“We’re fasting for freedom,” proclaimed Geri Silva, “because we’re starving for justice.” Silva, founder of FACTS,
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And while the notion of Three Strikes sounds as though it will be applied to violent criminals who are habitual offenders, committing crime after crime, mothers and wives of incarcerated men stepped forward to tell about the common practice by which district attorneys charge more than one strike for a single incident.
Amy York, social worker and sentencing advocate, spoke on behalf of incarcerated youth, many of them first-time offenders sentenced to life in prison for gun crimes in which no one died and in which they did not pull the trigger. “They have no adult rights,” she pointed out. “They are not considered adults for any purpose other than sentencing.” She told of Steven Menendez, arrested at age 14. “He’ll turn 18 on Sunday. He has grown up in the youth facility, a model prisoner.” He should be going to college, she said. Instead, he’ll now be transferred to an adult prison to serve life behind bars. “It breaks my heart that he’s not being given a second chance.”
California taxpayers, we learned, pay $7,500 for a young person in school. We pay about $50,000 a year for each prisoner. While, as representatives of CURB —
Now fathers tell her they know better than to spend any time around their daughters’ friends. In a society where we know children need male role models and father figures, she fears we are encouraging dads to remain aloof and uninvolved. ”I wasn’t an activist before this,” she explains. “We were just a middle class family raising kids in Temecula Valley. Now I’ve met people all around the country who are going through the same thing. As long as any child can say ‘I’ve been touched,’ this could happen to anyone. But you have no idea until it happens to you. It’s like being hit by a truck.”
In prison her husband met another teacher whose conviction was overturned when it became clear that the little girl who’d agreed with prosecutors that he’d touched her vagina had believed “vagina” was a fancy grownup word for “elbow.” By then, the man had served five years in prison and his family was destitute. They lost their home and he is still fighting to regain his teaching credential.
As for Larry Vanderberg, even if you choose to believe he is guilty as charged, that his hand slid between the little girl’s legs as he lifted her into the air, does it make sense that convicted rapists serve eight years and go home when Vanderberg got a life sentence?
Teri Vanderberg’s father has cashed in the equity in his house and her church is holding fundraisers to help pay legal bills for her husband’s appeal. In the meantime, in prison he was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. In spite of his wife’s constant, unwavering advocacy, Larry Vanderberg still waits for medically necessary follow-up care while his youngest daughter–now a teenager–writes to him, talks to him on the phone, and makes public statements on his behalf but because he’s not allowed any contact with minors, she is barred by the State from visiting him.
“The people who run the State are far removed from the pain and suffering,” said Silva. “The only pain they have is when they get annoyed because here we are again.”
And Molly Bell, describing herself as “straight out of Compton,” explained why she was present and fasting even though “it’s not my husband. It’s not my son. But somebody has to stand in the gap for those who cannot stand here."