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Dome of the California State Capitol in Sacramento
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When the California Legislature amended its eligibility criteria for early release under the state’s elderly parole program, I was ecstatic — until I read it.

Elderly parole is based on the premise that prisoners of advanced age who have served a substantial length of time are physically diminished and no longer pose the same threat they did when entering the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Under changes enacted by the state legislature that took effect on January 1, 2021, prisoners are eligible for early parole when they turn 50 years old if they have served 20 continuous years. This was a change from the original 2014 program, which required people to reach age 60 and serve 25 continuous years before they were eligible. 

But here’s the twist: Prisoners sentenced under California’s three-strikes law are not eligible

If the goal was to reduce overcrowding in prisons, save money, promote restorative justice and acknowledge the diminished risk of older prisons to society, why are three-strikers excluded?

I am one of those three-strikers. In 2003, at age 36, I robbed a person with a toy gun. For this I received two 30-years-to-life sentences. One 30-to-life sentence was subsequently removed, but I am still serving a 35-years-to-life sentence. 

I am now 56 years old and have served 20 years. 

While I typically approach obstacles with a positive attitude, reminding myself that everything happens for a reason, this recent exclusion has shaken my usual optimism. 

As a jailhouse lawyer, I have worked consistently as an advocate for other prisoners so that their sentences would be shortened, at times working pro bono. 

I have submitted petitions to courts and helped others prepare for parole board hearings. I have helped collect victim impact letters and have planned relapse prevention plans and parole plans. I have helped put together commutation, pardon and clemency applications. 

I also have chaired the Inmate Advisory Council, which advocates for the needs of the inmate population with the administration and the housing staff. In that position, I tried to educate people about the laws, rules and regulations that dictate their lives. 

My many successes include helping one man secure parole even though he had only served six years of a 36-year sentence for armed robbery. I filed a petition for him based on a change to the state penal code.

I have accepted responsibility for all of my actions. I have satisfied my physical debt to society with dignity and respect for the process, and for myself. I am no longer the lost child who entered prison in 2003. 

In fact, I do not believe I’m overstating it when I say that I believe I am one of the better “legal beagles” within CDCR.

And yet, as a person sentenced under California’s three-strikes law, I am excluded from benefiting from the state’s new policy.

It is hard to continue to work to help another person gain physical freedom — especially in instances where their offenses were worse than mine — when the law says I cannot regain it for myself.

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.

Artemus Blankenship is a writer of African, French, Italian and Indian heritage. He is incarcerated in California and serves as a representative in his facility's Inmate Advisory Council.