Ralph C Hamm III Ralph C Hamm III, born in 1951, is serving a non-capital first offense life sentence for “intent,” stemming from a criminal episode that occurred in 1968 — when he was seventeen years old. During his 44 years of imprisonment he has aided in spearheading Massachusetts’ prison reform movement, has earned degrees in liberal arts, divinity, metaphysics, and paralegal; as well as developed into a published poet, playwright, musician, and artist. In 2007 he was acknowledged as a contributor to the book, When the Prisoners Ran Walpole by Jamie Bissonette; and is author of Manumission: The Liberated Consciousness of a Prison(er) Abolitionist, as well as Blackberry Juice.

WHY DO I WRITE

I write because a prison needs a poet—a chronicler—someone who has experienced at firsthand the agony of the disenfranchised, and can interpret through his very soul the expression of suffering by the collective whole.

I write because the only way for the public to learn about what it is like to sub-exist within “the bowels of the beast” (the criminal justice system) is to listen to an inhabitant. Not just any inhabitant, but one who understands and can articulate the conditions of his confinement. No criminal psychologist, sociologist, so-called criminal justice professional, nor salaried correctional official knows what it is truly like to venture through the looking-glass of the criminal justice system as a member of the marginalized under-caste in America unless they have served time themselves. 

I write because the Massachusetts Parole Board has told me, after having served over 40 years on a non-capital life sentence, to die in prison because of my beliefs.

I write because I refuse to quietly go to my grave.

I write because my life was offered as a sacrifice upon the altar of criminal justice: as the means to secure and uphold an easy and speedy conviction—to curry favor and gratitude from a race-conscious and vindictive society—to secure a method in the Commonwealth to undermine the Constitutional guarantees to trial by jury and effective assistance of trial counsel…and to forward the careers of those involved with the so-called professional aspects of the case in the Massachusetts legal system.

I write because criminal justice in Massachusetts is told as a one-sided story: where voices of the poor undercaste are seldom, if ever, heard…where there are no second chances, nor room for redemption.

I write because in Massachusetts the courts have declared that it is “reasonable” for skin color to be the determinant factor in coercing juvenile defendants to waive trial by jury—that trial counsel does not have to investigate the facts of a criminal case if he has access to the prosecutor’s case file, in spite of the Massachusetts Canon of Ethics―and, as a result, that physical, material, and exculpatory evidence can be withheld or destroyed prior to trial.

I write because juvenile first time offenders such as myself can receive life sentences for non capital offenses, because he “is black and his victims white” that an adult codefendant, and ringleader of said criminal episode, can enter into a secret sentencing deal with the Commonwealth, testify against and inculcate a juvenile codefendant, and thereby be released from charges against a female victim and returned to the community to commit even more egregious crimes…that victims can be convinced to lie, without having to face cross-examination from trial counsel, because counsel has determined that the victims have been through enough already. 

I write because it is the desire of the criminal justice system to have its victims suffer in obscurity, to be tortured away from prying eyes and a possible scrutiny by the mass media; thereby absolving society from any plausible charge of injustice, as well as from the realization that the social conditions that birth criminal behavior are responsible for crime.

I write because America is a country whose social reality is viewed by most through the prism of rose-tinted glasses, after first being distorted by a series of Fun House mirrors and smokescreens…a society where the Voters’ Rights Act of 1965 and 1970 must be continually renewed by a sitting President, in an effort to guarantee that black people (the descendants of slaves) maintain their right to vote…a country where one of the by-products of mass incarceration, in several states, is a lifetime of disenfranchisement of the right to vote and the methodology utilized by politicos to circumvent the Voters’ Rights Acts.

I write because in spite of America’s bombast proclaiming freedom and liberty for all, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution holds an authorized exception to the abolition of slavery which is rigidly enforced and exploited.

I write because.

WHAT DO I WRITE ABOUT?

I write about how the Massachusetts criminal justice system is criminal to the degree where it is not a system of justice, it is a system of “just-us.” The system is designed to fool enough of the general public enough of the time to justify its disparities against racial minorities and the poor. It is a system of “just-us” that reserves its severest penalties and sentences for its lower income/caste members of society, except when the violations of the law are bartered with informants and/or members of organized crime tendered by a rose in a fisted kid glove.

For example, I write about: in what other system of social control can a black juvenile first time offender receive a life sentence for intending to commit a crime, as well as receive a consecutive life sentence for his involvement in a $20.00 robbery of an emphasized white person, and thereby serve over 44 years in prison: while a white organized crime hit-man can confess to killing 22 people, barter and serve only 12 years in prison, and be released back into society as an avowed serial killer; and the black juvenile’s trial/defense attorney (as a white member of yet another aspect of organized crime in this State) can rob a client of $100,000.00 from an estate, barter, and not serve one minute in prison?

I write about the benefits of the criminal “just-us” system serving as an economic advantage for the middle and upper castes, and the social institutions at work to maintain rather than eliminate crime to reinforce the levels of caste in society. Why must crime be maintained? It is essential to have a visible (black) criminal population as a boundary by which to establish a cultural identity in society, and to sustain a solidarity amongst those who share that cultural identity. Criminal “just-us” is nothing more than a system of perpetual regulations and mirages used to marginalize the disenfranchised poor as scapegoats for society’s shortcomings.

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