In February of this year, Lavance “Pance” Green was released from federal prison after serving 50 years. Who has served more years than anyone in the history of DC Dept of Corrections? He was convicted and sentenced to 35 years to life for shooting and killing a U.S. Marshal who was returning his brother to prison after attending the funeral of his father.
During his 50 years of incarceration, Lavance saved two correctional officers’ lives, according to a letter written by one of the officers who he assisted during a riot in Lorton Correctional Complex. He mastered more than six trades, served as a mentor, big brother and father to hundreds. He became pro efficient and respected as a jailhouse lawyer. During his numerous parole hearings, he had the backing of more than a dozen correctional officers and staff who appeared on his behalf from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons stating that he is a “reformed, model inmate.”
Green was released from incarceration on a motion seeking Compassionate Release. The DC City Council passed this law in 2020. “The court shall modify a sentence . . . due to extraordinary and compelling reasons, if defendant has a terminal illness . . . 60 years old or older and has served at least 20 years.”
Green fits the criteria given his advanced age (72) and his then-current and numerous medical conditions: cancer, congestive heart failure, tuberculosis, abdominal hernia and shingles. Green appeared before the U.S. Parole Commission on six occasions but was denied each time, even though the Director of the DC Dept of Corrections, Margaret Moore, Mayor Marion Barry, along with several D.C. Council members, all supported his release. The U.S. Marshals Service consistently opposed his release.
At every parole rehearing, regardless of his deteriorating health and extraordinary circumstances like COVID-19 and his exceptional institutional record, Greene’s case only highlights the need for the District to have its own DC Board of Parole and have the authority of the custody and treatment of its own prisoners.
Green was released in February with no gate money (money given upon release). Every Dept. of Corrections has a gratuitous fund for those being released. But he was not given medication for pain or prescriptions for his various medical conditions, no referral to a medical facility, no clothing except the clothes on his back, no social security card and no reentry assistance or contacts for emergency assistance.
We got in the car and I told Green to put the seat belt on. He said, “What’s a seat belt?” He didn’t know how to put it on as he hasn’t ridden or been inside a car in decades. I asked why he hadn’t called me. He said he walked and walked and couldn’t find a phone booth.
Green’s situation isn’t isolated. Men and women have been and are being released with virtually nothing. How can they navigate this highly technical society and be expected to live and survive with no support living in a correctional coma, suspended in time? During his four months on the street, he was hospitalized on several occasions and he died from cancer. He spent 50 years spent in prison and died within four months after being released!
There’s no need to ask why there’s such a high recidivism rate. This is one of the main causes of recidivism.
Willie Ingram-Bey was also just released 90 days ago, after serving 48 years in prison. He was serving a sentence of 35 years to life for a rape and robbery. One of the first things he said to me was “Roach, I didn’t do this crime.”
I last saw Willie in 1975 in Lorton Correctional Facility. He had resigned himself to die in prison after being in for 48 years. He, too, was released under the Compassionate Release provision. He was called into the office and told he was being released within 48 hours following a court order. He went into shock. They gave him a bus ticket and a $50 debit card (which were not in existence 48 years ago). Riding the bus from Terre Haute, Indiana, at each stop he got off the bus and stood beside the bus driver, asking “Are they coming to get me yet?” He had only the clothes on his back. Family and practically everyone he knew had died since his incarceration.
He has a sister in Prince George, Virginia, who he planned to live with but was told he couldn’t live with his sister because her son, Ingram-Bey’s nephew, had a felony conviction over 20 years ago. He had two options: go to a shelter or live on the street. He was given permission to move with his sister but only for two weeks during which time he had to find another place to live in the same county. Now, at 77, he has never lived in that county, doesn’t know anyone, has no ID, no source of income and no social security card. But he was asked by his parole officer “What employment prospects do you have?” He’s been ordered to give urine once a week. During the 48 years of his incarceration, he never once tested positive for any drug. He lives more than 30 miles from the testing facility and doesn’t have a license or a car, no can he drive. He hasn’t ridden in a vehicle in over four decades. There’s no nearby public transportation where he’s staying and if he misses his weekly drop, he will be in violation of his conditions for release and supervision and possibly be sent back to prison. Additionally, he has a daily 9 p.m. curfew, reminiscent of old racist practice of the Sunshine law when Blacks had to leave the white part of town when the sun went down. He must actively seek employment despite his advanced age but he’s never had a job in his life. When Willie applied for a government ID, he was told his prison ID was insufficient and he would need to provide his original birth certificate from 78 years ago.
This type of insensitive, inconsiderate and inhuman treatment remains consistent with the majority of those who are under supervision.
We need a complete coordination of all government, corporate, businesses, colleges, religious community, Wall Street and community resources to address this growing crisis of people being dumped back on the streets of D.C. after serving decades in prison. We need a reentry safety net that would provide pre- and post-release emergency transitional services consisting of housing, medical services, social security, employment and mental health assistance. We need to implement a reentry hotline from MORCA (Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens Affairs).
We need the Biden administration to include the Bureau of Prisons in its criminal justice reform and the Biden administration’s legal team needs to decide which inmates will be required to return prison after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end. Hundreds of men and women are facing being returned back to prison. This is outrageous. Biden campaigned on giving people a second chance.
There are two options for President Biden to correct this gross injustice. He can issue an executive order or Congress could pass legislation mandating those released on Compassionate Release (home confinement) remain free.
There but for the grace of God go I.
Brown is a community and prison reform activist.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.