Texas Man Sentenced to 50 Years In Prison For Stealing … $35 Of Ribs?

Justice- Texas Style…..

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A 43-year-old Texan man named Willie Smith Ward just became the latest victim of a misguided justice system, having been sentenced to 50 years in prison for trying to steal a rack of pork ribs from an H-E-B grocery story in Waco, Texas.

A whopping $35 heist.

The jury deliberated for just two minutes over the case, and then about an hour deciding the punishment. Ward is a repeat offender, with five felony counts (burglary, attempted robbery, aggravated assault, leaving the scene of an accident, and possession of cocaine), as well as four misdemeanor convictions.

Assistant District Attorney J.R. Vicha, who prosecuted Ward alongside Chris Bullajian, was pleased with the outcome. “This verdict shows that the citizens of this county will not tolerate a continued disrespect and disregard for other people and their property,” he said.

“People who choose to do so will be dealt with seriously and appropriately.”

In this case that translates to an effective life sentence, with parole rates in the state hovering at just around 30%.

Texas has long been a proponent of the “Three Strikes” program, whereby repeat or “habitual” offenders are incarcerated for life to prevent recidivism. In 1974, the state became the first to enact such a policy.

Within two decades, 24 states and the federal government would have some variation of the law on the books.

Originally praised by politicians, many on the left championed such measures to avoid being seen as “light on crime.” It was a political gamble at the center of the Democratic battle to recapture middle America, led by Bill Clinton in the 1990s — who himself advocated for a federal Three Strikes program in his 1994 State of the Union Address.

“Homeless guys on drugs, that was your typical third-striker,” says Stanford Law School’s Michael Romano, co-founder of the Three Strikes Project. Romano is referring to California’s embattled 1994 ballot initiative, Proposition 184. The law is responsible for 10,000 imprisoned Californians, 3,000 of which are estimated to be eligible for release under a subsequent ballot initiative passed just last year to revise the law.

Enacted with the intent of locking up violent offenders — rapists, kidnappers, and murderers — most states have instead watched bloated prisons take on more and more petty criminals on life sentences, who are disproportionately poor, homeless, and mentally ill. The prison population in America has since exploded from just a few million in the early 90s, to around 2.3 million today — making us the proud global leader in both total prisoners and prisoners per capita.

“You could send hundreds of deserving people to college for the amount of money we were spending,” Romano adds.

In a blistering article for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi calls these programs “the world’s most expensive and pointlessly repressive homeless-care program,” costing California alone an average of $50,000 per year per prisoner. 40% of them are mentally retarded or mentally ill. 45% are black (compared to a 7% African American population in the state).

According to a 2011 report by the National Institute of Corrections, such policies have “no demonstrable effect on violent crime levels or trends.”

Willie Smith Ward is now the latest victim of these poverty-cleansing measures — striking a similar if-we-can’t-fix-it-let’s-lock-it-up-forever tone as so many recent headlines have. Consider him swept under the rug, lost to a uniquely-American penal system built upon the principles of retaliation and revenge — not rehabilitation — a thinly-veiled assault on the poor, the marginalized, the ill, the inconvenient, and the disadvantaged.

Should he be reprimanded for stealing some ribs — yes. Should it be for the rest of his life?

Probably not.

Picture Credit: WacoTrib

Via Policy Mic

15 thoughts on “Texas Man Sentenced to 50 Years In Prison For Stealing … $35 Of Ribs?

  1. You are way out of line. You are obviously taking things very personally here, when there have been no personal attacks. Dont come here and talk down to me- that is totally unwarranted and not appreciated. You have no idea of my qualifications or background. Because I do not ‘speak’ or write like you, do not be fooled, you are definitely not dealing with a dummy-as you so obviously think.

    Time to get off your high horse…and see PASSION rather than ad hominem attacks. Can you not tell the difference with your experience? Personally- I dont care what your education is, what your experience is- you dropped that info here of your own free will- no one asked. Because I do not agree with your perspective, you accuse me of attacking. I dont lack any research or stats, lady.I dont need to drop my background to qualify my stance. Most addicts in fact DO self medicate…for many reasons that could be helped by counseling or program. Again, that is something given YOUR EXPERIENCE that you should know. Being in the program for as long as you have, I am sure you have seen exactly those persons.

