From a WA 3-Striker: May God's Mercy Upon the Downtrodden Soften the Hearts of the Authorities

CNW_shadeedaThe story below the fold is a guest post from Al-Kareem Shadeed, who is serving Life without Parole under Washington's 3-Strikes law for two robberies and an attempted robbery committed in his teens and early 20s. Shadeed's crimes involved no weapons or injuries.

Robbery 2 has been described by Washington's Sentencing Guidelines Commission (SGC) as an offense "involving little risk of physical injury." The SGC recommended in its 2001 Sentencing Reform Act Review removal of Robbery 2 from the 3-strikes list. This crime remains the most common crimes triggering life imprisonment under 3-Strikes in the state. Bills to implement this recommendation are introduced each year. 45% of the people serving under 3-strikes are African American -- in a state that is 3.5% African American.    

Photo by Inye Wokoma, NWColors Magazine

My name is Al-Kareem Shadeed. I'm 34 years old and I have received a life sentence without the possibility of parole under the 3 Strikes Law. None of my crimes involved a weapon and I have never, ever caused injuries to anyone!  Ironically, my sentence is the same as the Green River killer's sentence.  And, other people who have viciously murdered and raped women and children are getting out of prison while I never will.  Confused?  Let me explain.

In 1989, while still a juvenile, I had a problem with drugs.  Like many people, I decided to commit a crime of robbery to support my habit.  So came my first strike without any weapon and without any injuries to anyone.  My first strike went like this. I saw a man that I did not know.  I thought that he'd have some money because of the fancy clothes that he wore.  I figured that he would be easy to intimidate.  I thought that if I acted like I would fight him, which I really wasn't interested in doing, that he would give me the money I needed to get some more drugs. So I walked up to him and said "Hey man, give me your money."  To my surprise, he didn't show any resistance at all.  He just handed me his money.  I left and a short while later I got caught near where I stole the man's money.  As you can see, I wasn't much of a career criminal. I was acting more like a drug addict only interested in his drugs because I wasn't worried about getting caught. I surely needed guidance back then because my decisions were very poor and my thinking worse.  I did 8 months in prison for that crime.  But my thinking didn't get corrected while I was locked up. I was still a drug addict and I felt bad about what I did but I still didn't think much about the harm I had done to my victim.  Not much changed.  

My second strike was again to support my drug and alcohol habit.  I snatched a man's wallet out of his hands and I was charged with first degree Robbery since I touched the man.  Touching someone while taking from them makes the crime worse because it is like you are having a fight.  But, we didn't fight.  I just touched him as I grabbed his wallet.  I was told that if I went to court, things would go much worse for me since I already had a robbery conviction.  I was scared.  Since I didn't know anything about the law, I pled out to the lesser charge of Robbery 2 but I never knew it would be used as a strike against me.  I simply didn't know that.

For my third strike, I was convicted of second-degree attempted robbery, which normally carries a standard range of 13 months and a maximum of 5 years. Unfortunately, I had a few drinks and I wasn't thinking clearly.  To this day, I have a distorted recollection of what happened. No doubt, I am ashamed of my actions because I am guilty of harassing that guy.  I did not put my hands on him, and again I did not possess any weapons of any sort.  As a matter of fact my victim was a standup guy because he wouldn't allow me to bully him out of his lunch money.  Here's what happened. I tried to snatch his wallet but he saw what I was attempting to do.  He wasn't going to let me get away with that so he pushed me away.  So I made like I was going to fight him even though that wasn't my thing.  I didn't want to hurt him, I just needed some money.  I was looking for a way to break the thing off.  A car was coming down the street and I told the man to "get out of here" but he got bold and was trying to fight me.  I told him, "What?  Do you want me to hurt you or something? Get on!"  He was like following me and I wasn't in my right mind.  The whole situation was weird so I just got out of there. I didn't think about what happened much because I didn't take anything from him and I didn't hurt him or anything like that.  Several hours later I got arrested for this thing and I lied to the detectives about the ordeal but the victim's testimony was a little distorted too because we were both pretty excited at the time.  I was willing to accept the consequences of my actions but I couldn't believe it when they started taking about sending me away from life under the Three Strikes Law.

I never knew about the 3-Strikes law until I was hit on the head with it by my court-appointed attorney.  I can still remember my heart restricting my ability to swallow, let alone utter any words as he was speaking.  Somehow, I did manage to get out a few words.  And they were, "I ain't killed nobody."

No doubt that my actions warrant punishment.  But this punishment is extremely harsh.  My heart has been ripped out of my chest.  My life has been disregarded and the pain is unbearable.  Almost to the point where I've thought about committing suicide on a lot of occasions.  What stops me is hope.  Hope that people in authority's hearts will be softened by God's mercy upon the downtrodden.  I am deeply ashamed of my mistakes and sincerely regret my actions from deep within my heart.  When I was younger I didn't understand that I could really traumatize someone if I didn't use force during the robbery.  By now I know how the victim was affected.  I really sympathize with them and regret the duress I caused them and their families.  So, I do what I can to give back.  I make $45 a month on my job.  After buying the things I need like soap, toothpaste, stamps, and envelopes, I voluntarily give the remaining money to the children of greater need through a program called Feed The Children.  I do this only because of what is in my heart and my desire to do something positive for others in spite of what society may believe about me.

Hopefully, one day I can be a contributor to society and make a difference in someone's life.  Hopefully, someday I wall be able to see my mother and bothers and sisters again and hold them in my arms.  My life s salvageable!  I can make a difference.  People always speak of accountability.  Well, hold me accountable.  I can and will be a productive contributor to society, and no longer will such unlawful behavior be magnified and reflected by me again.  You can trust in that!

The following are quotes from Al-Kareem's third victim
Al-Kareem's third victim was a popular Garfield High School teacher by the name of Craig MacGowan.  He spoke out after Al-Kareem's sentencing: "It just blows me away that the people in this state are willing to house this guy in prison for the next 50 years yet are so reluctant to pay a fraction of what that will cost to reduce class sizes and do other things to better education," McGowan told the Seattle Times in 1994.  "We aren't willing to do enough for kids like this when they are young and when we have a chance to make a difference, but we're willing to throw them away in prison for 10 times the cost."
< Taking a Stand for Accountability (submitted as a guest editorial) | Impeachment on the table? Hearings - Olympia tomorrow. Rep Maralyn Chase introduces WA House Bill. >
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