Life in prison — for stealing a leafblower

It’s long past time for California to rethink their criminal justice system. Prop 34 Death Penalty & Prop 36 Three Strikes are on the November ballot.  I like to think that people are waking up and realizing that what is currently in place is not working and was never designed to work.

Here is yet another example of how Three Strikes has been applied- unfairly and unjust.


The main entrance way to San Quentin State Prison.

ERIC RISBERG / Associated Press

Life in prison is unpleasant, to say the least.

To be there when you have done little to deserve it makes it particularly hard. And to expect to remain there for the rest of your life, without the possibility of parole, is almost unimaginable.

I know people for whom this is the reality. Having met many who are three strikers, I always assumed that they had committed three felonies and were there for good reasons. Then I met folks for whom this is not true.

I know a man at San Quentin State Prison, for example, who has done 17 years in prison so far for stealing a $100 leaf blower. This was his third felony, the other two were both drug possession, all non-violent crimes. Yet this man was sentenced to life imprisonment because it was his third strike under California’s three strikes law.

Enacted in 1994, this law requires a sentence of 25 years to life for someone who has committed three crimes, even non-violent ones, and has either served time for the previous crimes or committed felony petty theft. Crimes committed as youths can be counted among the three.

As a result, one person was incarcerated for stealing a piece of pizza and another for stealing golf clubs. The man who stole the leaf blower has never been violent but nevertheless sits in prison, costing us $46,000 a year, because of his crime. He was in the country legally and was working and raising a family at the time.

He is a model citizen in prison. He is well respected by his peers, has never had an infraction while incarcerated and makes sure to work and participate in regular rehabilitation programs in the hope someone eventually will see the injustice of his sentence and the fact that he has made amends.

The California Innocence Project has taken up his case in the hope it can help bring about a just result. It is obvious that this type of sentence is cruel and unusual punishment, which the U.S. Constitution forbids, and needs to be overturned. We can only hope that the criminal justice system begins to use its resources more justly and more wisely, given the overkill we see in this case. I know this man: He is not a criminal who needed to be incarcerated for 17 years for such a small crime. Where is the justice here?

I also know a woman who was the warden at San Quentin and who presided over two executions. She is now working to overturn the death penalty because she believes it is cruel and inhumane. We are the only Western society that still has the death penalty. In fact, we are listed with China, Zimbabwe, Iran and Iraq as one of the few countries in the world that still has the death penalty. Is this the company we want to be in?

If you want to learn more about issues such as this, as well as the death penalty concerns, attend a public forum on Oct. 14 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Congregation Shomrei Torah, 2600 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. You can have an impact this election day, so please become more informed on three strikes and the death penalty.

Elaine Leeder is the dean of the School of Social Sciences and a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University and has recently published her latest book, “My Life with Lifers: Lessons for a Teacher, Humanity Has No Bars.” She has worked for more than 15 years at Elmira Correctional Facility in New York and at San Quentin State Prison.

Via @ PressDemocrat





25 thoughts on “Life in prison — for stealing a leafblower

  1. This picture actually look the large jail going up here in San Diego County in the city of Santee. This place is huge and looks like it is getting larger by the day. I bet they continue to use the current jail behind the new site. Los Colinas is the name of the jail in Santee expanding their cages capacity. Liz Stewart from Santee, CA. A member of Families Amending CA Three Strike, FACTS Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2013 19:55:22 -0400


  2. From: Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2013 09:42:14 -0700 To:; Subject: Re: [curb.action] For Immediate Release: Advocates Question California’s New Prisons Chief

    I’ve received a few questions on how and when to watch today’s confirmation hearing for Jeffrey Beard.

    The hearing starts at 1:30pm and you can tune in at

    If you watch, please send me feedback on our testimony and how you think the hearing goes!



  3. Open this website and sign this, please. See the email below from CURBS. Thank you, Liz Stewart with FACTS

    From: To:; Subject: RE: Sign-on letter to Census for research to end prison-based gerrymandering Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2013 10:19:30 -0800

    Glad to be a part of this. Has FACTS signed onto it? Thanks, Gretchen

    From: Leah Sakala [] Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 5:20 AM To: Subject: Re: Sign-on letter to Census for research to end prison-based gerrymandering

    Hi Gretchen,

    Thanks so much for signing on! We really appreciate your support on this project.

    We’re hoping to pull together as broad a coalition of organizational signees as possible, so any help spreading the word would also be much appreciated.

