“Real Life Walter White” Hit Clemency Jackpot, Still Struggling
October 13, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Dicky Joe Jackson is not entirely like the Walter White character from “Breaking Bad,” because White began selling dope to cover his own health care costs, while Jackson did the same in order to pay for his son’s bone marrow transplant. In fact, his case is more sympathetic than White’s because Jackson was doing it to save his son’s life, and unlike White, he was serving a mandatory life sentence after he got federally pinched for trafficking meth while carrying a gun as a felon.
That sympathetic aspect is probably why President Obama chose Jackson as one of the very, very few BOP inmates who recently got their prison sentences commuted. But even after finding that needle within several haystacks, Jackson is having a hard time while on the outside, as reported by the Huffington Post:
Jackson walked out of prison on September 1. But, as with most stories involving America’s justice system, his and his family’s trials are far from over. Jackson is technically under the purview of the Bureau of Prisons until December 1, when his sentence officially ends, after which he’ll be on probation for five years.
Even though the family had been told that he was “approved for home confinement,” April says, he was instead diverted to a halfway house run by Volunteers of America. Founded in 1896, the organization defines its mission as, “a church without walls that answers God’s call to transform our communities through a ministry of service that demonstrates to all people that they are beloved.”
That has not been Jackson’s experience so far. “These people here… you know, we were under the understanding that they’re trying to help you reintegrate into society. But they act like the Gestapo, my gosh,” he says. “They’re constantly on your neck, won’t give you a minute’s freedom.”
Given the years Jackson ended up serving, his gratuitous comparison to the Gestapo can definitely be forgiven. Jackson’s story had several unremarkable characteristics of a federal drug case: the leader of his drug conspiracy is one of many who chose to snitch on those further down the criminal food chain to save their necks, to the much heavier detriment of someone like Jackson (his supplier got “just” 10 years).
Two, he was charged with distribution of meth, and over 80% of all meth cases involve some kind of mandatory minimum (versus pot cases, where less than 45% of cases carried a mandatory minimum). And thus three, his sentencing judge, like many other jurists with similar meth cases on their docket, had no choice but to give him life without parole because of the nature of the charges brought by the prosecutor. Cases that resemble Walter White are a dime a dozen in the federal system.
Jackson’s prosecutor, who has since left the U.S. Attorney’s office, underwent (former) prosecutor’s remorse and has agreed that Jackson’s case did not involve violence and that he should be released after more than 20 years in the can, saying “[Jackson] potentially did this because he didn’t know of any other way to take care of his kid,” Snipes said. “As a prosecutor, I can say, ‘Life, life, life,’ but we’re supposed to seek justice.” Better late than never, the saying goes.
So yes, Jackson’s case is a feel good story that tugs at the heartstrings, and that’s why it probably drew the Chief Executive’s attention. But he’s just one of the hundreds of thousands who got life when they probably should have gotten 10, maybe 15 years. There are also those who got 10 years, when maybe 4 would have sufficed to satisfy the goals of sentencing. Cases like his, even when they get the rarest of relief, are the proverbial glass of water from the Mississippi.
And when people like Jackson are released after so long, they are ill-equipped to deal with the outside world. There are reasons why there’s a 50% recidivism rate for federal offenders within the first eight years of their release. The BOP does not specialize in getting people ready for the day they’re put back into society.
Forgetting the fact the BOP sent him to a halfway house that claims to be “a church without walls that answers God’s call” may be an affront to Thomas Jefferson’s big, beautiful wall that separates church and state, the fact that he cannot handle the not-so-intense pressures like getting to work, speaks volumes:
“I went 21 years in prison without a single incident report. Now, in two weeks, I’ve got two ‘shots,’” Jackson says. He got one because one day April couldn’t drive him to the halfway house, so he drove himself, thinking that was fine because he has a legal driver’s license. It wasn’t—he got written up for driving without being approved for driving.
Anyway, he got a job, driving a truck moving sand in and out of pits at a gravel site. Then he was informed that he was not actually eligible to get a job until the paperwork was finalized.
“Unfortunately, they’re not having it. They tell him that he can’t start a job until they approve the job,” April says, and until they approved his paperwork. But he could get job training up until then.
This means that even those big, bad “lifers” who dealt drugs like Jackson will generally have serious disadvantages when released from their cages back into the wild. It means that those who cry wolf when a few hundred inmates are released by the executive can rest assured that chaos and hysteria will not follow.