DUSTIN: Dustin is 34 years old and has been incarcerated since 2014, serving a natural life sentence due to Florida’s PRR. Dustin is an addict, and one Saturday afternoon, high on vodka and pills, he entered an unlocked church as musicians were practicing music. Dustin sat down to listen and had a conversation about playing drums himself before quietly leaving the church. Later, he was observed leaning in the open window of a car parked outside. The owner of the vehicle testified at trial that nothing was stolen or missing. Dustin went back inside the church a second time, and the police report states “this time with a knife”. He entered the pastor’s office and told the pastor he was desperate and needed money. When the pastor told him that he had no money, Dustin took a laptop and cell phone and left. No one was hurt or physically harmed.
Florida PRR applies to certain crimes committed within 3 years of being released from prison; however, Dustin was not released from prison, he was released from the county jail after taking a plea deal of 1 year and 1 day. This prior offense was a 3rd degree felony for Grand Theft for taking $500 from his roommate’s purse; he received probation with house arrest. He then violated his probation by target shooting in the back yard with friends. He was jailed for a Violation of Probation and charged with possession of a weapon by a felon. Dustin was found guilty in Florida’s 19th Judicial Circuit Court.
For the most recent offense, the prosecutor was given power to sentence Dustin as a PRR due to Florida law, and refused to discuss a plea. There was no sentencing review. The presiding judge stated in court that he did not want to sentence Dustin to life, that it was too harsh, but due to the PRR his hands were tied.
Dustin had a public defender. She came to court unprepared, actually trying to prepare in the few minutes she had before trial. She did not provide adequate defense and did not provide the court with Dustin’s history, nothing about him being born with a learning disability in the area of processing information, affecting his ability to make decisions. Nothing was offered about his birth mother being 16 years old and admitting to using drugs during her pregnancy, possibly leading to the learning disability as well as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) and nothing about his own addiction.
Dustin appealed his PRR sentencing to Florida’s 4th District Court of appeals, arguing the wording of the PRR statute did not apply since Dustin had not spent his first sentence in prison, but he lost. Florida Supreme Court later ruled in a similar case, Lewars vs. Florida, saying the lower Appellate courts had erred in their rulings by failing to follow the letter of the law. Again, Dustin appealed based on this new ruling by the Florida Supreme Court and, again, he lost the appeal. Currently, he is appealing to the Florida Supreme Court.
Although Dustin committed a serious crime and he should be punished for that crime, sentences should be proportional to the crime committed, and Dustin’s is not. Under Florida’s regular sentencing guidelines, Dustin scored to 9-10 years in prison. Life in prison for the rest of his natural life is extreme and unreasonable.
Florida Department of Corrections estimates the cost to house an inmate is $24,265 per year, as referenced in the 2019-2020 budget. If Dustin lives an average life expectancy, and using FDC’s 2019-2020 numbers, it will cost Florida Taxpayers close to $1,000,000 to house him. That does not take into consideration inflation or the fact that Dustin has Hep C and could need significant medical care during his lifetime.
This is Dustin’s story.
PLEASE CLICK ON PHOTO BELOW FOR A SHORT VIDEO OF JAMES’S STORY!
James has been incarcerated for 14 years, 4 more years than the plea he was offered. If the Florida Legislature were to pass a bill retroactively amending the sentencing structure of the PRR as in 2020’s SB 1716 and 2021’s SB 210/HB1127, and James’s sentence were to be reduced to the proposed 25 years, even with the proposed gain time (currently 15%), he would still spend more time in prison than he probably would have if sentenced under the usual guidelines. Are we truly compromising public safety by keeping him imprisoned for life simply because he was previously sentenced to prison on a drug charge within 3 years of his robbery/kidnapping charges? Amending the sentencing structure for life sentences to 25 years in James’s case would mean he would still spend approximately 12-15 years more than individuals with similar charges who are sentenced under the usual guidelines. How does one prior prison sentence of 1 year and 1 day for a nonviolent offense constitute life in prison?
Nate’s Story: Nathaniel Johnson was sentenced to 2 life sentences under the PRR after being found guilty of bank robbery 22 years ago. Nathaniel was addicted to drugs, and knew he needed to pay for his crimes, but 2 life sentences! The PRR is overly severe, excessively harsh, and unjust in relation to his offense. Nathaniel understands that he committed a crime and must be punished for the crime, but 2 life sentences for a robbery is incomprehensible. Interestingly, there was another man who robbed the exact same bank, yet he only received an eight-year prison sentence. Nathaniel has served twenty-two years of his sentence, and he is a totally different person than he was when he entered the prison. He grew up in a two-parent home, was taught Christian values and was a responsible person until he was introduced to the drug world. He made wrong choices and became a drug user. All his decisions were influenced by his drug use. During his time of incarceration, he has turned his life around. He earned his high school diploma, and 2 bachelor’s degree in theology.
