Treating Addiction in WA With Lifetime Prison Sentences

James Moody, serving Life without Possibility of Parole under Washington's 3-Strikes law since 2003, contributes the two posts that appear below the fold, "Is this not Also Torture?" and "My Story".

James' first two strikes were committed when he was in his twenties.  The first was for a 1987 assault in a California bar "with a deadly weapon, to wit, a bottle" for which he served slightly over a year in county jail.  The maximum term for this crime in California is four (4) years. Washington state "adjusted to foreign jurisdiction" by interpreting it as equivalent to an Assault 1, a crime with a maximum term of twenty-three (23) years. James' second strike was a 1992 felony 3 assault in Utah for which he served several months in a county jail.

During his thirties, James was convicted for a number of misdemeanors, crimes that he describes in "My Story", below, as related to alcohol addiction. Alcoholism was a long-term struggle for him. But, by 2003, recently married, newly graduated from community college, and embarking on a new career, he thought that he had found a new life. That year, he relapsed and committed his third strike crime.

Photo of James Moody by Noemie Maxwell 8/21/08.

In an interview this past August, James told me that he had, at the time of this crime, been engaged in an intense struggle to overcome alcohol craving and as he indicates in his story had, in fact, moved and changed jobs in hopes that this would help. He also mentioned during the interview that, at the time of the assault, he was on a prescription course of Paxil to treat depression. I asked if there were known interactions between alcohol and Paxil and he said that there were and that, in fact, the medical experts for both the defense and prosecution had testified that he had diminished capacity at the time of the attack.

I Googled Paxil and discovered that the FDA lists alcohol abuse as among its adverse effects. In fact, many first-hand accounts of intense Paxil-induced alcohol craving can be found on the Internet.  Another FDA listed side effect of Paxil is aggressiveness.  There is ample evidence that this drug is associated with violent actions that are out of character for the people who commit them.  A 2004 Mother Jones article reports on a number of defendants who have been acquitted of murder for using Paxil and other drugs in that class.

James now lives under close observation in prison, due to health issues.  In 2005, he conducted a 6-week hunger strike in an attempt to draw public attention to what he believes is an unjust sentence.  Aside from the justice issues raised by a sentence of life without parole for an assault committed by an ill person with diminished capacity, this case gives a small indication of the tremendous excess fiscal costs incurrred by Three Strikes.  As far as I know, the physical and mental health status of Washington's 300 or so Three Strikers has not been studied.  Anecdotally, this is a population with a high incidence of health problems.  Nevertheless, the law requires, for the entire lifetime of the person who is sentenced, and without any other option available, the use of our most expensive public safety tool: incarceration.  With treatment, James Moody could be working, paying taxes, paying for his own medical bills, and helping others.  Under Three Strikes, he has become an expensive ward of the state, which is required to provide adequate medical care to him, to bear the entire cost, and has no leeway to seek less expensive alternatives that would also protect public safety.


By James Moody

From the recent story of Canada's inclusion of the United States on its list of nations which employ torture, to the controversy over the CIA's destroying video tapes reportedly showing the torture of detainees, our nation's use of torture has been in the news.

But that's a world away, in places like Guantanamo Bay, or elsewhere right?  Not here in America?  Surely, it's not happening here in America, against our very own citizens who are being held in our nation's prisons?  And just what exactly constitutes torture, anyways?  Is it torture only if it contains some type of physical abuse, like broken bones or waterboarding?  Or are there not other forms of torture equally as cruel, which inflict unimagined amounts of mental and emotional pain and suffering?

The Webster's Dictionary defines torture as: "Anguish of body and mind."  So, both a mental and emotional component, not just the more commonly thought-of physical form.

Imagine facing an endless existence locked in a cell of a maximum security prison, without any hope of ever going home.  Only in death will your suffering end.  There is no chance for parole.  No hope for rehabilitation or release.  A punishment without end.  Would you consider that a type of torture?

