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Photo by  Hédi Benyounes  on  Unsplash
Photo by Hédi Benyounes on Unsplash

At 19, I was charged with first-degree murder in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri. After three jury trials, I was convicted and sentenced to serve life without the possibility of probation or parole and 99 years. That was 25 years ago.

While incarcerated, instead of wasting time watching “The Jerry Springer Show” and sports, or gambling and playing card games, or doing or selling drugs like a lot of offenders, I spent my time working on rehabilitating myself and transforming myself into a mature, responsible adult. I set goals and made plans. I obtained a GED, pled guilty, and received time served on several traffic warrants. I filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and resolved all of my financial debts, most notably the $100,000 I owed to Missouri under the Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act. 

I wrote and published five books: “Smith’s Guide to Habeas Corpus Relief for State Prisoners,” “Smith’s Guide to State Habeas Corpus Relief for State Prisoners,” “Smith’s Guide to Second or Successive Federal Habeas Corpus Relief for State and Federal Prisoners,” “Smith’s Guide to Chapter 7 Bankruptcy for Prisoners,” and “Smith’s Guide to Executive Clemency for State and Federal Prisoners.” 

I earned a paralegal degree with distinction from Blackstone Career Institute and also earned several advanced degrees in business and corporate law; wills, trusts & estates; and real estate law.

But all of my effort and accomplishments are futile and mean nothing because there is no path for me to ever be considered for release on parole. I am marked as an incorrigible man, labeled a monster who cannot be rehabilitated by society’s standards, set in stone by the laws of Missouri and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Society must hold offenders accountable for the crimes they commit, but it also has a responsibility to help heal the people it incarcerates.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Zachary A. Smith is a writer and artist incarcerated in Missouri. He has studied law for over 20 years and has earned a paralegal degree with distinction from Blackstone Career Institute. Smith is the author of the “Smith’s Guide” series.