Joshua Lingebach: Josh was given a life sentence under PRR in 2007 for robbery, even though his victim was not physically harmed. Josh had been sentenced to 18 months in prison for sale of cocaine and was released in September of 2004. After his release, Josh got married and he and his wife had a daughter, Hailey. Josh also started a construction company. In 2006, on the night of the robbery, Josh had been out at a club and had been drinking and had also ingested Xanax. When he returned home, he and his wife argued and he left with a friend. Around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. Josh ended up in an argument with his friend, as well as the victim, and that is when the robbery took place. As indicated, the victim was not physically harmed in any way. Josh was not offered a plea and therefore was forced to trial where he was found guilty. Because the States Attorney decided to sentenced him as a PRR due to the previous prison sentence for sale of cocaine, the judge had no discretion and had to sentence Josh to the statutory maximum for that offense, which is life. Josh has been in prison for over 13 years. He has completed many various programs, and is currently housed at a faith-based institution where he is working on a presentation featuring himself and 6 others from the facility they would like to deliver to legislators, media, etc., so they are able to convey the programs they have participated in which have helped them with their rehabilitation. Josh has a very supportive family, including his mother, June, and although he has missed his daughter growing up, he tries to be involved in her life as much as possible.
If the PRR were amended down to 25 years for PBL (punishable by life) sentences, even with the proposed gain time he would be spending another approximately 10 years in prison. As we know from our plea study, the average plea offered those with life sentences was 18 years, with the most being offered 15 years. A plea is offered taking into consideration public safety, yet we are to believe that Josh also needs to spend his entire life in prison for the sake of public safety? Realigning Josh’s sentence to a more appropriate one will not have a negative effect on public safety.
Christopher Aikens: On December 12, 2000 a jury found Christopher guilty of one count of armed robbery of a fast food restaurant and he was sentenced to life as a habitual felony offender, a habitual violent felony offender and as a prison releasee reoffender, even though the defendant presented evidence at trial that he was not guilty of the offense of armed robbery. The witnesses’ description of the gun used in the robbery did not match the gun found in Christopher’s possession. None of the witnesses could identify Christopher, and one of the witnesses who closely encountered the suspect testified that the suspect was as short as she was, 5′ 4″. At the time of the robbery, Christopher was just under 6″ tall and weighed 215 pounds, though the witness guessed the suspect’s weight at 145-150 pounds. Even though several witnesses indicated there was another individual who remained outside in a vehicle, the detective in the case indicated during his testimony that he wasn’t sure another person was in the car. Two of the witnesses indicated the suspect touched the cash drawer by lifting it. A palm print was lifted from this drawer as evidence and compared to Christopher’s, but it did not match; however, to this date he has not been advised as to who this print belonged to.
Christopher’s prior prison sentence was for second-degree simple robbery (no weapon used). He was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in prison. Not only was this sentence prior to the passing of the PRR, Christopher had completed his entire sentence prior to the passing of the PRR. Unlike other habitual offender laws, no notice of intent to file the PRR enhancement has to be given because as part of the bill whenever someone leaves prison they must sign a PRR notice. Since Christopher was released almost 4 months prior to the bill becoming law, he was not noticed.
Although Christopher was offered a 15-year plea at pre-trial, due to his innocence he opted to go to trial. Even with all of the witness testimony as far as identity not matching Christopher, and none of the physical evidence linking him to the actual robbery, he felt he would be found not guilty at trial and therefore rejected the plea. If the State was comfortable offering Christopher a 15-year plea in terms of public safety, severity of crime committed, etc., then how would amending the PRR sentencing structure and reducing his life sentence to 25 years compromise that same public safety? Christopher has been incarcerated now for 20 years, 5 more than the plea he was offered. If he had been sentenced under the usual guidelines, he would have scored out to a minimum sentence of 6.5 years and a maximum sentence of 11 years. Are we really safer keeping Christopher, who is now 51 years old, in prison for the rest of his life?
