Pete Wilson, California’s Board of Prison Terms (whose members are appointed by the Governor) granted paroles to an average rate of 5% for life prisoners.  Prior to that, the approval rate was approximately 48%.  The board was instructed by the Governor to further close the parole doors.  Subsequently, out of over 2000 annual parole hearings, the Board granted release to less than 1%, with only 6 lifers being paroled in 1995. 

Surfing the tough on crime polls, Governor Gray Davis, who began his term in 1999, pledged to make Wilson seem like a liberal.  He campaigned promising “Singapore justice,” and he has touted his reversal of all paroles granted by the Board to men and women convicted of non-capital murder as a great victory for public safety.  None were paroled in 1999. 

The Governor has denied parole for prisoners that his own Board say pose no threat whatever to society, prisoners who’ve maintained unblemished records for years behind bars, who’ve undergone counseling, earned collage degrees, mastered trades and have jobs waiting for them outside.  Even when police who arrested them, District Attorneys who prosecuted, Judges who presided over their trials and—most tellingly—even the victims have urged a prisoners release and the Board grants it, the Governor denies parole.  Recently Davis paroled one women after 25 years because if the defense had spousal abuse back then, she would have been found innocent. 

Winning has become more important than doing justice.  Nobody runs for senate saying, “I did justice.” 

At a rally calling for revision of Three-strikes to limit its draconian sentences to violent and serious felonies, Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray, said, “We have to bring some reason to the debate, not just emotion.  Every time a congressman’s child gets caught with drugs, they want treatment for him.  Every time someone else’s child gets caught, they want prison for them.” 

In 1995, the legislature directed the Department of Corrections to develop programs to educate and rehabilitate non-violent first time felony offenders. 

Nonetheless, programs and services provided are minimal, and less than 25% of prisoners receive educational or vocational training that might help us after prison. 

California’s 1997 Determinate Sentencing Act specifically abandoned rehabilitation as the purpose of prison and established punishment as the goal.  By political mandate, California’s prisons are simply warehouses of human potential, graveyards for the human spirit.  In the manner of the great black holes of outer space—by their very nature and design—they suck out what is good, hopeful, and humane from the inner space of us committed to custody. 

Most citizens probably presume, as I did, that an effort was made to rehabilitate prisoners, with the hope they will one day return to society as productive people.  The truth is that the designation “Department of Corrections” is an Orwellian parody in itself.  Prison neither “corrects” nor rehabilitates, nor does it make any meaningful effort to do so. 

CDC has stated: The Department of Corrections mission is to house the felons who are convicted and sent to prison.  The mission is not to correct them.  Our mission is to provide the sanction that the courts imposed, corrections is really derived form the principle of correcting the conduct by taking us out of law abiding society. 

I know too many men who committed murder who are not murderers, whose crime was an isolated moment in an otherwise nonviolent lifestyle, and who pose absolutely no more danger to society than those who sat on their juries.  I’ve listened to too many stories to believe justice can be done by taking life, rather than nurturing life.  I know too many men who are no longer the person who committed the crime, who have undergone such a genuine personal and spiritual conversion that it is no stretch of the truth to say they are strangers to their former selves.  And I know scandalously far too many men who would not be here at all if they weren’t black, illiterate, mentally ill, or too poor to have had adequate legal assistance. 

Just today, in the spiritual fellowship group I’m in, we were all brought to tears by hearing the following: Melvin, an aging black man, has been in prison now 26 years for accessory to murder.  He drove a friend to a house for some drugs, Melvin sat outside in the car.  Unbeknown to him, his friend had a gun and used it because his friend said the deal went bad.  As previously mentioned, the Board of Prison Terms and everyone else stated Melvin should be released.  Everyone except Davis. 

When, as “the people,” we condemn someone to prison or life, we are saying.  “You have no value.  Your life has no meaning to us.  You are beyond hope of redemption.”  When Christians don’t find anything incongruous about yelling, “Crucify Him!,” in response to the sins of another, and, then when Christians give up on the power of GOD to work for conversion and redemption in any human heart, then the good news of the Good News has become “salt which has lost its flavor.” 

