Sentenced at Seventeen
Dontie has been writing to us via Project Solidarity, the Pen Pal project, for over a year now. Since we first posted here about Dontie's struggles, he as been featured in a NOW THIS video which has millions of views, yet his issue remains unresolved. Unfortunately, his issue is multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering decades of incarceration due to being sentenced as adults when they were teenagers. Since Dontie's sentencing, New York State has raised the age where a person can be sentenced as an adult from 16 to 18 years old. There is much research indicating this age is still too young. Yet it is a step. While there is now more hope for a young person in Dontie's situation these days, people like Dontie remain in prison. What a terrible, criminal waste of human resources! Dontie is a strong, intelligent, hopeful young man who wants to commit his life to helping young our youth.
Here are excerpts from some of his letters that he has asked me to post. Jessica Hall
Dear Friends and Supporters,
This is my fourth time here at Great Meadow Correctional Facility since 1998 and I have watched it get steadily worse here. The level of senseless violence here is at an all time high. Before the guards were required to wear body cams, they would indiscriminately beat prisoners for the slightest infraction and get away with it simply by lying and saying the prisoner attacked them, although the prisoner was the one who sustained all the injuries. The guards here have set the tone for the violence plaguing this prison by being violent and hyper-aggressive themselves, which the prison administration condones.
Aside from corrupt and abusive prison guards, the gangs are the second leading cause of senseless prison violence. These guys live in an irrational reality all their own, and prison administrators do not do enough to counteract that reality by focusing on reform and rehabilitation. Instead, prison administrators tend towards suppression and control policies that only increase gang cohesiveness and identity. see Kassel, Phillip, 1998, "The Gang Crackdown in Massachusetts Prisons; Arbitrary and Harsh Treatment Can Only Make Matters Worse", 24 (37):40
In an environment that dehumanizes you with staff members who mistreat, abuse, disrespect, and disregard you, who can a young prisoner turn to for attention, meaning, purpose and interaction? The gangs. Because these young prisoners already have immature brains that often lead them to make impulsive decisions, they are quick to join a gang. The gangs are visible and prominent, in the slang of the youth, they are 'Lit'.
So I created UFD to be a positive outlet by which young prisoners can meet their need for socialization, esteem and self-actualization. I tried to make UFD fun and compelling to the youthful mind. The name stands for:
UJAMMA- Cooperative economics, working together to achieve financial power
FRATERNAL- Brotherhood & Sisterhood, uniting in a spirit of familiy
DYNASTY- Legacy & Longevity, building together a powerful movement that lasts for generations
In May of 2018 Dontie filed a 'Request for Approval to Form an Inmate Organization' form with DOCCS. Donties request was denied.
He further writes: "Last Wednesday, a young brother I was working with got cut really bad twice in his face by members of his own gang." The intention of Dontie's proposed organization is to prevent such atrocities from occurring.
Dontie reminds us in his letter, "You, the public, should care about what is going on behind these prison walls. It is your tax dollars being wasted and your safety being put at risk. The prison system is unsustainable and dysfunctional. It is sending offenders back into your communities more corrupt and damaged than when they first come in. Yet other industrialized nations like Germany and Denmark are proving rehabilitation works and is less expensive in the long-run."
"I founded UFD as an anti-gang movement. I was tired of seeing young prisoners get caught up in the senseless violence. People are so blind to the real problem with our criminal justice system. It's not about crime prevention. It's about money and power. Who are incarcerated the most? Rich, affluent white people? No! It's Blacks, Latinos and poor Whites. That's who, the element of society least able to defend themselves."
In a letter to Governor Cuomo requesting approval and support for UFD, Dontie writes, "UFD deserves a chance. I have young guys here and throughout DOCCS, some as young as 18 and 19, who UFD is positively impacting. If we were allowed to conduct weekly meetings, study groups, and fun nights away from the prison yards, UFD would save many more young prisoners from gangs, drugs and violence and contribute to the decrease in prison disturbances. But for this to happen, your intervention is necessary."
Please support Donties efforts to establish UFD as an approved organization within DOCCS
and say that you are calling/writing in support of Dontie Mitchells request to form UFD (Ujamma Fraternal Dynasty) within Great Meadow Correctional Facility in order to prevent youth violence, crime, gang affiliation and drug use in prison through an alternative positive outlet.