Dorian Mackeroy: In 1991, at the age of 16, Dorian agreed to a good faith plea as a youthful offender to principle to commit robbery without a firearm or weapon, and was sentenced to 4 years in prison followed by 2 years probation. Dorian and 3 other youth were searching for a car to “joyride” in and during this search 2 of the youths committed a robbery with a weapon. Dorian and one other youth did not participate in the robbery, nor receive any “proceeds” from the robbery. Dorian was released from youth “boot camp” which is housed inside a prison on September 30, 1994, at the age of 19. Since the PRR was not passed until May 30, 1997, Dorian would not have received the PRR “warning” notice as required by the statute. Thereafter, Dorian was hired at Denny’s and contributed to his mother’s household bills, helped to support his daughter and himself. Months later, a coworker accused Dorian of stealing, though after an internal investigation it was determined that Dorian was not at work, nor on the premises at the time the theft occurred. In 1998, at the age of 23, Dorian was sentenced to life under the PRR in Pinellas County for robbery with a firearm. His victim was not physically injured. Due to the qualifying PRR offense of robbery and his past guilty plea for robbery at the age of 16, he was also designated as a “habitual violent felony offender,” though he physically hurt no one in either of the offenses. The HVFO was later stricken per court order on August 24, 2004, but the PRR life sentence was left intact. The lowest possible sentence Dorian could have received under the usual guidelines is 6-1/2 years, and the maximum prison sentence he could have received under the usual guidelines is 11 years. Even with his life sentence, Dorian has managed to take as many programs as are offered for those serving life. Dorian is married and has 3 children, many grandchildren and a large extended family who are supportive.
Dorian has been incarcerated for 23 years and is now 46 years old. Can we honestly say there would be a serious threat to public safety if the PRR sentencing structure were amended and Dorian’s sentence thus reduced to 25 years instead of life? How is it beneficial to keep someone in prison for life when their first prison sentence was for an offense that was committed as a child, but also one where he was innocent of the actual act of robbery, and for the second offense no one was physically injured? Is it really going to take the rest of his life for Dorian to learn from his mistakes? Wouldn’t society fair better if he were out being a productive member of society to help support his family?
Jonathan Beaudry: In 2003, at the age of 21, Jon received his first felony conviction in Florida for fleeing and alluding police officers, which he committed due to driving with a suspended license. He served 1 year in the county jail. Sometime after g0etting out, he was arrested for a trespassing charge. After bonding out, and then returning to serve time on that charge, he was unaware that the 5 cigarettes he had in his pocket would bring him his second felony charge of attempting to bring contraband into a correctional facility. He served 18 months in prison for the contraband charge and was released on July 7, 2005. Jonathan had an untreated drug problem, and 0n December 22, 2005 he robbed a cab driver of $250 with a steak knife to obtain money for drugs. Jon spent 1 year in jail awaiting trial and was found guilty. Due to Jon having spent the 18 months in prison on the contraband charge, he would ultimately be sentenced under the PRR law and received a life sentence–even though the victim did not want Jon to receive such a harsh sentence, and even wrote a statement to that effect. The judge, as well, did not agree to the life sentence but had no discretion under the PRR guidelines and had to sentence Jon to life without parole, even though under normal sentencing guidelines he would have scored out at 5 years. Jon was 25 at the time of sentencing, and is now 38 years old. If the victim himself at the time of Jonathan’s offense felt he should not receive a life sentence, and went so far as to provide the State a notarized statement indicating that both he and his wife believed a 2-year drug rehab program would be a better choice, why did Jonathan still receive a life sentence, and how would amending the PRR sentencing structure and lowering Jonathan’s sentence to 25 years compromise public safety now? Jonathan has been incarcerated for 14 MORE years than even his victim wanted, yet we’re to believe it’s in the best interest of the public to keep him locked up for the rest of his life?
Kenneth’s Story: My name is Kenneth Penton, I am 37 years old. I’ve been incarcerated for 16-1/2 years. I did not kill anyone, I did not even hurt anyone, yet I received a natural life sentence for a mistake I made when I was 20 years old. I know that I committed a crime and that it was wrong and I deserved to be punished, but rather than sentence me for the crime I committed and/or by the criminal score sheet, the State opted to sentence me under the enhancement called the prison releassee reoffender because I had been released from a 2-year, 6-month prior sentence for burglary and grand theft within 3 years of my most recent burglary offense.
