On May 6, 2011 Reentry Central posted a letter to President Obama from Chanda Garraway begging him to release her mother, Gillian Van Decruize who was a first-time nonviolent drug offender. Gillian had applied for clemency three times. When Chanda wrote her letter to Obama her mom had already served 16 years of a 19-year 7-month year sentence. Chanda’s letter highlighted all of what is wrong with a system that sentences individuals so harshly, especially mothers. Chanda’s poignant letter went unanswered.
On May 8, 2012 Gillian Van Decruize was released into the loving arms of her family. She did not receive clemency.
Sadly, mom and daughter did not have much time together. On Sunday Chanda died in a tragic boating accident while vacationing in Jamaica.
Reentry Central is reposting the article that includes a copy of Chanda’s letter with the hope that those who read it will work harder to reunite families so that children don’t have to ache for a parent incarcerated under draconian laws, and that parents, whether now free or still incarcerated, do not have to grieve for all of the precious time lost, as well as the death of a child.
A Daughter’s Poignant Plea to the President: “Please Release My Mother”
Mother already served over 16 years of a 19.7 year sentence
With Mother’s Day fast approaching, school children are creating homemade cards and macaroni necklaces to honor their mothers. Other children are preparing to serve their mothers breakfast in bed, or to take them out to dinner. This all - American idyllic scenario is a bit skewered, however. Consider the following, as presented in the film, A Sentence of Their Own by Edgar A. Barens:
2,250,000 children are estimated to have at least one parent who is incarcerated on any day in America
78 %of women entering prison are mothers, Additionally, 6 % of women are pregnant when they enter prison. Most of these women will be separated from their babies shortly after giving birth
50% percent of incarcerated parents are never visited by their children
Over 55,000 American children end up in foster care when their parents are incarcerated. Most of these children were in the foster care system at least twice during their parents’ incarceration
Reentry Central recently received a copy of a letter a young woman wrote to President Obama with the hope that the President would commute her mother’s sentence. Her mother applied for Executive Clemency three times, but the pleas of both mother and daughter have fallen on deaf ears. The daughter seems to be asking, “When is enough, enough?” A reasonable person might question just what those extra years will accomplish besides wasting tax payers’ dollars. When a sentencing judge writes a letter to a warden recommending that an inmate be released to a half-way house and that, too, is ignored, the world famous motto might need to be amended to “As American as mom and apple pie…and prison.” The following is a copy of the letter that was sent by Chandra G. Garraway to Reentry Central after neither she nor her mother received a response from the President.
February 20, 2011
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
I am writing to appeal to you to consider and commute my mother’s sentence. My mother has been warehoused at the Federal Prison Camp for women in Danbury, CT. for the past 16 years.
My mother, Gillian Van De Cruize, is a first-time non-violent offender who has been incarcerated since December 1995 for conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine. She was sentenced to 235 months (19 yrs. 7 months). I was nine years old when my mother was taken away from us to serve her sentence. I have two siblings who were 10 and 3 years old at the time. Today we are 19, 24, and 25 years old.
Although my mother is nearing the end of her prison sentence, we have been deeply affected by her harsh sentence. As a single mother, I have managed to hold it together while psychologically dealing with my mother’s unreasonably long sentence, raising my daughter, working and attending college to obtain my nursing degree. I am now expecting my second child in September 2011.
My mother has maintained clear conduct throughout her incarceration. In addition, she has remained positive and hopeful amidst a torrent of regret, heart-ache, alienation, loneliness, and a devastating divorce. My mother suffered because of her being warehoused in prison while her children struggled to survive.
There are currently 1.5 million children, in this country, with one or both parents incarcerated. Many of us have not seen our mothers since they were incarcerated. We are unable to visit due to the lack of resources to travel great distances to far away prisons.
Much of the proposed sentencing reform legislation would reunite mothers with their children sooner and help them begin restoring lives and families.