    Thanks again! -Leah


  4. Please pass this on to those that are interested on procedures for re-sentencing. This information is addressed to appellate attorney’s. But is useful to all. I have not read it in entirety yet, but it looks like some common sense guild lines for those that have no idea for the next step. See attached PDF

    Mr. Courser: I am attaching information from the First District Appellate Project hot off the presses regarding the new Prop. 36 procedures. The takeaways from this document are that a relatively modest petition, establishing the inmates eligibility for resentencing, should be considered a sufficient showing for resentencing, and for appointment of counsel for all further proceedings. A petition showing that neither the current offense nor the proven strikes come within any of the exclusion categories should be sufficient to trigger a presumption in favor of resentencing. Since the process is a trial-level procedure, it should be conducted by former trial counsel, rather than her former appellate counsel (me). But FDAP anticipates that Public Defenders Offices or Conflict Counsel Offices will handle most petitions, so, for now at least, Lisa should not attempt to file the petition herself. If all other avenues have been exhausted, I will follow the procedure on the last page: file the petition for Lisa in the trial court and ask the Superior Court to appoint me as her attorney. It is up to the Court whether or not to do so. We will be in touch,

    Charles B. Holzhauer Attorney at Law Post Office Box 842 Chico, California 95927 (707) 367-6391


  5. Good morning. Here is the website to provide information for those who need help on Prop 36. Stay tunned for instruction refere to the email below. Have a Blessed Day, Liz Stewart from San Diego

    Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2012 17:49:18 -0800 Subject: Quick Update for those Impacted by Prop 36


  6. Thank you Lizzy, PATH & Moms United have started a campaign that I hope you will all participate in: The Empty Chair at the Holiday Table.

    Moms United is requesting photos containing 3 elements: a chair with a picture of a lost or missing loved one and a sign with one of these statements: incarceration, accidental overdose, drug war violence, stigma. These photos will be collected on the Moms United to End the War on Drugs group facebook page in the Empty Chair album prior to Thanksgiving, and will become a part of a growing collage of personal stories of loss.

    On Thanksgiving, we are requesting that people set an empty chair and place setting at their family gathering to bring focus to drug war damage. We ask them to take a picture of that table and gathering, and post it to the Moms United group facebook page.

    So, please encourage people to join Moms United on facebook and then add their photo of a loved one…

    Thanks! Gretchen

    Gretchen Burns Bergman

    Owner / Director Gretchen Productions Co-Founder / Executive Director A New PATH Lead Organizer Moms United to End the War on Drugs or



  7. To clarify: The deadline to REQUEST a mail ballot is Oct 30th. It must be received (not postmarked!) by the County Registrar by 8pm on Election Day. You can mail it – or drop it off at the County Registrars office in Kearney Mesa or, on Nov 6th, at ANY polling site. If you mail it, don’t forget to SIGN the envelope, put a stamp on it and send it early!! (If you are required to vote by mail, you may not need a stamp.)

    Check this out for more info:

    The county registrar is at:

    I’ve pasted some info below from the county’s website!

    Yes on Prop 36 & 34!!




    Margaret Dooley-Sammuli | Senior Policy Advocate

    ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties

    Phone: 619-398-4486 | Cell: 858-336-3685


    You will be mailed an official mail ballot packet between the 29th day and the 7th day before the election. Your packet will include an official mail ballot, voting instructions, and an official vote by mail return envelope.

    Step 1 Mark your choices on your vote by mail ballot as provided in the instructions Step 2 Place your voted ballot in the official envelope and seal it. Step 3 Place the proper postage and SIGN the outside of the return envelope.

    Note: If you do not sign your name on the envelope, your ballot will not be counted. Your signature must match the signature on your registration form.



    Our office must be in receipt of your mail ballot no later than 8PM on Election Day. There are two ways to return your voted mail ballot.

    By Mail: You may return your voted ballot through the U.S. Post Office. Be sure to place the proper postage on the envelope.

    Drop Off: You may drop off your voted ballot at the Office of the Registrar of Voters during normal business hours 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday thru Friday.

    On Election Day, you may also return your voted ballot to any polling place or at the Office of the Registrar of Voters from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm.

    If you need language assistance in Spanish, Filipino, Vietnamese or Chinese, please contact us at (858) 565-5800.


  8. Great job, Frank

      geri silva FACTS EducationFund: Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes 213.746.4844

    Fair Chance Project 213.746.4343

    California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement 714.290.9077

    3982 So Figueroa St #210 Los Angeles  90037

    424.744.1156- geri’s cell



  9. To: CC: From: Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2012 16:49:14 -0700 Subject: [FACTSNews] re the Please read and act upon email – important!!

    I should have noted in the previous email that Justice Now is filing an a Amicus Brief to prevent the conversion of VSP to a men’s prison without making concessions to reduce the numbers of people in prison.

    The statement attachment, then is to be signed by prisoners (get it in to those you know and seek to get it back asap) and will be included with the Amicus brief

    The letter to Henderson which is to be signed by community members should be sent directly to Judge Henderson and cc’d to Justice Now, who will include letters with the Amicus Brief [Justice Now 1322 Webster Street, Suite 210 Oakland, CA 94612 T 510 839 7654 F 510 839 7615]

    geri silva FACTS Education Fund: Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes 213.746.4844

    Fair Chance Project 213.746.4343

    California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement 714.290.9077 3982 So Figueroa St #210Los Angeles 90037

    424.744.1156 – geri’s cell


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