In January of 2005, I was living and working for my uncle. We had a disagreement and I decided to leave. I went to work on another job and was in need of my work boots and the clothes that were still at my uncle’s home. As a young-minded person, I didn’t want to have to face up to my parts of the disagreement, so I thought it would be a good idea to go to my uncle’s residence while he was away. While I was getting my stuff, it occurred to me that part of the argument with my uncle was about money he owed me, and it was then I decided to take 2 unloaded firearms from my uncle’s gun case. When my uncle got home he reported the guns stolen and told authorities he thought it was me because I had also taken all of my stuff. When I was arrested, my uncle wrote several letters to the judge, talked to the States Attorney and made it clear in court that he did not want me to go to prison, and he did not even want restitution. He was aware that I had a drug problem and was adamant that I needed drug treatment and that is what he wanted, yet the State opted to give me a life sentence. Every day I pray that someone somewhere has the wisdom and courage to change this draconian law and give me a chance to have a life, a home, a family.
In November of 2005, Kenneth’s uncle, his victim, wrote a letter in support of Kenneth and stated the following: “Kenneth is a very bright and hard working young man when he is not on drugs. When he is using drugs he makes very bad choices, however we have no desire to send Kenneth to prison. We feel it would better serve justice if Kenneth was ordered to an in-house drug treatment program where he would get therapy and counseling needed to become a better man and productive citizen. I had to cancel my plans to turn this company over to Kenneth on my 60th birthday. It is my hope that by 2010, my 63rd birthday, Kenneth will be rehabilitated and an asset to this company.” Kenneth’s uncle wrote another letter in April of 2006 in support of Kenneth not receiving prison time, and instead receiving drug treatment, however his requests would be dismissed and as noted above, Kenneth received a life sentence for a crime where no one was killed or physically harmed. How can the State claim to do what victims want, and then deny Kenneth’s uncle’s wishes?
Kenneth has been in prison for 15 years, the same amount of time he discovered had been offered to him in a plea bargain, an offer which was never relayed to him, and an offer that was made by the State taking into consideration public safety, and yet still deemed appropriate. If the sentencing structure of the PRR were to be amended and Kenneth’s sentence was reduced to 25 years, even with the proposed gain time he would still be spending more time in prison than the plea he was offered. How does the State explain their apparent comfort with a 15-year sentence for admitting guilt, but then turn around and not support amending the PRR to make the sentences more proportionate for individuals who exercise their constitutional right to a trial and are found guilty? Amending the sentence structure of the PRR does not absolve an offender of their crime, it simply creates a more balanced system. In Kenneth’s case, the wishes of his victim should have been granted, but since they were not then the alternative to fix this oversight would be amending the statute.
Alexander Patterson: If you look up Mr. Patterson on the DOC website, it appears he has 11 life sentences. What comes to mind when you think of even one life sentence, let alone 11? One would perhaps think of a terrorist, serial killer, etc., yet Alexander was found guilty of robbery with a gun/deadly weapon. No one was physically hurt as a result of the robbery. The previous prison sentence which qualified Alexander as a PRR was for sale, delivery and possession of cocaine. Alexander committed 2 robberies. The reason it appears as if he has 11 life sentences is because the SA wanted to charge separately for everyone that was in the 2 stores at the time. Alexander’s co-defendant received 30 years and is set to be released June 5, 2024. Alexander tried to get a plea for 25 years, but the SA offered only life. Well, that is unless Alexander agreed to testify against his co-defendant, then they would have offered him 5 years. Alexander was 24 when he was given his TWO life sentences, one for each of the robberies of retail stores. He is now 45 and has been in prison for 21 years. He is supported by his loving wife and family, and is currently working on obtaining his GED.
Public safety refers to the welfare and protection of the general public. The State felt the general public would be safe if Alexander testified against his co-defendant and were willing to offer him just 5 years, so how do they justify even 2 life sentences for someone who didn’t physically hurt anyone. The threat of violence IS a serious crime, but is it more serious than actual harm, and does it serve the general public in terms of safety for Alexander to spend the rest of his life in prison?
Amber Arnesen: Amber was sentenced to a mandatory 30 years under the PRR for carjacking, however Amber did not use force, violence, assault or fear to take the victim’s car, which is the definition of carjacking in Florida. In fact, the victim testified at trial that she didn’t even know what was going on until Amber and the car were gone. Amber writes, “I am very remorseful for my crime and wish I could go back and change some things but that’s not possible, so what I have done is learned from my mistakes and would like the opportunity to piece together what is left of my life rather then spend the majority of it here behind these gates as if I killed someone when no one was even hurt. I will never sit here and say that I didn’t deserve to be here for some amount of time because I would be wrong to say that. I did deserve to come here and serve a sentence for the crime I committed, but not a lengthy sentence such as the one I was given just because I have previously been in prison. I have many family members that I have left behind and hope that you can have some mercy with this law.”
