Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Collateral Consequences

5 days and counting. Today, Amanda and I went over the finances. Normally, I handle all the bills, but obviously that is not possible while I am incarcerated. Fortunately, it is not that complicated, but since I am self-employed, I have had to establish procedures to ensure my business can continue to generate income while I am gone.

This is actually a collateral consequence of incarceration that many do not consider. While the convict is sitting in prison, with free room and board so to speak, his family must adapt to the absence of a husband, father, and economic resource. While this is not officially part of the punishment, it is still very real. For me, the hardest part of this process has been the impact on my family -- my parents, wife, and children. I am an adult... I can handle the consequences for my conduct. But my family should not have to suffer.

I am certainly more fortunate than most. First, I will only be spending 3 months in prison. While that is far longer than I have ever spent apart from my wife, I know there are many who serve our country in Iraq or Afghanistan who are separated for much longer. Second, my family can visit me on weekends. Third, I have a business that can operate for a short period of time without my involvement, continuing to provide income for my family. Being self-employed, I don't have to worry about being fired, nor does my career depends on a state license (e.g. medical, legal, finance, etc) that could be revoked based on a felony conviction. North Carolina only restricts a felon's right to vote for the term of probation (3 years in my case), whereas some states (such as Florida) permanently disenfranchise felons.

[By the way, an interesting issue arose concerning my right to vote in the November 7, 2006 elections. I entered a guilty plea on October 13, 2006 but was not scheduled for sentencing until the beginning of 2007. Did I become a convicted felon on October 13 (before the election) or when my sentence was imposed (after the election)? My attorney had not run across such an anomolous situation. She consulted the prosecutor who said his policy was to notify the state board of elections after sentencing, implying he did not object to my voting in the election. My other attorney -- I collect lawyers as a hobby :) -- indicated that the "entry of judgment," which apparently occurs at sentencing, is the relevant date. This is consistent with the answer we received from the prosecutor. In any case, I voted and no one said anything :) ]

By the way, the The Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration, discusses many of the collateral consequences associated with a felony conviction.

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