A few weeks ago, I attempted a memorial service in the prison Chapel for a man, Gunner Johnson, I knew only a short while.  Gunner had been in prison over 20 years.  He robbed a man for drug money.  When he stuffed a sock in the guys mouth and tied him up, the guy suffocated.  The Gunner I knew was past 70, racked with cancer, and shuffling inch by inch in excruciating pain supported by his aluminum walker.  Gunner was a walking petition for mercy and letting go of vengeance. 

Gunner was also an indictment of a system—of a society—bent on the extraction of the last ounce of flesh, of owning the last gasp and heartbeat of a dying and broken man in the name of justice.  Gunner died alone in the prison hospital cut off from his prison buddies and whatever family he may have had. 

What great victory for justice is served by keeping sick, broken, nonviolent men in prison? 

Tonight on the news it was reported that 6.6 million Americans are incarcerated.  We are in a period of overcrowded prisons/ a binge of constructing new ones/ the beginning of a privately built, owned and operated prison industry; and an emerging prison industrial complex of private businesses and powerful correctional officers’ unions, which need a growing number of prisoners. 

Governor Davis gave the guard’s union a 34% pay increase after receiving several hundred thousand dollar donations to his campaign for election.  So, political pressure grows for longer sentences and tougher parole conditions, as prisons absorb an ever increasing share of tax dollars at the expense of schools, parks, and highways. 

Spending on prisons is crowding out spending on other proven crime reduction strategies, including improved policing over those in charge of prisons. 

The guards spokesperson was quoted as saying: “by giving the guards more money, the prisoners will be given better treatment.”  So if they didn’t get the money, does that mean we’ll continue to receive brutal and dehumanizing warehousing? 

The Teacher’s Association also wanted a pay raise.  But when they couldn’t “donate” to the election campaign the amount of money Davis wanted, they were denied their raise. 

Recently, as part of the new guards union contract, sick time is no longer held against them.  Sick time, which equates to overtime for other guards has increased by 22% since its approval.  CDC is $200 million in the red and continues to spend as if there is no end. 

If you haven’t already, register; pray; vote.  Then stand up and be counted by the power of the living GOD. 

Michael Lanning, K97215 
Men’s Colony - San Luis Obispo 
P.O. Box 8101-2215 
San Luis Obispo, CA 93409 


California Budget 

On one hand I hope the budget does pass that takes away 120 million from the prisons.  I really hope they cut deep into CDC's massive overtime game.  But on the other hand, unfortunately CDC wants to claim that if their budget is cut then we will suffer.  The first thing they want to do is cut the guards that hand out our packages, do our mail, and cut an extra guard at night so we will lose having any night yard/dayroom.  Basically, keep us locked up more.  This prison with these small cells were never designed/intended to be locked up all the time.  At least in the newer prisons the cells are a little bit bigger and each persons bed is always there to lay on without being in the walkway as it is here.  One bed is on the wall and when it comes down to lay on no one can walk around. 

Another thing CDC wants to do is take away all the pay numbers for the prisoners.  For some of the guys who have no support from family/friends the little amount of pay they earn is all they get.  Specially now that 33% is taken for restitution and soon to be 55%.  So if all are working for free, and being work doesn't reduce our prison sentence like it does for those who haven't received the mandatory 85% sentence that most of the new guys who come to prison receive, then why work other than to be out of the cell during the day. 

Most of us that work all day, when there is a lock-down, we don't get to shower.  Now if there is no night yard/dayroom then we won't get to shower either for those who get off work so late that they have to shower at the nighttime period.  We already have lost our phone calls during the day when we work and if we don't get out at night no calls either.  Another reason working does nothing for us. 

 2004 Christmas Letter - from Michael Lanning 



 Three Strikes Legal - Index