The previous prison sentence which qualified Amber as a PRR was for two drug offenses and grand theft. If the PRR sentencing structure were to be amended, Amber’s 30-year sentence would go down to 20 years. Will it honestly take 10 more years to rehabilitate Amber for a crime in which there was no violence, or even a threat of violence, and where no one was physically harmed? Under the PRR, the judge has absolutely no choice but to sentence the individual to the statutory maximum, even if he/she doesn’t agree with the sentence. How will it compromise public safety to align Amber’s sentence more with the usual guidelines, when the only reason she received such a harsh sentence was due to her previous non-violent prison sentence within 3 years, and therefore she was not punished for the crime of carjacking, she was punished for having been in prison at least one other time.
Tarvarus’s Story: Tarvarus is currently serving two life sentences running concurrently without the possibility of parole in Florida Department of Corrections. On August 21, 2011, Tarvarus was charged with 4 counts of armed robbery with a deadly weapon, 1 count of grand theft auto and 1 count of kidnapping with bodily harm. Tarvarus was sentenced under PRR (Prison Release Reoffender act) in 2014 at the age of 24. After being arrested August 2011, he sat for 3 years in the Pinellas County Jail until his trial, July 2014, in which he was found guilty, sentenced and went back to prison August 2014. During trial they determined every crime was committed with a firearm, but they did not place him in possession of a firearm. He beat the 10, 20, Life gun law. His charges were dropped to robbery with an enhancement of a mask and kidnapping. Tarvarus is labeled a violent offender for a crime he did not commit. Tarvarus is not a violent person. He is a son, husband, brother, uncle, friend and most importantly a human being that deserves to be released from prison one day. Tarvarus has been incarcerated most of his juvenile life and now his whole adult life. Prior to the sentence he is currently serving, he spent 3.5 years in prison from the age 17 to 21. Tarvarus was out of prison for a total of 4 months from serving his first prison sentence from 2008-2011. When Tarvarus was released from prison in early 2011 he had NO rehabilitation, job training or coping skills to transition back in society, which ended in yet another prison sentence. This time he is expected to serve for the rest of his life for a crime he did not commit. “A threat to Justice anywhere is an Injustice everywhere” -Martin Luther King Jr.
Mark A. Jones: In 2012, Mark A. Jones, an honorably discharged Army veteran and West Pointer, was sentenced to life under the PRR for burglary of a conveyance with an assault. The details of the offense were that Mark walked up to the victim’s car talking on a cell phone, he reached in the car, grabbed her wrist and said, “get out of the car and give me your keys.” She looked at him and didn’t think he was serious. When she realized he was serious, she screamed and Mark walked away. The State Attorney pursued PRR in Mark’s case due to him being sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in prison for grand theft of $343.00 (a drill from Home Depot) for which he was sentenced on June 5, 2008 and was released on December 24, 2008. Ironically enough, in 2019, the Florida legislature change the grand theft threshold from $300 to $750, so the original crime for theft of $343.00 is no longer a felony, only a misdemeanor, and Mark would not have been sentenced to prison and therefore would not have qualified as a PRR.
The lowest possible sentence Mark could have received under the usual guidelines for the burglary/assault was 5 years. There was no physical injury, weapons used, etc. The Veteran’s Administration was active throughout his incarceration and up to trial, but the State Attorney would not talk to them. Mark had a serious drinking problem that developed after an accident that occurred during his service in the military. He eventually was unable to hold down jobs and would commit thefts because he had no money or home. Mr. Jones has a service-connected disability rating of 100% due to a Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, yet the State continued to refuse to cooperate with the VA for any type of treatment plan. In Mark’s 10 years of incarceration, to current he has never received even one disciplinary report. Mark’s father is a retired special agent who spent 30 years with the FBI. His mom is a retired schoolteacher who passed away recently while Mark was incarcerated. Mark is married with 2 brothers and 7 nephews and nieces, all of whom are active in his life.
When you look at Mark’s case from a public safety standpoint, how is he a danger to society now, if under the usual guidelines he could have received as little as 5 years, but because he’d been sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in prison for an offense that is no longer considered a felony we now feel he needs to spend LIFE in prison for the sake of “public safety?!” The PRR in this case, and in so many others, makes absolutely no decent argument for public safety.
Marshall’s Story: This is My Loved One Marshall. He was sentenced under the PRR law. He is 45 years old.
