"My Experiences under Truth-In-Sentencing Laws & What Good Time Means to Me" By: Gerald Byrd
Updated: Jan 21, 2022
I am in my fifteenth year of a 25 and a half year sentence under Truth-In-Sentencing laws and I have made these years reformative despite the absence of any rehabilitative programming being made available for offenders with long indeterminate sentences. For those like myself, all educational and rehabilitative courses are not available until we are within 3 years of our ERD (Earliest Release Date). Essentially, the MDOC told me, one of society's errants, to fix myself until 2030, the year that I become within 3 years of my ERD. I have seen the MDOC develop many courses that offer incarcerated citizens ("i-citizens") vocational training and college degrees free of charge, while people like myself, most often indigent with struggling families, have to try and raise anywhere from $1,500.00 to $15,000.00 to pay for correspondence college courses.
What is a person left to do? For those who were fortunate like myself to have family and friends purchase books for them to study and educate themselves, we self-educate and settle for the knowledge without a degree or certificate that many employers in society would look for. I was 20 years old when I made it to my first prison, an age at which neuroscientists have recognized people are still impulsive, reckless and susceptible to peer pressure, and I am grateful that I had a lot of mentors that encouraged me to learn and cultivate talents that I had. I made some poor choices still and that is likely all the parole board will have to review when I finally see them in 2033 because the MDOC only documents "Misconduct" and, as mentioned earlier, the programming and educational accomplishments that are reserved for the short timers or those within 3 years of their ERD. In other words, buying books from Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Borders to educate yourself isn't recognized by the parole board. Neither will they recognize study groups that I have started to teach other i-citizens with long sentences ineligible for programming about business, law, African history, culture & language, as well as writing. This is what Truth-In-Sentencing has done for me. All of these years could have, and should have, been spent in educational and rehabilitative programming but they weren't because of this illogical policy and practice of the MDOC. Thankfully Congress repealed the 1994 ban on i-citizens' eligibility for Pell Grants in December 2020 so, beginning in 2023, those like myself can earn a college education without the MDOC and despite being indigent.
Good Time then, for me and others similarly situated, means an opportunity to demonstrate that prison's purpose of deterrence and rehabilitation has been served long before the date we were sentenced to be released on. It means that the MDOC is given flexibility to reserve prison bunks for those that actually demonstrate incorrigibility and removes the presumption of incorrigibility that inheres in Truth-In-Sentencing Laws. Good Time means an opportunity to begin my career in law a lot sooner than expected and continue pushing for prison and criminal justice reform. Lastly, Good Time makes a more fiscally responsible state government. Hopefully our fellow Michiganders believe in earned-early-releases and support this effort.