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Trapped Part One: Cruel and Indefinite Punishment

California wastes tens of millions of dollars a year keeping people in prison long after they've been rehabilitated — denying parole for arbitrary reasons and destroying lives in the process.



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Lifers' loved ones told me that they try not to let the inmates know much pain the denials cause. "It hurt me. I cried so bad," said Hilda, Demian's fiancée. "But I didn't let him know. I didn't want to burden him. But it hurt me to the heart."

Antoine Jenkins and Jennifer Chacon's weekly visits mean everything. "He's there for me emotionally, and we counsel each other on the situations we're dealing with," said Chacon, who lives in Sacramento and is a medical office coordinator. She said they've supported each other through various struggles they've faced in recent years — Jenkins preparing for the parole board and coping with the death of his mother; Chacon dealing with the hardships of taking care of sick relatives while working full-time.

"It's like a vacation," Jenkins said of Chacon's visits. "You're up here with all this chaos and you go there and have peace of mind." He said they talk about sports, politics, church, family, and their life goals.

Ann Johnson said the arbitrariness and the cruelness of the parole process has deeply affected her. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • Ann Johnson said the arbitrariness and the cruelness of the parole process has deeply affected her.

But the allegedly inappropriate waiting-room conduct in July 2015 cost Jenkins more than just a sizable delay in obtaining freedom. The prison also banned Chacon from visiting him again for several months. Chacon and Jenkins told me they've been fighting to get her visitation rights re-approved, but have run into difficulties. When they are finally approved, they will likely only be able to talk through a glass wall at first, Jenkins said. (A CDCR spokesperson declined to comment on Jenkins' visiting privileges.)

Chacon said it was painful for both of them that she wasn't able to visit him before his November hearing and help him prepare and stay calm. "We could've talked about it face-to-face, maybe rehearsed. ... Now all we get are these fifteen-minute phone calls. Try fitting your whole day into fifteen minutes."

She wants to meet with him as soon as possible so they can also start diligently planning how he can get another hearing date — and figuring out what he needs to do to make sure his next board appearance results in a grant.

Jenkins told me he initially feared that the termination of her visitation rights would create such a strain on them that it might ruin their relationship. But, they both said, they are simply trying to stay positive and strong — and they're looking forward to when they can see each other again.

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