Marshall was an addict. He would steal to feed his habit as most addicts do. He was arrested for stealing two bicycles and 2 surf boards from a garage and a car. No one was present or harmed in the crime. No weapon was involved. He then sold these items at a pawn shop to get money to obtain drugs. He was sentenced to 15 years for this crime under the PRR law. Without the PRR sentence he would have been given 5 years for theft; he would have been out 3 years ago, maybe sooner with gain time, which is not possible to get under the PRR sentence. However, they sentenced him to 15 years in prison due to this law. This punishment certainly does not fit this crime.
He presents no public safety issues and is classified as Minimum Risk, however his discharge date is in 2029. So 8 more years to go for minor theft.
He is now 7 years into this 15 year sentence and has missed his sons growing up. He has missed the birth of his first grandchild who he has yet to meet. Due to cancer and Covid, his mother cannot visit. He is missing out on time with his aging father with several health concerns. His siblings and other family members and friends are missing out on time with him as well. He has also lost several family members over these last 7 years. He has grown into a very good man and needs a second chance at life. While incarcerated, he has earned his AA in Ministry and has completed over 30 courses and obtained certification for OSHA Safety Training and Masonry. In these past 7 years he has had no disciplinary actions (all are available upon request).
Zach’s Story: Zach began having mental health issues as a teenager & began self medicating. Drug addiction lead him to make a bad decision to commit a non physical injury robbery. While out on bond, he was arrested again on an unrelated charge that he did not do. While awaiting trial in county, he plead guilty to the robbery (10 years). He was attacked by another, much larger inmate. He defended himself with a lunch tray. The other inmate received a cut on the bridge of his nose requiring 3 stitches. Zach was coerced by public defender to take a plea for aggravated battery. He received max of 15 years plus 15 PRR. He had never been to prison or released from a prison sentence. 30 years for 3 stitches for defending himself against another county inmate who had a record of assault against law enforcement.
Rick’s Story: Rick is originally from Michigan, he is 44 years old, and loved by everyone!! He’s a gentle soul.
He is doing 15 yrs for walking up a driveway. He was confronted, Rick apologized and left the property. He was arrested at our home in Florida at 2 am quietly. He has never been a violent offender and stole things for money to buy drugs. He has never hurt a soul in his life. Now he remains in prison for many years. His arrest was in April 2016
and his release date is April 2031.
Rick is looked up to by his brothers, Aunts, Uncles, and cousins.
He has nephews and nieces that want to meet him. His Grandmothers have passed since he left us, and they loved him and helped him, and they never stopped loving their gentle grandson.
Rick loves the Lord. He teaches others to know the word of God, and he studies the Bible. He was baptized, and he works in the Chapel at the prison. Rick organized a group to meet every week to learn the word of God and pray. He has done a lot of good things in prison to help himself and others.
He attended and lived in a Horizon Program Community dorm, where he attended and taught classes to better himself and others. He stayed in that dorm from October of 2019 to August of 2021 at Tomoka Prison.
His family needs him home.
Johnny’s Story: In 2010, Johnny was given a life sentence under the PRR for the offense of robbery with a firearm/deadly weapon. This offense did not include physical injury to the victim (nor did any of his previous robbery offenses). Although the PRR does not take into consideration prior offenses like the habitual offender laws under Florida Statute 775.084, Johnny admits that his previous offenses were many, with the majority being robberies and drug-related. Unbeknownst to Johnny, he was suffering from PTSD related to severe childhood abuse, and his crimes were the result of a drug addiction which he used as a way for him to escape the pain of his past by self-medicating. It took him many years, 5 prison stays and the help of a caring, persistent psychologist for him to discover this illness and come to terms with it and start to heal. It was during this healing process that he found himself studying the law. Once he felt he had a decent comprehension of Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, he filed a motion for postconviction relief. He ultimately prevailed and was resentenced to 20 prison years, followed by 10 years of probation. Discovering what caused his errant behavior and reversing his life sentence as a PRR he feels have been his greatest accomplishments, and he currently helps others by helping them file motions of their own.
My son, John Kennedy, was convicted of armed burglary in October of 2020.
Please allow me to tell you a bit about John. He was my first-born child, born October 30, 1992. John was a very cute, smart, and loving child. He adored both his grandma’s. One lived with us until she passed. He would lay with her in her hospital bed in our home office and they would talk and sing. When she passed and we tried to explain what happened to our boys (John has a younger brother Derek who is now 25), John said don’t worry Mommy, she is dancing in heaven with her husband now she must be so happy. He spent summers growing up with my parents going to the zoo and parks and loved his summers.
