gilbert-raiford-web.jpgThis month, Mr. O will turn 64. He has been in the state penal system since age 19, meaning that he has never had the chance to live life as a normal adult.

He was not convicted of killing or maiming anyone. He was not convicted of treason or attempting to kill a president. His crime was that of date rape – which he has consistently denied these 40-some years. Obviously, he is black. He is the victim of a racist Florida.

When Mr. O was found guilty, the court wanted the “victim” to participate in the sentencing phase of this “heinous” crime. She refused. Yet, at the urging of the arresting officer, the court sentenced Mr. O to two 100-year terms, to run consecutively. Given time off for “good behavior,” Mr. O has already served one of the 100-year terms.

Mr. O entered the Florida prison system as a confused and practically illiterate teenager. He was determined to better himself to the extent that the system would allow. He studied diligently and in time received his GED. This was during the period when there was a semblance of humanity associated with the Florida prison system and inmates were allowed to take college courses. Mr. O took full advantage of this privilege and completed two years of college before the program was aborted.

Because of his two years of college, Mr. O was assigned the task of teacher assistant. He had found his niche. He proved to be savant in a method of teaching math. Every one of his math students passed the GED exam the first time around.

In the early 1980s, Florida again made another stab at showing concern for humans. The state instituted a formula for determining when a prisoner indicates a readiness for parole. The formula indicated that Mr. O should be given a parole date in 1990. As that date approached, prison officials accused him of “making a pass” at a white female staff member, which both he and she denied. Nevertheless, the Parole Commission used that report to suspend his parole proceedings. All efforts to get the commission to lift that suspension have failed.

Furthermore, Mr. O was taken out of the classroom, in spite of his obvious success there, and assigned to clean the toilets, one of the most demeaning assignments in the system. Yet, he accepted the assignment without protest or rancor and continues to take pride in doing a thorough job.

This man’s case has appeared before the commission 17 times and, each time, the result is the same. Not once has the “victim” appeared before the commission to protect his parole status. Until 1990, Mr. O received glowing reports from prison officials and, even after the 1990 situation, at least one investigating parole officer recommended his release. The commission overruled that recommendation.

Also, a white New England family has established a trust fund of $85,000 to ensure that a paroled Mr. O would be able to maintain himself until he could take care of himself. Additionally, I have consistently presented the commission with a parole plan indicating the essential transitional support that would be available to him, including housing and total medical care. (Mr. O is a veteran).

The prisons in Florida are deceitfully called “correctional institutions.” They are not and have not been for a long time.  They have become, in the truest sense, penitentiaries, whose sole purpose is to punish, not rehabilitate. 

Gilbert L. Raiford is a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He may be reached at graiford@hotmail.com