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On March 28, 2020, Patrick E. Jones, who was serving time at a low-security prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus. Jones served nearly 13 years on a nonviolent drug charge stemming from a 2007 arrest when police found 19 grams of crack and 21 grams of powder cocaine inside the apartment he shared with his wife in Temple, Texas. He was the first incarcerated person to die from coronavirus in federal prison.
Back in October 2019, Jones crafted his letter of appeal to submit to U.S. District Judge Alan Albright. He was hoping to receive a sentence reduction through the newly signed First Step Act, which offered relief to some inmates convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. On February 26, 2020, his request for a sentence reduction was denied and 22 days after the denial, he succumbed to the virus that has seen an outbreak in the small Louisiana prison, claiming the lives of five other incarcerated individuals. In a statement from his attorney to NBC News, Alison Looman said Jones “spent the last 12 years contesting a sentence that ultimately killed him.” His story is but one of a growing number of stories of incarcerated people who are fearful due to a lack of protection from the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout America’s prisons. Many who are nonviolent offenders have been either denied sentence reduction or are unable to make bail to be bonded out of county jails.
Below are the words of the letter written by Patrick Jones to Judge Albright on October 15, 2019. The bolded italicized words are Jones’, the words in plain print are my interpretations of the impact of his words and his plea for a second chance that fell on deaf ears and ultimately resulted in his death.
Patrick Jones’ Plea for Release: A Translation
To the Honorable Judge presiding over said Court,
I come forth, hereby submitting this letter in good faith, truth and respect, sincerely asking for the opportunity to be a productive member of society, contributing and establishing something for my youngest one, who deserves more than anything to be around his father.
Translation: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. En route to becoming a man, I continued to behave in an underdeveloped manner and while endangering the well-being of those around me, I made a child that I have not seen since he wobbled about in diapers. He is now 16, and my actions made him yet another number in a lineup of Black boys attempting to course a path to Black manhood without fatherly navigation. I am requesting a chance to remedy damages I caused my community in choosing a less than honorable route to being a provider. I now recognize the selfishness of shepherding an addiction upon my people as a means to make ends meet. At this point, I have endured nearly 13 years of nightmares where humans turned zombies visit my sleep, desperately requesting a fix. My visions are crowded by urine-eyed would be fathers, itchy armed mothers and latch key kids all broken on account of what I was selling. I know that if I have nothing greater to offer the larger world, I at least have a greater degree of hard earned wisdom to offer my son. He needs me to help him avoid becoming me. I am begging for mercy, your honor. I need to be able to disrupt this cycle before it’s too late.
I have not seen him since he was 3 years old. When I have had chances to talk to him over the phone, it’s effective and he is okay for a while, but mistreatment and bad influences take him off his intended course of life because his mother doesn’t care. She has abandoned the remaining responsibilities of raising him. I just found out he has not been enrolled in school for the last 2 years and that is a very important thing to me. I feel that all my children should complete the full range of their education. I myself have only two tests to complete to obtain my G.E.D.
Translation: I speak to my son in the dialect of caution. He understands that the measured cadence in my delivery is intended to be a lifeline. I tell him he can be all he aspires to be and the streets tell him that I am an urban legend worthy of his hustler’s ambitions. Tells him he needs to carry on tradition, that he could maneuver the game smarter than I did, that my fate does not have to be his if he plays it a little savvier. His mother and I were co-conspirators. Me, her and the dope all lived under the same roof, but when them people came to convict me, she did what she had to do to protect her freedom.
She tells my boy he’s gonna end up just like me but he does not take that as such a bad outcome, because he understands that at least some semblance of care will be woven into the callousness he inherited. The boy’s got a good heart but keeps bad company and has an imprisoned dealer serving as his voice of reason. He has left his formal education on the backburner and has chosen the school of hard knocks as his learning institution of choice. I try to impress upon him the value of staying in school, but from here all I sound like is a muffled noise transmitting through a limited collect call. I need to be out of here to redirect his path, your honor. His mother does not have time to make sure he does not slip into the same trap that took me away from him. I am in here working hard to get some level of certified education so that when I’m freed I can show him that there is life after being locked up. I want him to be one less defendant your court or any other court will ever have to come in contact with. But I can only be so much of a presence in his life when all he has ever known me to be is absent. I know my wrongs, I want an opportunity to stop my own flesh and blood from spiraling into something I am all too familiar with. Please sir, let me gain redemption through my child.