    There are no merits here. The point is and I will restate it again….society failed this man- for what ever reasons. IMO he does not belong behind bars for a sentence of 50 years, or even 12 and half years. Being that again YOU have social services experience, but you are not an enabler (your words, not mine) you cant see that this man needs help and not prison? Maybe its because of people like you that fail to see this is why he fell through the cracks. .

    A willingness to accept responsibility for actions can only come AFTER some treatment…for crissakes. And just how can you expect some one who is mentally ill to accept responsibility for their actions with out prior treatment or meds? You cannot be serious.

    As to shooting from the hip…honey, if I shot from the hip and decided to attack…we would not be having this discussion. It would have long been over. We do not have to see eye to eye or agree…your perspective on incarceration is old and definitely part of what is feeding mass incarceration-you cant see the alternatives here, and this case could be a perfect example of alternatives to incarceration. Drug courts where there is also treatment for mental health issues…this man could have been funneled in that direction. COULD HAVE BEEN…but no, we must incarcerate and not rehabilitate, not address any issues-and when he does come up for parole- what do you think is going to happen? Wanna bet??

    Back off the personal crap already…really. Its tiresome and again you are so way off base. Maybe its time for an inventory or a meeting, huh? NOW that was bitchy wasnt it? In your own words….”May the peace and love of the Program find you and give you some assistance.” SAGE.


  2. Approximately 17.5% of individuals with addiction issues have co-morbid mental health issues. Therefore, “most” addicts are not self-medicating mentally ill. Please, do your research before shooting from the hip.

    As someone who has been in the 12 steps for over 36 years, I assure you I have a great deal of experience in that field, not to mention my time as a substance abuse counselor. Prior to my legal career I spent 20 years in direct social services work including working with many mentally ill, addicted, and other individuals.

    One of the most critical things for any addict or any mentally ill person is to accept responsibility for their own actions. Without a willingness to accept consequences for actions no one gets better. I’m not an enabler.

    The individual on point is eligible for parole in 12.5 years if you read the article fully, did some additional research (which I did) and then did the math.

    You have no idea what my level of compassion is – you’re merely attacking because I disagree with your stance. Rather than debating the merits you prefer to engage in ad hominim attacks.

    There are many times I concur with what is posted on your blog and I reblog and comment. This is a time we disagree. I do not attack you (although I did comment on your own notation of sarcasm) and it would be a good thing if you could rise above personal abuse to deal with the issues.

    Since this does not seem to be the case, this will be my last response on this topic.

    May the peace and love of the Program find you and give you some assistance – ODAT.


  3. Exactly what’s wrong with our so called “Justice” System! And they wonder why our country has the highest incarceration rate & then they complain how our prisons are “overcrowded”… then they turn right around & give a 10 yr or less sentence to an admitted killer! It’s like with the draconian Felony Murder Rule, when you can get death, Life or LWOP for witnessing a murder or worse, not even be present, somehow this is fair & justice?? It’s all about the almighty buck. What the hell is wrong with this picture?


  4. most addicts ARE mentally ill- self medicating! Most likely Dual Diagnosis- and I am sure you have heard of Laura’s Law, right? A law that may have some flaws, but really does help those that need help- rather than them sitting in jail cell- where NO VIABLE HELP or TREATMENT is offered; You can rant about my sarcasm, which btw you took totally out of context. How can you demonstrate he is NOT mentally ill? he turned down a 20 year sentence- rational? Look at his record! Never once did I mention a forced intervention…now did I? I stand by my opinion. Clearly thoughts such as your fuels mass incarceration when there can be alternatives. There are many Felix Garcia’s…and its people with the the thought process you show here that are responsible. No compassion, no thoughts of alternatives to incarceration- just throw this guy away in a cell for 50 years because THAT addresses the REAL ISSUES and solves the problem!!! Yeah, ok…sorry Im not convinced by your so called ‘experience.’

