When I first received my sentence, I felt hopeless. A long battle with addiction had landed me in prison with a total of four life sentences, two without parole, because I had prior nonviolent offenses.
When I was in my late 20’s, my father passed away from lung cancer, and just four months later I was diagnosed with cancer as well. I began using drugs to get through my chemotherapy treatments. In the years that followed, I sold drugs to support my family and feed my addiction. This led to four life sentences at the age of 32, all for nonviolent offenses. I was convinced I would die in prison.
The tide turned when I was given the opportunity to be part of Project Commutation. My sentence was commuted after ten years in prison, and I was offered something not everyone gets — another chance.
The chance to return to my family, return to my home, begin looking for a job and building a place for myself in my community once again — you can’t possibly understand what that chance means unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. I can’t describe the hope I felt.
We now have the opportunity to offer that chance to other Oklahomans. These are our neighbors and community members who, like myself, want to start over.
There are a number of reasons why Oklahoma remains one of the nation’s largest incarcerators, but one of them is our state’s frequent use of repeat sentence penalties. These penalties can be applied by prosecutors to add years or decades past the maximum sentence if someone has committed a nonviolent offense in the past.
This practice can lead to cruel, excessive sentencing, like 15 years for shoplifting, 35 years for a bad check or four life sentences for nonviolent crimes. It tears Oklahomans from their families and keeps people like me from ever having that chance to start fresh.
The good news is that this November you can make sure that more Oklahomans are afforded the opportunity to reunite with their families and begin contributing to their communities again by voting ‘yes’ for State Question 805.
SQ 805 is a common-sense criminal justice reform that would stop the use of decades-long sentences for nonviolent offenses. It would also allow those who have already received an extreme sentence another chance by giving them the opportunity to petition for relief.
I missed a lot while I was incarcerated. My mother passed away during my 10 years in prison. Until I was released, I was unable to attend my nephew’s basketball games.
But now I’m making the most of my second chance, and I believe our friends, neighbors and fellow Oklahomans can too. Your action could change someone’s life the way mine was changed. On November 3, vote ‘yes’ for SQ 805.
Mario Darrington is a Project Commutation recipient and a criminal justice reform advocate.