HOW A FATHER’S PICTURES AND STORY OF FAMILY LIFE SAVED HIM FROM DOING FIVE YEARS IN PRISON
Carnell was facing charges of possession for sale. Allegedly, he sold drugs worth $20 to an undercover officer. While he admits doing so, what he was unwilling to accept was an extremely harsh five year prison sentence. When he came to De-Bug, he was unhappy with his public defender who he felt was pushing him to take a deal of 5 years. At the time of the incident, Carnell had been the sole provider for his children, the sole caretaker of his disabled mother, and had been on a steady path of rehabilitating his life since he was released from prison in 2000. He admits to having a recent stumble with drugs, all the while being able to meet his responsibilities as a father and as a son, and was focusing back on his recovery. His children’s mother had not consistently been in his or the children’s lives for years. If Carnell were to be sent to prison, it would mean his children being sent to the foster care system and his mother possibly being conserved, left with no one to care for them.
Carnell really wanted the judge to know how much prison was going to be devastating for his children. “I can handle the environment itself,” he says, “but I don’t want my kids to have to go through it.” To actively work on his case, Carnell and members of De-Bug’s ACJP supported him by developing a mitigation package that would help inform the court of the factors they should consider when deciding his sentence. While he had already pled, there was still discretion by the judge as to the eventual sentence. Even before his sentence, without any prodding from his attorney or anyone, Carnell himself enrolled in AA classes, joined parenting and anger management classes, found a steady job after months of looking.
The main point of the social biography package was to give the court a full picture of who Carnell was. He and his supporters wanted to show that while he did take responsibility for the incident, he belonged in the community, not in prison.
His social biography package included:
- Letters of support from his mother, father, stepmother, community organizations and leaders, his pastor, and his children’s school psychologists who testified to how vital Carnell was to his kids’ lives;
- Certificates of completion and progress in his drug rehabilitation classes/ anger management/ parenting classes;
- High school completion certificate;
- Paycheck stubs showing consistency of holding down a job;
- Transcripts of his children’s participation and attendance at school that show how under Carnell’s care, the kids did well (getting straight A’s, student of the month, participated in afterschool programs, etc)
- A photo journal showing how Carnell takes care of his children from waking them, feeding them breakfast, taking them to school, taking them to afterschool programs, doing homework with them, spending time with them, and putting them to bed.
OUTCOME: What started out as an originally thin packet grew into a binder that he then presented to his probation officer that would create the report for the judge to determine his final sentence. This packet, along with well-thought out and prepared essays answering questions posed to him by the Probation Department, resulted in a recommended sentence of 2 months county jail time, an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, and a 5 year suspended sentence. At sentencing, the Judge ordered him to an outpatient drug and alcohol program that allowed him to go back home and care for his family and a 5 year suspended sentence. Carnell’s innovative use of photos when compiling a social biography packet has become a useful model for ACJP. Carnell now advises others on how to construct these packets.