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Sentenced to die in jail for stealing a tool from a shed

3,278 people have been condemned to die behind bars for non-violent crimes, like stealing a tool from a shed or borrowing a co-workers truck. I feel so much safer.

None of the 3,278 people who are currently in jail sentenced to die behind bars committed a violent crime. I know it is self-explanatory, but none of these 3,278 people “will ever come home to their parents and children,” as the ACLU points out in a chilling report A LIVING DEATH: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses released on Wednesday. What are the crimes that deprived some of these people of their liberty for the rest of their lives?

Patrick W. Matthews: Stealing Tools from a Tool ShedFor Patrick Matthews it was stealing a welding machine, and tools from a tool shed when he was 22. He had never committed a violent crime but thanks to mandatory minimum sentences, an unarmed burglary he committed when he was 17 means that he will literally die in jail. He will never be able to go home to his children, aged 6 and 8who have been deprived of their father by our criminal “justice system.”   Matthews says, “I never in the world would’ve thought that could happen… Made one mistake and was treated like a murderer.”

Teresa Griffin: Carrying Drugs for an Abusive BoyfriendWhen Teresa Griffin tried to leave her abusive boyfriend he hit her and vowed to kill her. A few years later, seven months pregnant and 26 years old, Griffin was arrested for  working as a  mule for her boyfriend. 22 years later and 47 years old, Griffin reflects, “I know I did something wrong, but not enough to take away my life.”


Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 12.52.59 AMWhen Lance Saltzman, pictured here with his sister, was 21, he “broke into” his own home and removed his stepfather’s gun in order to protect his mother. The Stepfather had repeatedly threatened Saltzman’s mother and had shot it at her. Saltzman’s mother told the ACLU “As far as I’m concerned, I would be dead right now if he hadn’t taken the gun.” Saltzman was sentenced to life with no parole because of prior non-violent crimes.

Saltzman, Griffin and Matthews are just three of the 3,278 people who will breath their last breaths behind bars for committing non-violent crimes. Other people have been sentenced to life with no parole for crimes like shoplifting two jerseys or making a drunken threat to a police officer while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car. The fact that these people are condemned to life with no parole while a rapist can serve one year or even one month makes these punishments even more disturbing.

If you’re not outraged and appalled on a moral and emotional level (get thee to a therapist), you should be upset that the government is wasting money housing, feeding and providing health care for on people it would be much easier and cheaper to rehabilitate. In fact, it costs tax payers $1.8 billion dollars a year to keep these non-violent offenders in jail.

So, do something about this injustice. Sign this ACLU letter urging We urging President Obama to review these cases and consider reducing their sentences.

UPDATE: check out this post and chart on the racist application of life sentencing.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 11.13.50 PMKatie Halper started identifying as a feminist at the age of 5 when she attended her first pro-choice rally and began calling out the musicals she watched instead of cartoons for being “prejudiced against women.”  She realizes this is a ridiculous photo. 


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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