But just what kind of monstrous crimes would even warrant such a harsh and cruel sentence anyways?  One imagines the likes of Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer.  Other criminals of that caliber also come to mind, ones with crimes so severe that they clearly mandate a life sentence, for we can all agree these predators can never again be set free to live among us.  But surely this most severe of sentences is reserved only for these architects of evil.

Apparently, one such architect, or criminal master mind, is the woman from Tacoma who was given a life sentence without parole after shoplifting Hostess fruit pies from a 7-11 store!  (1) She, along with a long sad list of midlevel, drug and alcohol addicted repeat offenders have been given these life sentences with our state's 3-Strikes law.  (Her case was deemed so outrageous it was cited on a bill designed to amend this law).  The bill failed to pass.

In 2003, having never before been to prison, and having no prior "strike level" offenses (2), at forty years of age I was struck out following an assault commited during a night of blackout drinking.  A crime for which I willingly turned myself in the very next morning, shocked by what I had done and ready to take responsibility for my actions.  Just not for life!

This law was sold to the public as the ultimate answer to hardcore recidivism.  But increasingly what it has been doing is arbitrarily ensnaring hapless drug addicts and alcoholics who commit midlevel offenses due to their addictions.  Meanwhile, true career criminals, high level drug dealers, and sexual predators are either savvy enough and well represented by paid attorneys that they avoid being struck out by this law entirely.

One such high profile case which clearly shows the arbitrary and capricious nature of this law is one of three-time convicted rapist Gary Cherry whose story appeared in the Seattle Times following his release from prison this past January.  It would seem very difficult to equate releasing this man back into the community, while keeping the Hostess fruit pie girl with any real common sense to public safety!

This law was also designed with a deterrent effect in mind, the idea being that those who have one or two prior strikes would stop and think before committing another crime.  But with so many changes to this law, and individual prosecutorial discretion as to what does or does not constitute a strike, (3) combined with the drug addicts' notorious lack of forethought when committing a crime, "spur of the moment" there is really no evidence this law is deterring anyone. (4)

No one is suggesting we don't deserve to be in prison.  We do.   But with an appropriate sentence, one that allows for a full measure of punishment and payment for our actions, followed by rehabilitation and eventual release.

As Bill Gates said so well in his Commencement address to Harvard this past June, "if you believe that every life has value, then it's revolting to learn that some are seen as worth saving, and others are not."  Now, while Gates was referring to those in dire Third World poverty, I believe his statement holds true for every life, everywhere, including the "Fourth World" of our nation's prisons.   We are people who have made mistakes, but we are also people with value, people worth saving.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse states that every dollar spent on treatment saves seven dollars in future incarceration costs. (5)  Let's focus on the solution, rather than the problem, by providing good quality intensive inpatient substance abuse treatment.  Isn't it time for a more progressive, not to mention effective, approach to combating crime than this draconian law left over from the dark ages?

By James Moody

In June 2003, I graduated from Highline Community College with an A.A.S. degree in Human Services and, although I was still working on the C.D.P. (Chemical Dependency Professional) I was nonetheless on my way to achieving my long-held goal of becoming a substance abuse counselor.

In January 2003, I was hired at (an) Adolescent Treatment Center in Burien as a house manager, after passing the Washington State Patrol criminal background check.  I passed without any problems.

As a recovering alcoholic () for more than a decade, all of my past legal trouble was due to my addiction.  My hope now was to help others find their own road to recovery when, sadly, I lost my own battle with addiction.

In July 2003, I took a job at Mt. Rainier National Park working for Guest Services Inc. with the idea that a change in scenery might help me to regroup from the relapse.  I was wrong.  I should have checked myself into inpatient treatment until I had stabilized my recovery, as I again started drinking.  I deeply regret this decision.

On a night in July, 2003, in a blackout from a long night of drinking, I came home and severely assaulted my roommate, a god and kind man who I truly liked and in no way would have wished to harm.   Thankfully, he made a full recovery.

The next morning, when I awoke and realized what I had done, I turned myself into the police and took full responsibility for the harm I had caused.  I knew that morning that I would be going to prison, and deservedly so.  But I was shocked to discover that they were going to strike me out, despite having no prior strikes and no prior prison record.  They would accomplish this through a convoluted process they call adjusting for foreign jurisdiction.  My life was over with this sentence.