John’s dad was an alcoholic so unfortunately there was an addictive gene in our family. John had a back injury from a skateboard accident when he was almost 15. The physician prescribed medication and that started his addiction to medication. He stayed out late or didn’t come home at all. I researched places that could help teens with addiction issues. I ended up sending him to a school for troubled teens in SC as there he could be made to stay unlike in FL. When John was 8 months into his 12-month program, his father passed. I faced the horrible decision of leaving him there and not having him come for his father’s funeral which would allow him to complete his program or bring him home for the funeral at which point he would not be permitted to return. I opted for the latter. This was another devastating blow for John and his drug issues resurfaced.
After high school, my sons shared an apartment. During this time living together, twice my younger son had to pick John up and put him in an ice bath as he was not breathing and had overdosed. I kept thinking how could someone knowingly do something to themselves that they know could ultimately kill them. John has 2 previous non-violent drug convictions. In both cases served his time and was able to do work camp and received credit for good behavior. When he was released the second time, I made a formal request to the court to allow John to come live with me in San Diego away from the bad influences and bad habits. That request was denied so I quit my job and moved back to Jacksonville in hopes of helping him after being released. He did well, got a job with a tow truck company (who accepted felons) and was seeing a psychiatrist regularly. When he turned 26 in October of 2018 he was force aged off my insurance and his job did not offer insurance. He was taking suboxone the only available medication for those addicted to opiods but which required regular visits to the psychiatrist to continue to get the meds. This was expensive so John started obtaining the suboxone off the street – one thing led to another and he was back on the drugs.
On April 17, 2019, there was an armed burglary in which my son John was found guilty. In this incident, the victims were not harmed. There was no gun, the original statement said there were burglary tools. At this point, John was 27 days from 3 years since his last release which gave the DA the right to invoke the PRR rules for sentencing. The overzealous prosecutor chose to invoke PRR for sentencing knowing that John had a history of drug use, not violent crimes, and that he had served his time previously and was given time off for good behavior. Tying the hands of the judges to do anything but sentence John to life in prison without the possibility of parole is not how our system should work. Judges are trained to weigh all the factors and make good sentencing decisions. I can no longer watch the news as I watch murderers and rapists get 15 years or less. The sentence simply does not fit the crime. Please put these decisions back in the hands of the judges and remove the PRR rules from the books.
Johns score sheet shows sentencing guidelines for this crime including priors of 62.5 months. John received life without the possibility of parole. You cannot imagine the horror this has been for our entire family and am requesting that change be made.
Virgil’s Story: Greetings, my name is Virgil Antwon Monts. I am currently serving 5 life sentences under the PRR statute. At the age of 18 I was convicted of Grand Theft Auto and sentenced to serve 1 year and a day in FL DOC. I was released at the age of 19. Two and a half months after my release I was arrested for committing Armed Robbery. Subsequently, I was convicted of 4 Armed Robberies and a Kidnapping to facilitate a robbery. Since I qualified as a PRR, I was given a Natural Life sentence for each conviction. What was not seriously considered at my sentencing hearing was my age at the time of my offenses, my psychological history, and the fact that no one was harmed physically in the course of my crimes. Dr. Laurence Steinberg, and others who study human brain development, have published findings stating that the parts of the brain that govern the controlling of emotions and making mature decisions does not finish developing until a person is 25 years old, so to sentence me to spend the rest of my life in prison for crimes I committed before my brain was finished developing was a disregard to my capacity as a human being to grow and change. What is more, as a juvenile, I was admitted at Tallahassee Memorial Psychiatric Center 3 times where I was diagnosed with depression and personality disorder. Also, I have suffered from insecurities and low self-esteem from an early age due to emotional neglect. These are by no means excuses for my crimes; however, these facts should have been mitigating factors at my sentencing hearing. I am now 44 years old. I have served 25 years of my sentence. In the course of my incarceration I have applied myself to personal growth and development. I have educated myself on spiritual matters, psychology, and life skills. Plus, I have analyzed myself in light of this education making positive adjustments in my thinking, outlook, and behavior. I am not perfect, yet neither am I the person I was when I committed the crimes I’m serving time for. I am now more sure of what I’m worth and what I can accomplish as a law-abiding citizen. I respect authorities as well as the laws of the land. I also respect the lives, liberties, and properties of others and regret my past offenses. I am prepared mentally and emotionally to be a productive member of society. Furthermore, I have the full support of family and friends who are productive members of society. Please help me to get another chance to be a productive member of society. Sincerely, Virgil A. Monts.
