If I Ruled The World: We Would All Know The Law

J.C. Riley #288310

The Rapper Nas once wrote a song, If I Ruled The World. Many people think of it, and ponder what they might do, if they had that Godlike power to make their dreams come true. Making Laws is somewhat similar.

With the stroke of a pen Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. One day Black People in America were property, Human Beings owned by other Human Beings. The next day Black People were undertaking the momentous task of Reconstruction and forming the foundations of their own distinct culture in the same place they were once property.

With the stroke of a pen Marijuana became legal in Michigan. There was a time when people hid in their basements to smoke a joint and stayed away from the public eye when they wanted to use recreational weed. There have also been times when people put themselves in harm’s way to buy weed illegally, in dangerous places, because someone thought weed was more somehow more nefarious than alcohol. In one day a piece of paper was signed and all those Hardened Criminals firing up blunts at the Hash Bash became mere Hippies resurrecting the Spirit of the 70’s.

With the stroke of a pen Mass Incarceration could just as easily become Mass Rehabilitation. And if I were holding that Almighty Magic Pen that Law Makers so dutifully wield, I would write a law that makes it mandatory for all prisoners to take Basic Law classes at the beginning of their incarceration.

We have Justice System that seems to take full advantage of the poor and undereducated. Most of the Prisoners I know haven’t had more than a High School Education, if that, and can’t comprehend the more complex issues in the law that landed them behind bars.

True enough, many people behind bars have committed some very heinous crimes. Some would say they don’t deserve the benefit of an education in the law. But I would say that the United States Constitution disagrees with that idea. By law we all have a Right to a Defense and to Due Process. And more and more wrongfully convicted individuals are being released from prisons across the country every day. Had any of these innocent people been able to coherently represent themselves on appeal, years of their life, and millions of dollars in tax payer money, could have been saved.

Off and on throughout my incarceration I have worked as a Legal Writer (A Jailhouse Lawyer) and nearly every appeal claim I’ve worked on involved ineffective assistance of counsel, or some kind of procedural bar. My own appeal is riddled with many of those same claims. A lack of knowledge of the procedural rules of law firmly prevents the arguments of most prisoners from being heard in court. As a result, no matter what your claim was, no matter how righteous it was, you’ll spend more time arguing Procedure, than the actual issue of your conviction.

Paralegal Classes, Basic Law would prepare people behind bars to access the courts in a clear and legible way. It would help people better address their grievances with the courts and the actual issues they have with their convictions can be settled. People who have legitimate issues with their convictions would have the legal understanding necessary to navigate the court system. True Justice would be in their own hands, not in the hands of a court appointed appellate attorney with 50 cases in a 10 month period.

Ultimately, if you seek to live in a world where people respect and obey the law, how to navigate the system that enforces those laws should be taught to everyone, especially those of us behind bars. It would prepare us to live according to the law once we get back to our communities, and with the dignity of learning from the mistakes of our past maybe we can help prevent the same misfortune in the future of others.