PROP. 36 enabled sentence modification
Proposition 36 has opened the door for Richard Napoleon Brown, a prisoner who was serving life in San Quentin State Prison under California’s Three Strikes Law.
Brown was incarcerated for nearly two decades. Due to voter-approved changes in the law, he was released from prison on Dec. 28.
“I was convicted of petty theft in 1995,” Brown said shortly before his release. “But I had two 1975 priors. Both were assaults with a deadly weapon; they used those priors to strike me out on my petty theft.”
Even with a sentence of 25 years to life, Brown said he was never under the impression that he would serve the full 25 years.
After a few years imprisoned, Brown said he noticed how the law was being applied. “From the beginning, I felt it was a very unfair and unjust law.”
“I’m inclined to believe that the Three Strikes Law was designed more so for African-Americans and Hispanics, mainly people of color,” he commented.
This is evident because a majority of African-American and Hispanic men are filling the prisons and serving more time for less crimes than whites, he said.
When he was on the street, his life was centered on drugs and alcohol, he said. The phrase he used to describe his lifestyle back then was “out of control.”
“The path I had taken was leading me down the road to destruction,” said Brown. “I chose to live around prostitutes, even to the extent that I exploited them,” said Brown.
In the early days of his incarceration, Brown said he studied the Bible and meditated on what he read.
“Studying God’s word is what helped me find some peace,” said Brown. “In those early days, I was surrounded by a lot of turmoil — way too much, really.”
Proposition 36 was a “smart on crime” change in the law, Brown said, but it should have included a broader outlet for prisoners.
“This not only would include three strikers but lifers — men and women who have acquired the tools and skills that the (parole) board mandates,” he suggested.
As for the future, “My plans are to reach as many young children to prevent them from coming to prison. This is no life at all.”
Soon after he arrived at San Quentin, Brown said he began taking classes that would help him once he re-entered society.
“I took the Victim’s Offender’s Education Group (VOEG) and No More Tears — both very good groups,” Brown said. “I also took a Bible course program and I assisted here in the Bible Boot Camp teachings.”