By Uhuru B. Rowe
January 20, 2016
Today marks the 21st year of my incarceration here in Virginia. I remember quite vividly the first day I arrived at the old Richmond City Jail on the 20th of January, 1995. I was barely 18-years old, 140 pounds soaking wet, with no facial hair, naive and completely oblivious to the many struggles that lay ahead of me. Whatever innocence I retained after experiencing and surviving the deadly streets of Richmond was snatched away from me when the jail bars slammed closed behind me. I was thrust head first into a predatory prison environment full of hopelessness, violence, madness, insanity and chaos. Back then, if someone would have told me that after 21 years I still would be in prison, I would have found such a statement quite humorous. But spending decades in prison as I slowly transform from a vibrant teenager into a middle-aged adult with a salt-and-pepper beard is no laughing matter.
Like many others whose spirits haunt the inside of these prison walls, I had complete faith that the American justice system would correct what many people feel is a gross miscarriage of justice when I was sentenced to 93-years for a robbery/murderI participated in, but did not possess a firearm; a prison term that is a whopping eighty-years over the recommended sentencing guidelines. It wasn’t until several years later when I discovered that American-style justice doesn’t deal fairly with people like me: the poor, black and young.
When I arrived at the South Hampton Reception and Classification Center on the 7th of September, 1995, I heard of something called the 85% law. “What is this 85% law,” I kept pondering to myself. It wasn’t until a chance encounter with a prison cadre on the recreation yard when I learned that Virginia had abolished parole for all felonies committed on or after January 1, 1995, and mandated that prisoners serve 85% of his or her sentence. I instantly started calculating the numbers in my head: “85% of 93-years equals……79.5 years in prison!” I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, depression, rage and anxiety all hitting me at once as I came to the horrifying realization that I was sentenced to die in prison. “Why wasn’t I made aware of this 85% law during my guilty plea or sentencing hearings,” I kept asking myself. These were the questions I tried wrapping my young, uninformed mind around; a mind that couldn’t grasp the fact that I had to serve 85% of a sentence that is eighty-years over the recommended sentencing guidelines.
I was under the illusion that American justice was all about mercy, fairness, leniency and second chances. Don’t we all have the capacity to grow and change? Don’t we all deserve a second chance? And if the answers to these questions are an emphatic “yes”, then why, at barely 18-years old was I sentenced to and de facto life sentence with no parole that will result in me serving seventy-nine consecutive years in prison until I am nearly 100-years-old?
None of these questions or concerns would have mattered to a racist judge who was known to be openly biased and prejudiced against black defendants. A few years after he sentenced me, Judge James B. Wilkinson was under heavy scrutiny from concerned citizens and local attorneys for sentencing black defendants to much harsher sentences compared to white defendants for the same crime. Judge Wilkinson later retired under this cloud of scrutiny.
Clemency petitions are only granted in extraordinary cases. The more support letters Governor McAuliffe receives on my behalf, the likelier he will give my clemency request serious attention; especially at a time when he is pushing for the reinstatement of parole as evident by him creating the Parole Review Commission on June 24, 2015. So I need people to write, email or fax letters to Governor McAuliffe urging him to commute (reduce) my sentence.
You can learn more about my case, the politics behind Virginia’s decision to abolish parole and implement the 85% law, my current supporters, my educational/vocational/treatment accomplishments while in prison and all the ways concerned citizens can aid and assist me on my efforts to regain my freedom my viewing my published online article.
Please share this published article and blog post on your social media sites.
-Write to Governor Terry McAuliffe, c/o Secretary of the Commonwealth, P.O. Box 2454, Richmond, Virginia 23218.
-Phone him at 804-786-2211 or 804-786-2441
-Fax him at 804-371-6351 or 804-371-0017
-Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you need more information or guidance in drafting your letters, please write me at
or send me an email directly through http://www.JPay.com. Please email or mail me a copy of your support letters for my personal records. Thanks for your support.