Before this offense in 2003 I had been only to county jail, mostly back in the 1980s for offenses common with the disease of alcoholism.  Two of these were for third degree assault, the lowest level felonies in the criminal justice system, crimes which merited relatively short jail terms.  Now I would be going to prison for the first time in my life, for life, as a persistent offender!

I very much wanted to pay for my crime and had turned myself in for that very purpose.  But I want to pay with an appropriate sentence, not Life Without the Possibility of Parole.


Added by Noemie Maxwell
  1. I cannot find reference to a person serving under 3-Strikes for stealing Hostess fruit pies - either on Google or in any of the 3-Strikes bill reports I have read.  Such a theft would qualify as shoplifting, a non-strike offense, unless there were a weapon or threat of a weapon or harm.  James Moody may be referring to Cherease Cross, who served under 3-Strikes for stealing small amounts from convenience stores like 7-11 using fake weapons such as her finger or a perfume bottle.  Here is a story on Cherease's case, written by Shirley White, the mother of another 3-Striker, and a close friend of Cherease's: Cherease Cross: Kind, Beautiful, Caring: She Deserved a Better Chance.
  2. Moody's prior convictions in other states, California and Utah, appear to have qualified as lower-level offenses there (level 3 felonies), but as strikes here in Washington. I spoke with Craig Adams, prosecutor in Pierce County Civil Division in February, 2008.  Mr. Adams handles public records request.  He told me that there is a stipulation on James Moody's prior record that was signed by the prosecuting attorney and public defense attorney regarding a James Moody's two out-of-state arrests.  I find it surprising that Moody's California assault had, in that state, a maximum sentence of 4 years but was translated to a crime here in Washington, Assault 1, which has a sentence of 23 years.  I performed a criminal background check on James Moody using the State Trooper site.  The record provided did not include the out-of-state offenses.  They indicate that he has 1 felony in Washington (his third strike) and a number of misdemeanors.
  3. For example, see Man avoids 3-Strikes: Gets 10 years for bar assault, Kitsap Sun, 12/12/2007)
  4. A recent review of the literature and study concludes that the impact on crime of Three Strikes in California, where about 100,000 people have been sentenced under the law, is "nearly undetectable."  However, a a small deterrance effect may be seen with "instrumental" crimes -- those that require forethought and planning, such as robbery.  The law does not appear to be associated with deterrence for crimes of violence.  In fact, in cities of states with 3-Strikes laws, there is, consistently, about a 12% higher than expected homicide rate. Chen, Elsa Y. Impacts of "Three Strikes and You're Out" on Crime Trends in California and Throughout the United States. Santa Clara University. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 2008.
  5. I was not able to find this study.  However, numerous other studies cite the figure of $7 saved for each dollar invested in treatment.   For example, in a seminal cost benefit analysis done in the early 1990s, the RAND Corporation compared the programmatic productivity and the costs of enforcing the "war on drugs" in terms of arresting and incarcerating dealers and their agents, versus treatment. RAND's research found that a dollar spent on drug treatment saves society seven and a half dollars in reduced crime and regained productivity.  A comprehensive study conducted in 2000 (Cartwright, W. W. (2000). Cost-benefit analysis of drug treatment services: Review of the literature. The Journal  of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 3, 11-26.) estimated that for every dollar spent on treatment, about seven dollars are saved in the form of reduced medical expenses and reduced costs of crime, and in increased employment earnings.  (This study was cited in: Improving Public Safety through Cost-Effective Alternatives to Incarceration in Illinois, Improving Public Safety through Cost-Effective Alternatives to Incarceration in Illinois Safe Solutions Series.  Lisa Braude, Ph.D., Melody M. Heaps, M.A., Pamela Rodriguez, M.A., Tim Whitney, J.D. Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, May, 2007.)
< HOW DOES A PERSON GET SENTENCED TO 777 YEARS IN WASHINGTON? ASK JACKIE FLETCHER | Memo to Bush Era Republicans and CEO's with CC to the Obama Administration >
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