A Prisoner and a PhD, continued
An update from Johnny Pippins
Last year, I published a letter here at the newsletter from Johnny Pippins. Johnny is currently incarcerated. He’s serving out a lengthy sentence he received in his youth after being convicted of committing a violent crime. In the time since his incarceration, he has left the gang life behind, earned multiple degrees, won awards for his teaching, and gained admission to a PhD program in sociology at the University of Iowa. You can read Johnny’s story here, and I recommend that you do. In my estimation, he has rehabilitated himself and then some.
A couple weeks ago, Johnny wrote to me and my editor, Mark Sussman, with an update. When we last heard from Johnny, he was trying to get a parole hearing that was due him but that had been repeatedly delayed. Failing that, he hoped for a pardon from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Now, a new law has made it possible for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to intercede on his behalf.
Unfortunately, the political environment in Illinois has rendered a pardon or action from Foxx and Pritzker unlikely. At least to a certain extent, Foxx herself is responsible for this state of affairs. Her “mishandling” of the Jussie Smollett case and her refusal to prosecute an enormous number of people arrested on felony charges have left the impression that her sympathies lie with perpetrators of crime rather than their victims. And all of this as violent crime continues to wreak havoc on the city. Now she is facing a well-earned backlash against these policies. As a consequence, releasing even deserving prisoners like Johnny, who pose no threat to anyone, has become a political liability.
It’s understandable that ordinary people would have reservations about indiscriminately releasing violent criminals from prison with no idea how they’ll behave once they get out. But Johnny has spent over a quarter century behind bars. He has definitively renounced his past life, and he has all the makings of a success story: a loving and supportive family, a job and a spot in an academic program waiting for him, a work ethic, and a sense of purpose. Now it appears that he remains in prison not for anything he did, but for Chicago's disastrous “criminal justice” policies.
I say again, we should not let Johnny Pippins’s immense potential languish.
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Dear Glenn and Mark,
I hope that this correspondence finds you and yours healthy and in good spirits. The university that I earned my master’s degree through, Idaho, informed me that I needed to move my student account over to an alumni account. In doing so, I came across your email address and realized that I had given neither you an update on my situation. And what a situation it is.
Inexplicably, I am in the same situation as when we were last in contact with one caveat: I actually had a hearing. The University of Iowa granted me a deferral last summer, and I had a review hearing in September. On the heels of that hearing, all hell broke loose with some of Governor Pritzker pardons, in particular one that he issued to an arsonist who was/is a firefighter. Really, I kid you not—the pyromaniac is a fireman! Keep in mind that this is an election year. This brought everything to a grinding halt, and although I had a hearing nearly nine months ago, I have been given no decision.
Being only a tad bit discouraged, my wife and I decided to liquidate some more of our meager assets to hire an attorney to represent us in a petition based on a new bill that the governor had signed into law (Senate Bill 2129). This law allows the state’s attorney in the county of conviction to reconsider some cases, after some passage of time, to see if the original sentence “still serves the interest of justice.” Thus, we forked over nearly ten thousand dollars that we really did not have and were pleasantly surprised after an initial confusion. The prosecutor was seemingly sympathetic to my cause and started the process of notifying victims' families, as required by law, and poring over my police reports to make sure that there were no surprises.
Everything looked promising. One guy, whose resume does not compare to mine, even made it out of the door with a whopping 28 years remaining on his sentence. So yes, we were more than encouraged, given the fact that I only have three years and some odd months remaining, and I am headed into a PhD program. Then along came Kim Foxx.
Kim Foxx, the State’s Attorney from Chicago (Cook County), is a bit of a lightning rod. She decided to use the same law to get some guys out early, and it served as fuel and fodder for all of the naysayers. Both her political opponent, as well as the governor’s, started talking about being soft on crime.
My wife, always so astute in her observations, said that “people can say what they want about ‘the extreme Right,’ but at least they stand up for what they believe in, even in an election year.”
I'm open to any thoughts or ideas you may want to share. Thank you.