Monday, September 21, 2015

Wrongful Incarceration: Letter from a Prisoner at Lakeland C.F.

Close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to spend your entire adult life in prison. I don't have to imagine what it would be like, because I have been in prison my entire adult life. My name is Charles Lewis, I am a 56-year-old African-American poet, writer, musician, and convict. I have been locked up since August 1, 1976. When my graduating class was walking across the stage to get their diplomas, I was in the Wayne County Jail literally fighting for my manhood and my life. At seventeen I didn't have a job or the resources to hire an attorney. I was represented by an attorney furnished by the State that was prosecuting me. My seventy-year-old lawyer, Arthur Arduin, came to see me only once in the county jail and simply showed up for trial. When you see movies about trials and you see all of the planning sessions that go on before trial, that only happens in the movies. My lawyer showed up for trial and winged it.

I was arrested a few months after my seventeenth birthday for a murder and a robbery that I knew absolutely nothing about. Your first instinct may be to question that statement. I'm presently being held in prison without a conviction or sentence because the system completely broke down. During my trial in 1977 the prosecution failed or refused to call five police officers to testify. If the five officers had been called, the jury would have found me not guilty. I filed an appeal and argued that the prosecution failed to produce the five officers and it denied me a fair trial. The prosecution had thirty days from the day that the order was granted (1980) to conduct a Pearson evidentiary hearing and show that the witnesses were not necessary. The prosecution failed to conduct the hearing within 30 days and my conviction therefore should have been vacated. Instead of dismissing the conviction, the judge allowed the prosecutor to later conduct a Pearson evidentiary hearing. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office conducted the hearing and the transcripts went missing for fifteen years.

In 1999 I filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment and argued that I did not have a conviction. The judge ordered the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to respond to the motion. The prosecutor's office argued that I was only entitled to a new trial and not a complete dismissal. Judge Gershwin A. Drain issued an order dismissing my conviction on April 3, 2000. The order was sent to the Wayne County Clerk's Office and filed in the wrong case file. In 2010, I obtained a copy of the order and all of my files and records came up missing. I have just spent the first 30 days of my fortieth year in prison without a conviction or sentence.

I'm writing this story to shed light on the problems that exist in the judicial system in the hope that my story will effect change. Sometimes it takes dramatic situations to bring about change. What comes to mind is Trayvon Martin; regardless of who you are, you know who Trayvon Martin is. I am truly sorry that Trayvon Martin lost his life. However, I know that God had a plan for his life. God has a plan for my life as well. There is a reason why I have spent forty years in prison. There is a reason why I've spent the past fifteen years in prison with no conviction or sentence. I may not fully comprehend or completely understand God's plan, I just know that God has a plan.

I'm sure that as you are reading the words you are asking the question, "what can I do to help?" You can start by changing the way that you think. As a society we effect change by changing the way that we think. In the 1930's and 1940's racism was deeply entrenched in the very fabric of the country. People began to change one person and one thought at a time, and the walls of racism began to come down. Today we have a Black president in office because the walls of racism came down. There is still systemic racism in the very fabric of the judicial system and police departments. The walls of racism in those institutions will come down when we begin to change the way that we think as a society.

If you truly want to help me, the next time that you see institutional racism, don't turn a blind eye to it. If you want to effect change, speak up, and speak out.

If you want to help, know that the struggle for liberation is an expensive struggle. I am blessed to have the law firm of Foley and Lardner representing me. However, it is difficult to put money on the phone so that I can call them. All of the letters that I write to the attorneys on my case cost money to send. You can write to me: Charles Lewis, #150709; Lakeland Correctional Facility; 141 First Street; Coldwater, Michigan 49036, or you can send me a J-Pay message.

The most important thing that you can do for me is pray for me. Know that God is still in control and that prayer changes things. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this blog. Thank you for your prayers and any support that you can give. Know that when prayers go up, blessings rain down. Know that the greatest weapon that we have to combat hate is love.

Charles Lewis