Stephan’s Story: Decades before the 2004 conviction that landed him in the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC), five-year-old Stephan Stuckey was in a car accident in his small hometown of Titusville, Florida. He went flying through the windshield of a pick-up truck and was left with a traumatic brain injury and a lifetime of severe learning disabilities. School became an ordeal, and any attempt at learning was nearly impossible as Stephan struggled with processing questions and understanding simple directions.
Life for Stephan didn’t get better. After the accident he was subjected to bullying, the accidental shooting death of his brother, and sexual abuse.
“I have very few memories of my childhood and teenage years. Those that I do have are mostly painful and confusing,” Stephan recalls of his formative years and being pulled into crime. “I remember my brother-in-law handing me a hacksaw and instructing me, ‘Go over there and cut that chain. When you’re done, come get me.’ Like a fool I did what he told me to. In my broken mind, I was of some value to someone, and not just to the ones who were molesting me.”
From that day on Stephan spiraled into a life of broken relationships, drug and alcohol addiction, and a string of misdemeanors and felonies, ranging from burglary to theft — all leading to the day in 2004 when he shoplifted six DVDs from a Sam’s Club in Seminole County. He was charged with robbery, a second-degree felony. Because he had been sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison in 2001 for burglary of an unoccupied structure and had been released from that sentence within 3 years of him stealing the DVD’s, besides being designated a “violent career criminal,” though there was no violence in his crimes, Stephan was categorized as a “prisoner releasee reoffender.” The VCC designation mandated a 30-year sentence, and this was ordered to be served concurrently with a mandatory 15 years because of his prison releasee reoffender status.
The total value of the six stolen DVDs was less than $90.
Stephan has been in prison now for 19 years, with no disciplinary reports or formal reprimands. He has completed an extensive amount of educational courses, including Refrigerant Recycling, Mobile Air Conditioning and ETA International Mobile Communication & Electric Installation. He worked as an electrician in the PRIDE program. Stephan also completed the Horizon faith-based program and served as a facilitator. For years, he has been a mentor to the other men in prison.
Most notably, in 2017 while on work duty, Stephan saved a Pinellas Park police officer from certain death when the officer’s head was being crushed by a pneumatic MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) door. Stephan was recommended for meritorious gain time by several individuals, including the warden, for his life-saving actions, and although Florida offers meritorious gain time for individuals who perform an outstanding deed such as Stephan did, Florida DOC Rule 33-601.102 states an individual is not eligible for meritorious gain time if they were sentenced under Statute 775.084, as Stephan was, unless the habitual offender designation has been removed and the meritorious action occurred thereafter.
Meanwhile, Stephan’s health is seriously deteriorating. He suffers from seizures, severe headaches, and lupus, an inflammatory disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues.
Currently there is no cure for lupus, but the painful symptoms can be adequately managed with proper treatment, but that’s not what Stephan is getting. “As far as lupus goes,” he says, “I’ve given up. I begged for years to be treated, but was mostly ignored, partly intimidated, and ultimately demoralized, emasculated, and discouraged from attempting to get help. I can feel the deterioration of my health now. The sun burns my skin like it’s on fire. My joints ache constantly. The headaches put me down more days in the month than I’m able to ambulate about without feeling each step smash the back of my head. The ulcers in my mouth burn and cause my weight to fluctuate up and down drastically primarily because it hurts so bad to masticate or swallow anything. It even hurts to simply drink water. Parts of my body are numb, and my feet feel like they are on fire about 50 percent of the time.”
Stephan also has battled COVID four times. It’s clear that he is in dire need of sentence relief, which could come through clemency or medical parole.
One bright light in his sad story is the advocacy of his wife, Karen. On one recent visit, she and Stephan’s daughter, Stephanie, remarked that the visit was meaningful, loving, and bittersweet, but both were very troubled to see how sick Stephan was.
“The change in Stephan’s health from a mere two weeks ago was disturbing,” says Karen. “Lupus destroys the connective tissue in the body, things like the pericardial sac, the tissue surrounding the heart, kidneys, and pancreas. He never complains, but I watch helplessly as he cringes in pain. While in prison, Stephan has lost his younger sister and his parents (his parents are pictured with him below).
“The Florida DOC is not able to meet the needs of my husband and so many like him. Release these individuals – the elderly, the very ill, people who are no danger to society. Geriatric parole, medical parole, this kind of sentence relief just makes sense and is humane and responsible. Send Stephan home to medical care and his family. That’s justice and mercy – the kind of system that makes sense.”