Former ‘lifer’ prisoners discuss life inside, prison reform


From left, attorney Keith Wright, and former prisoners Ugo Machuca,… (STEPHEN BAXTER/SENTINEL)

SANTA CRUZ — Three former prison inmates who faced life terms offered a glimpse into California’s prisons in a discussion Friday night at Oakes College at UC Santa Cruz.

More than 100 students and community members attended the event, which was organized by Barrios Unidos. It touched on the challenges that inmates face in incarceration and some potential avenues of reform in the prison system.

Ugo Machuca said he was convicted of second degree murder at age 18. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Machuca, Henry Thomas and Michael DeVries all were sentenced to life in prison but have been paroled and spoke to the group about their reformation.

They described life in prisons such as San Quentin and Tracy ,where makeshift knives were hidden, alliances were made and drugs were available.

“Speed, heroin — all the drugs you have out here you have in there,” Machuca said.

Hepatitis C is spreading in prisons, they said.

More stringent parole boards, legislation and judges’ decisions have made it tougher for inmates to be paroled, they said. Inmates now must show them that they have insight into their crimes and show they’ve changed.

Machuca, Thomas and DeVries all agreed that inmates who take optional classes in prison stand a far greater chance of being paroled. One of the problems, attorney Keith Wright said, is that prisons like Pelican Bay offer no classes.

There are about 25,000 people

serving life sentences in California prisons, and about 8,000 are eligible for parole, Wright said.
Continue Reading @ Santa Cruz Sentinel
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