Into The Sunlight: The Fallacy Of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

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by Janet Goree

The heavy doors slam and lock behind me. I am assailed by the brightness of the sun on this beautiful winter day in Florida. I rush to my car to get my sunglasses. You are only allowed to take one pair of glasses into the facility and when I entered at 7:30 this morning, it was barely light.

I follow my usual routine when leaving this place. I have been holding back the tears, so in the safety of my car, I let them flow and flow. Tears for the grown man in that building, tears for the child he was and will always be to me.

Robert Taylor Halstead was born into a home with a very young mother (me), a sister two years older and a father who left before “Bobby” turned one. During the sleepless nights, over and over in my head I play the “what if” game. What if his father had been there? What if I was home more instead of working two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet? What if I had only waited until I was older to have children?

It is in the dark times, and there are many, that I go there, blaming myself. Even though my son tells me over and over that it was his problem, his addiction, that I was a wonderful mother, even though my rational mind understands that I know people locked up beside him that were raised in two family homes with a stay at home mom, even though I know these things, I will always blame myself for not being able to save him.

The man I left behind this morning, the man whom the prosecutor and victim laughed about not seeing daylight until he was 62, is my child. He is a son, a father, a brother and an uncle. He is not a worthless piece of trash that deserves to be locked away for the rest of his life. He is a drug addict that needed help, but it was not there.

It is very popular now to be tough on crime, to lock people up and throw away the key. This is how the law that is taking Bobby away from us for thirty years came to be. It is called mandatory minimum sentencing. No time off for good behavior. You must serve every day the judge sentences you to. Most of these people are addicts. Is this who we want our prisons full of?

The man who shook my granddaughter to death in 1993 received probation. My son, very likely in a psychotic episode due to improper methadone withdrawal at the hands of a professional, walked into a drugstore and robbed it, with the only thought in his mind being to end the pain once and for all. I fully acknowledge the terror and fear the pharmacist must have felt. No one was physically injured.

While sitting in court waiting for my son’s case to be heard, the judge gave 30 years to a man who beat an 80-year-old woman nearly to death with a pipe. In his next breath he sentenced my son to the same sentence for a crime where no one was physically injured. How does this make sense?

I will continue to visit.

Inmates are placed as far away from home as possible to discourage visitation, and it works! Each way is eight hours but the drive is not the hardest  part. The hardest part is walking away into the sunshine, knowing my beautiful little boy will be an old man and I will probably be long dead before he has the chance to hear those doors slam behind him and at long last walk out into the sunlight.