I feel that my conviction and sentence was also a punishment that my child had to endure also and there are no words for how remorseful I am. Years of “I am sorry” don’t seem to justify the absence of a father or the chance of having purpose in life by raising my child.
Translation: My boy deserved birthdays with his father. He deserved me being there when the training wheels came off his bike. Being there to place dollars under his pillow when he lost his first tooth. Being there when he had questions about where babies came from, when he wanted to shave the first patch of peach fuzz that sprouted from above his lip, when he needed someone to give him first driving lessons. My son did not deserve my negligence. He did not ask to be brought into the world by a criminal. I cannot offer any rationale reasonable enough to explain the decisions I made that denied him fatherhood. There is no level of atonement I can muster that can add years back to our relationship. Admittedly, the same degree of selfishness that fueled me to break the law is the same selfishness that has me pleading to be set free. I NEED to be connected with my child for my betterment, to be able to have my humanity restored so that I can be of greater good to a world I poisoned. I am asking that you not consider my mistakes as the sum total of my life or what direction it is destined to take. I am asking that you give my boy a chance not afforded to many Black boys whose fathers have gone by way of the cell or the graveyard. You have the power to reunite us and play a key role in changing a narrative. I promise you I will absolutely do my part.
My child having his own experience of raising his own child would validate my life experience and give meaning to my existence in this world, because 83582-1820 has no meaning. It is just a number to be forgotten in time.
Translation: As I write this, I am property of a state that has no shortage of slave labor. These walls are filled with men who have committed indescribable acts. I am in the presence of men who have molested children, men who have slaughtered women, men who have bludgeoned enemies to the point of paralyzation. I have adapted a steel disposition as a survival mechanism. I do not profess to be an angel, but I have shared dining space and cells with men who embody an evil you would never understand. Still, I know I believe that we all have the potential to be made whole again and restoration cannot come from extreme dehumanization disguised as justice. In here, I am just another number to be counted as human inventory. Just another field hand mandated to generate products for profiteers outside this cage. But to my child, I am a human being he shares features and mannerisms with. I am a man that can still impress upon him the value of earning an honest living. I am someone he listens to and grew to love despite seeing me on a seasonal basis. I look forward to seeing better versions of me come into this world. Refined carriers of my entrepreneurial spirit. I want to be able to tell a story of a second chance to my future generations. I want to once again feel like a one of one. Not a product of the assembly line of mass incarceration. Not an error unable to be erased.
But Mr. Patrick Estell Jones is a very good person. Caring, hardworking, free and clean of drugs and a lot smarter now, with a balanced outlook on life. I am a baker, a cook and reserve many other skills that I can be contributing to society and my community.
Translation: I have taken this time to sit and reassess my life. I have picked up trades that give me the ability to nourish the same community my drugs once famished. I have skills I can pass down to my son to equip him with tools he can use to avoid meeting the same fate I did. I have grown in wisdom and maturity and belief in what I can accomplish legally. I have morphed into a higher version of myself. I have forgiven myself for my atrocities and sought out divine intervention to order my steps moving forward. I just need a chance to come from this place to become the asset I know I can be.
I am hoping and praying that I be truly given the opportunity to become a father to my son who will become lost if I don’t find him and put him on a track where a child his age needs to be. I ask also that I be judged wisely of sound heart and soul by the honorable heart, mind and soul of the wise one whom God has blessed and given his will to judge. Thank you very much for your time and concern. Sincerely, Patrick E. Jones
Translation: Once again your honor, this request is made in efforts to save my son. He is at a pivotal age in his development where his future can easily mirror my past. My absence has left a gaping hole in his personhood that it will take years to fill upon me being released. But I cannot even begin the work of restoring the soiled garden from which my seed has grown, sitting inside a place void of sunlight. I need my son to see me diligently working to fill the hole in his heart created by my time away. I need him to see me cultivating fertile grounds for his future to blossom out of. And I need you to consider the God in you when deliberating on the mercy and grace necessary to give another chance to a wretch like me. For I too possess a godliness that was once suppressed but ironically has found its liberation during this time of bondage. Thank you in advance for my redemption
Patrick E. Jones
In Louisiana, Black people constitute 33% of state residents, but 52% of people in jail and 67% of people in prison. Since 1970, the total jail population has increased by 665%. As of this writing, the prison facility in Oakdale, Louisiana, where Patrick Jones died, has opted to stop testing for coronavirus to conserve resources as transmissions have become too widespread.