Prison Enhancements / Notes From the Inside

Tiny - Posted on 08 December 2015

Jose H. Villarreal, Plantation Prison Correspondent

Editors Note: Mr. Jose Villarreal is one of several power-FUL PNNPlantation prison correspondents. As currently and formerly incarcerated poor and indigenous peoples in struggle and resistance with all plantation systems in Amerikkka, POOR Magazine stands in solidarity with all folks on the other side of the razor wire plantation.

Mass incarceration in the U.S. is multi-faceted. Of course it results in poor people being locked in cages, sometimes for life. But often times our mutual oppressor uses an elaborate array of methods in order to accomplish having populations moored to oppression. As the saying goes there is more than one way to skin a cat, and the use of enhancements is one such way.

In my personal experience of being locked in these cages the state’s methods were ambiguous for the most part. Sure I knew that overbearing laws were enacted, the most infamous of which was the California Three strikes law. I have watched the Three-strikes-you’re-out law steal lives for decades. The reasons as absurd as the law itself: stealing a pair of pliers; giving someone a ride who had just stole a 12-pack of beer; being in possession of a single seed of Marijuana. If any other country gave people life for these actions they would be called “barbaric” and other critically descriptive words. Although California has now slightly reformed this oppressive law, it continues with other less known, but just as harsh legal methods.

One of the ways the injustice system keeps populations firmly planted in these cages is through the use of “enhancements”. There are many types of enhancements that arrive with a sentence handed out attached to whatever crime a court finds you guilty of. Here in California we have a lot of enhancements where we receive a number of years for the enhancements on top of the years for the actual crimes. People have grown accustomed to the institutional oppression meted out by the courts to the point where it is considered normal by so many today to get decades attached to one’s sentence just for enhancements alone.

There are enhancements for everything from prison prior sentences to theft. But many people here in SHU that I have been able to speak to have received Gang enhancements or gun enhancements which often meant receiving MORE time for the enhancements rather than the crime itself – even when the crime is Murder!

One prisoner I spoke to was convicted of Murder, but he received 25 to life for the Murder and then another 30 years for enhancements. So he actually received more time for gang and gun enhancements than for the actual Murder.

Most people do not know that the gun enhancements can get someone 10, 20 years or life. 10 years for being an ex- felon in possession of a gun, 20 years for shooting a gun and life for shooting someone but not killing a person. This is all on top of the time you will get for the theft or other aspect of the crime.

A gang enhancement can and does get folks more time than a Murder in many cases. Most do not know this. So in many ways these enhancements are far worse than the oppressive laws for crimes in general.

I spoke to another prisoner in researching this story. This man received a sentence of 89 to life for attempted Murder on a prison guard, which he caught in prison. 25 to life was given for the actual assault and 63 years to life were given in enhancements. So once more the enhancements were much more than the actual crime. And the enhancements that he received for this non-Murder were more years than he would have received from an actual Murder. As this prisoner told the judge at sentencing “this shit makes no sense,” I agree.

When I began researching enhancements I saw that it is a crises and it is one which is often overlooked. People out in society who work for prisoners’ rights and prison reform would find a ready-made receptive audience to their work by addressing the issue of enhancements.

Fortunately, my current prison sentence does not have any enhancements, besides the enhancement for prison priors, but so many prisoners that I come across do have large enhancements, and for some they will not outlive these enhancements. Without having exact numbers in front of me I know that enhancements are a plague to todays’ prisoners. Most of my previous cellmates have had them, most of my neighbors as well.

There are many wonderful groups which focus on large segments of the prison population. Groups like Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), Families United for Prison Reform (FU4PR), California Families against Solitary Confinement (CFSC), Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), and Families Against California Three Strikes (FACTS) to name a few. These are grassroots organizations which work to struggle for reforming specific oppressive aspects of incarceration. But more importantly they work to mobilize prisoners and their families/communities to struggle for themselves to fight the oppression that they face.

There are of course many more such groups, but from my own experience in California prisons I have found these groups at the forefront in the prisoners’ rights movement. And yet when it comes to enhancements, the thousands who are affected, and who do not benefit from other reforms are left to the wayside.

It is time for a Families Against California Enhancements (FACE) or some such group which works to focus on a lesser known method of oppression which the kourts are using. Enhancements have sentenced as many prisoners to life in the can as perhaps the Three strikes law has. It has broken up as much family units and disenfranchised as many people as mandatory minimums. It is the silent killer, the neglected step child of the prisoners’ rights movements.

If there was such a group as FACE or some other such construct, I see it mobilizing much more prisoners and their families on the scene. It would inject new blood into veins of the prison reform arena and add to our momentum of bringing a small piece of justice to these cages.

It’s amazing, even to myself how enhancements are not even in the conversation when it comes to prison struggles. Especially when we take into account that we get more time for enhancements than for Murder! It is such an important issue that in any future hunger strike I would even suggest supplementing the 5 core demands with an end to California’s enhancements, along with an end to the Death penalty, end deportations of prisoners in the ICE detention kamps…These are forms of oppression which affect prisoners in California prisons, and in our struggles we should cast our net as wide as possible.

Even if our struggle today means being released from solitary confinement there is not going to be a straight away direct path to this victory. The trail to our destination is often a winding path which entails a whole slew of twists and turns. But tackling issues like enhancements should be seen as a piece to the larger puzzle in which we draw strength and which helps us move forward as prisoners of the state and more importantly as people.

We know that the small victories obtained in getting the three strikes revised recently only means that the state will tighten up its grip in other ways, but they will find a way to keep filling up these cages. This oppression will continue and we will continue to find ways to counter their ability to oppress.


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