An open letter to former Governor Frank Keating
Sonya Pyles
October 14, 2020

Dear Governor Keating,

I am not, as you have publicly stated, a “career criminal.” I am a mother. A grandmother. A sister. A daughter. A recovering addict. A proud Women in Recovery graduate. A taxpaying citizen. A survivor. An advocate.

I am your fellow Oklahoman. And I refuse to be defined by my past.

My battle with addiction began as a result of years of trauma. I am a survivor of domestic violence. As many do, I turned to substance abuse as a teenager to cope with the trauma I had faced at such a young age.

When I served time, I received no rehabilitation or help to address my addiction or trauma. It was devastating to my children. 

Today, I am successful beyond what I could have thought possible all those years ago, because I was given another chance and the opportunity to participate in the Women in Recovery program. Now, after receiving the resources I needed to heal, I am reunited with my family and working as a project coordinator for Tulsa Lawyers for Children, where I serve abused and neglected children in my community on a daily basis.

I’m blessed beyond measure to have received the support I did — without it, I genuinely believe I may not be alive today. And I’m grateful every day that I can be part of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives again.

Many of our fellow Oklahomans have found themselves in similar circumstances. They commit repeat nonviolent drug-related or property offenses to fuel their addiction, or because they are lacking mental health support or other resources.

They need help. And in Oklahoma, needing help can lead someone to dying in prison. That’s the only thing that should bring us shame. 

I know your words were intended to bring me shame, but they do not. People who have committed more than one nonviolent offense can be subject to decades or even life in prison. And that is what I find shameful. 

Mr. Keating, in a recent debate held by the Oklahoma City Downtown Rotary, you were asked why sentence penalties haven’t produced a better outcome in our state. You responded that we “have a lot of bad people who commit crimes.” You have suggested that the stories of real Oklahomans who face decades in prison are disingenuous. 

I would argue it is disingenuous to propose that Oklahomans are bad people. We certainly don’t have more bad people than the majority of other states. Oklahomans have great faith in one another and in our state. We’re hardworking and we believe in redemption. And we take care of one another, because we value community.

It’s no longer acceptable to lock people up for nonviolent crimes for decades with harsh, expensive sentencing practices, when research overwhelmingly shows it is more effective and less expensive to reinvest in support services that actually prevent crime. 

And it has never been acceptable for us to condemn one another for our struggles or misfortunes. 

That is why I’m proud to support State Question 805, and why I urge all Oklahomans to vote ‘yes’ on Nov. 3. 

I ask that you take the opportunity to hear from real Oklahomans who are living out the reality of excessive sentencing each day, Mr. Keating. We might surprise you.

I am living proof of what someone can achieve when they’re given another chance.

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