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Preparing for the Board of Prison Hearings (BPH) can be traumatizing. It is only made easier if you decide to opt-out and sign a waiver stating you are not prepared to present your plea for parole. I do not recommend that action unless you are under a district attorney referral and are looking at a new case. 

For at least six months before your hearing date, you should do a complete moral inventory. What got you to where you are today? What could you have done to prevent your participation in the event that put you into this position of vulnerability? 

I say “vulnerability” due to the fact that you have no control over your future or day-to-day activities. The California Department of Corrections (CDCR) tells you when, where, and how to conduct yourself. The only thing you control is whether you disobey the rules and get the punishment or follow the rules and get the privileges you can receive for obeying them. Both punishment and privileges are also decided by CDCR. 

I speak from my own observations and involvement I have had with the BPH during my 12 grueling hearings. There is no set standard for how to appease the board and gain your freedom, a situation that raises my frustration level as I am sure it will raise yours. 

Every hearing addresses the case for which you are committed and, although no case is the same, we are all able to prepare a parole plan. Discussion of your parole plan is the stable part of the hearing. You need supportive family or friends to show the BPH that you have a stable fallback if you don’t have an established life to move into right away. 

You will need transportation whether public transportation, a car, or someone to drive you. You need a job lined up or a letter stating that you will be given a position if there is an opening upon your release. 

Housing is a must. I prefer transitional housing due to the fact that they offer everything in one package: housing, ID, transportation, a job, a social services representative, mental health services, clothing, and cash (credit cards, now). They are a super-boost all at once and you are all set. All you have to do is prepare yourself to meet society on new terms. 

That is where the BPH comes in. The board wants to be assured you have taken a moral inventory and gained insight into where you went wrong, not just at the time of your offense, but all the way back to the first time you picked up a stick and chased another kid down the street. They want to make sure you have figured out what the causative factors were and what triggered you to commit your offense. If you don’t know and you haven’t addressed your issues, you will not parole. 

The Board of Prison Hearings has a job to protect society from felonious killers, and they stand between us and the free world. As much as I dislike the way that the board tortures my soul, fillets me open, and bares all my emotions, I have to give them credit for being thorough in their task. 

Anyone affected by your crime is a victim, and if you really think about it, BPH is victimized each time they listen to your version of the crime. I am certain they are affected by the verbal visuals they have to hear daily. 

Initially, I thought the recommendations from the panel were set in stone. I found out that the next hearing panel was under no obligation to follow through with the previous panel’s recommendations. Therefore, when you take the recommended groups, do not take them under the impression that you will become suitable for parole. Take the courses only for yourself. The groups are good and it’s always a positive thing to better yourself. Take the recommended course and a few extra. You will be able to show the next panel what courses you have completed and talk about what you absorbed. 

During the hearing, you will be quizzed. If you have any Rule Violation Reports (RVR), find a class or group to attend, so the Board sees you are trying to address your faults and better yourself. You can’t wait for parole to start making amends; right your wrongs or set the scale to even. If you are not trying to be a better you, then don’t try getting past the BPH. 

Build a one, five, and 15-year plan. The BPH wants to know where you think you will be one year after paroling. Paint a picture the BPH can see and believe in. Most of all the BPH must believe in you. 

This is my first term in prison and I have been hard-headed. I lost hope of paroling and got strung out on drugs, hiding in the spoon. During the past five years, I kicked dope and began concentrating solely on getting out of prison to start a new and improved life in society. It can happen. 

My experience is why I stress self-inventory. Once you get into yourself, you can see how others act and react. You will find that you can rely on others and if they see you trying to better yourself, they will be more likely to help you. 

My hope is this information helps anyone who reads it present themselves to the BPH. The burden of proof is on you. 

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.

J.D. Allen is a writer incarcerated in California. He holds a GED and has completed 24 college units. He finds creativity to be his lifeline and source of self worth. J.D. has asked for his first name to be withheld.