In addition to the perilous results of over-sentencing of non-violent, first-time offenders, it is just as difficult to gain re-entry back into the community after serving such a large portion of life in prison. My mother has applied for Executive Clemency three (3) times, and her third application is currently pending. I pray that you consider and grant clemency to my mother, who has already served 16 years with clear conduct.
The Federal Prison system requires inmates to serve 85% of their sentences. Congress enacted the 2008 Sentencing Reform Act which encourages the re-entry of eligible inmates into their communities. 18 U.S.C. Section 3621 and 2634 set the criteria for eligibility for an inmate to serve up to a year in a halfway house. The inmate can only take advantage of this Congressional mandate “at the discretion of the Bureau of Prison (BOP)”.
The BOP is an agency with the mandate to maintain incarceration and has a budget reliant upon the incarceration of people. The BOP has refused, in many instances, to allow the transition of statutorily eligible inmates into their communities. The BOP under-utilizes alternatives while continuing to request annual budget increases to baby-sit and warehouse non-violent offenders, resulting in a waste of taxpayer money. The proper use of viable community corrections alternatives to incarceration and would dramatically decrease the BOP’s current budget demands and would add scarce dollars to the country’s coffers. These released inmates would work and contribute to their communities and to the country.
In fact, my mother wrote her Sentencing Judge requesting that her sentence be modified in order for her to receive the 12 months halfway house, which she is eligible for. The Judge wrote to the Warden where my mother is being warehoused, and he strongly recommended that my mother be released to a halfway house 12 months prior to her release date. The Warden and the Case Manager have failed to address the issue pertaining to my mother’s release.
Contrary to the intent of the 2008 Sentencing Reform Act, the BOP issued a June 2010 Memorandum that re-defined criteria for eligibility for transfer to a halfway house, effectively denying halfway house placement to inmates with approved housing/residences. This action prolongs their incarceration until their much later home detention eligibility date, thereby, extending the separation from their children. This is well beyond the time frame intended by Congress; time inmates could use to re-establish ties with their families. The excuse of limited halfway house beds cannot continue to be used as a way to over-incarcerate this powerless group. In addition, legislators should not use “at the discretion of the BOP” as an answer to inquiries about fair sentencing laws and clear mandates to be followed by the BOP. “At the discretion of the BOP” is a loophole used to circumvent the statute. Instead of denying halfway house time to inmates who have a residence, inmates could be released to halfway houses and work with probation to secure home detention from the Judge.
As aforementioned, I appeal to you to commute my mother’s sentence and reunite our family. I plead to you to give our family a second chance as you said should be done as you spoke about Michael Vick. In order for my mother to have a chance of surviving in today’s society after being incarcerated for so long, she will need to re-establish her family ties. For example, my mother has been incarcerated for more than on-half of our lives. I was 9 years old, today I am 24 years old with an eight year old daughter, and I am expecting my second child in September 2011. My mother will have established a relationship with her grandchild and, hopefully, if you commute her sentence, she will be able to witness the birth of her second grandchild. My older sister was 10 years old when my mother was incarcerated. On February 23, 2011 she will be 26 years old. My younger brother was three years old when our mother was incarcerated. Today he is 19 years old and cannot recall, recollect, or remember anything reestablished. My grandmother is 80 years old and cannot wait to see her daughter again. My mother will have to be reacquainted with all the latest technology and developments that have changed over the past 16 years. Releasing my mother from prison will be a blessing to me and my siblings.
In closing I would like to thank you for your continued service and for your consideration of this very important issue. Enacting alternatives to over-incarceration impacts millions of Americans and their families, mostly children, and is needed immediately.
Knowing of over-incarceration, first-hand the painful and destructive consequences I will continue to be a voice for change for my mother and for other parents who have been incarcerated for years, and still have many more years ahead of being locked in a prison. I am not condoning the wrongs that have been committed, but the laws that have been enacted have loopholes that do not allow for these women to have a second chance. I pray that you find compassion in your heart and give us our mother back.
Very truly yours,
Chanda G. Garraway