Nehemiah Frank at the 2018 Terence Crutcher Gala
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By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and editor-in-chief
State Question 805 is on the ballot in this November election, and I am voting yes. SQ 805 is a criminal justice reform ballot initiative that would end the use of extreme sentencing for a nonviolent offense because of a prior nonviolent conviction.
For most Oklahomans, it’s no secret that our state is the prison capital of the world. We have the highest incarceration rate for women and jail more Black Americans per capita than any other state in the US.
If we as Oklahomans truly want to live our faith loudly, we must vote yes on SQ 805. And here’s why:
Long sentences for nonviolent offenses, even if repeated, should not warrant a life spent within an iron coffin. I can assure you: That is not of God, who is the author of restorative justice.
Instead, we should be focusing on solutions, actual rehabilitation — and equipping those who may have fallen on hard times and in their moment of weakness made a bad choice or two — with the resources to get their lives back on track so they can contribute to their families, communities, and society.
Restorative justice shouldn’t be political, and conservatives should be endorsing SQ 805 because it’s more fiscally responsible. Our state would save Oklahoma taxpayers $200 million dollars per year if passed. That money could be reallocated for our state’s struggling education system, raises for Oklahoma teachers — who are still underpaid, and actual mental health professionals for Oklahoma students.
I have read countless stories about whole families being destroyed due to Oklahoma’s inhumane, severe sentencing laws. Mothers and fathers have been ripped from their children, unable to fulfill their duties as parents — missing high school graduations, weddings — and in some instances, the last breath of their own parents.
Current Oklahoma laws allow repeated offenders of petty crimes to serve years, decades and even life sentences in the state penitentiary. For example, an Oklahoma mother was sentenced to life in prison without parole for selling drugs to buy medicine to save her son’s life. In another case, an individual served 33-years at a state prison for writing $400 worth of bad checks. The current laws never asked them why they committed those petty offenses.
SO, are we not the keepers of our brothers and sisters who are members of our tribes and our society or not? What we do to them, we do to ourselves. That is the weight this ballot initiative carries, which is why my convictions tell me this initiative is great for our communities, tribes and state.
Lastly, I want to leave you with these powerful words a great personage once uttered. “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” Those were the words Nelson Mandela declared. That quote was last updated by a man I admire immensely, Bryan Stevenson, who put it like this, “You ultimately judge the civility of a society not by how it treats the rich, the powerful, the protected and the highly esteemed, but by how it treats the poor, the disfavored and the disadvantaged…” and we know that it is poor people who are most likely to face prison sentences due to the unfortunate hand they’ve been dealt.
I, therefore, encourage every Oklahoman to VOTE YES on SQ 805.