    Incarcerating some one like this for 50 years is wrong…morally and socially. This man fell through the cracks of society, we failed him…and with your ‘experience’ you should KNOW this. Seriously…


  5. It does not matter if he brandished a knife, it matters that he made the threat that he had one. How can you demonstrate he is mentally ill? He is probably an addict (cocaine conviction) and he may require intervention there, but that requires a willingness to get clean and stay clean. If in fact, he is DD, then the first thing is to get and stay clean and the second is to get mental health help.

    We do not force either mental health nor addictions interventions and if we did we’d hear about how that was cruel and unusual punishment.

    You can be sarcastic all you like, does not bother me in the least since it demonstrates that when the argument is lost the snide sets in. The reality is that we cannot rescue everyone.

    We have folks out there like Felix Garcia who have been wrongfully convicted. I find it difficult to convince people to support valid cases when we confuse spareribs with felony convictions.

    Clearly, we’ll never agree what issues need addressing. My life experiences working with folks like this will never trump your opinion. That being said, good luck to you.


  6. he never brandished a knife, merely stated he had one. He made a threat- there was no action behind that threat. Violent past? where do you get that? from an old aggravated assault charge? Im sure you are aware what the actual charge of aggravated assault can include…no bodily injury needs to have taken place- only a threat. So come on now….clearly this guy is mentally ill; while you propose all sorts of rational scenario’s, the bottom line here is this guy is not rational (imo) he doesnt need to be behind bars for 50 years- he needs mental health help and possibly meds. But hey, its ok…the taxpayers will be only too happy to pay to incarcerate this guy for 50 years at a cost of upwards of $32k+ per year… makes sense to me! (sarcasm)


  7. First of all, this is about attempted armed robbery. Let’s make that clear. It doesn’t matter if was $1 or $1 million. Armed Robbery is a serious felony. Period.

    This individual has 5 serious felonies on his record. Sentencing a repeat felony offender with a violent past to a long sentence would not be considered cruel and unusual punishment by the SCOTUS and that is where I take my guidance.

    In my former career I was a social worker who worked with very needy people. No matter how hard the times, there was a Rescue Mission, Salvation Army or other program where he could have obtained food – even if he was high as a kite.

    He made a choice to turn shoplifting into armed robbery. Now he gets to live with that choice. And it is all about the crime, not about the ribs. We do no one any good by confusing these issues. It makes cases where there are serious miscarriages of justice harder to fight for.


  8. I am not in favor of the incarceration rate we have now, nor am I in favor of someone committing a felony (armed robbery).

    Long before I was an attorney I was a social worker. I worked with street people and ran an emergency shelter. I can tell you that despite hard times there are soup kitchens and Rescue Missions and Salvation Army outreach he could have gone to for food.

    This is not about the ribs. This is about a person with a history of violent felonies committing yet another one. We don’t do those we try to serve who are wrongfully convicted any favors by confusing the issue of fact and law.

    It is a long sentence. We do not know if there were additional parole or probation violations that on point in this case. However, despite being a long sentence I respectfully disagree that it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a person to jail for armed robbery for a signifiant period of time – especially considering his violent history.

    Let us talk about the crime, rather than confusing it with ribs. Had he merely attempted to shoplift, it would have been different. He chose to up the ante. That was his choice to make and he made it.


  9. But not everyone wants a life sentence because they dont like the outside world ( and this is what can happen when one becomes institutionalized and does not program on the inside). So very sad. The man was hungry, knife or not=- he did not use it. Long criminal history…yes, but he paid for those crimes already. regardless, 50 years for ribs is cruel and unusual punishment….it is not just and its not right. This is fueling mass incarceration.


  10. It sounds so simple, but it isn’t. He said he had a knife. This was armed robbery. He has a long criminal history. May I suggest that we need to look at the entire story?! As a lawyer I know that nothing is ever as easy or simple as it seems.

    I know a man who deliberately committed an additional felony to get a 3 strikes sentence because he did not like the outside world. I’m sure if it happened today we’d be talking about the unfairness of it all. However, as he was a relative by marriage (at the time) I take his word that this is what he wanted – and what he got.


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