Measure 11 needs to be reformed: a personal story

By Gabbi Gonzales. Gabbi is a recreation professional in Washington state. She was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and lived here for first 20 years of her life.

I am writing to tell you about my dearest friend Christopher Ray Cook.

Currently, Chris is an inmate at Two Rivers Correctional Institute in Umatilla, Oregon. He was sentenced under Measure 11. Eleven years ago, when he was 20 years old, Chris was present for a tragic accident that took a girl’s life.

From that moment his life would never be the same. His journey from freedom to inmate was an eye opening and devastating experience to say the least. He was a naive kid who was treated as guilty and was never given a chance to be proven innocent.

He was scared into agreeing to a plea bargain. He was told "if you take your case to trial no one will ever believe you". He was assigned a public defender who showed no integrity and had no interest in Chris or his life.

I can clearly remember in the court room, not having any say of the decision because his hands were tied by Measure 11, the judge made sure it was on the record that "the defendant does not seem to understand what he is signing to" when Chris was directed to sign his freedom away.

Chris is absolutely amazing. He did not allow what could have been a nightmare hold him back. He has taken every opportunity to find the positive in such negative. In the years he has been incarcerated he has taken college courses and received an AA degree, he attends clubs, currently works as an electrician and will test for his certification in April of 2016. A couple weeks ago Chris moved from medium security to minimum. He had advocates at Two Rivers working to have him moved to minimum a year before his approval date, but because of bureaucracy he wasn't moved until two weeks after he qualified. He now works on electrical projects outside of the walls and continues to find ways to continue his path to self-improvement and stay positive. Watching him persevere is an honor.

Because of Measure 11 all of his hard work means nothing in the eyes of the judicial system. He is unable to earn good time. He has no incentive, nothing to work for. Measure 11 makes Oregon a one strike and you're out state. It means Chris will continue to fill a bed that cost tax payers money for four (4) more years.

When Chris is released he will have been behind bars from the age of 20-35. It will be more than just his life that has been on hold for 15 years. It will be the lives of his loved ones as well. The truth is that Measure 11 is having a devastating effect on so many involved. It is being carried out in a way that the voters were not told about. The measure read one way on the ballot and then was changed! Measure 11 takes the power to make decisions out of the judge's hands and places it in the public defenders. The public defender uses scare tactics to convince a plea bargains on defendants.

Please I ask you, take a stand. Too many lives are robbed by Measure 11 and it is time for a reform!

This measure has been in effect for 20 years and it is outdated. The way the measure is currently written is not a solution. We do not need more prisons. We need to stop imprisoning those that do not belong behind bars. We need to put the power back in the judge's hands and let them decided what the sentience should be. We need to give inmates a reason to stick to their program by giving them back the possibility to earn good time.

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