Oklahoma’s No. 1 clemency candidate Leland J. Dodd, 60, the state’s longest serving non-violent drug offender sentenced to life without parole, wrote us a letter to explain his experience with that state’s broken clemency process.

“I’ve applied for clemency about 10 times!” he writes. His mother once paid a lawyer $10,000 to get him a commutation hearing. “Never heard nothing back. No response from anyone,” he writes.

Leland was convicted of agreeing to buy 50 pounds of marijuana in May of 1990 from an undercover officer. He was the first of 49 drug offenders sentenced to life without parole in Oklahoma.

When a state has inflexible formulas that require extreme sentences to non-violent offenders, it has a moral obligation to have a functioning clemency system to correct unduly harsh punishments — cases such as Leland’s. Oklahoma elected officials and residents like to pretend that Leland doesn’t exist, that his case is not an injustice that reflects poorly on the state’s moral character. That’s why Oklahoma won’t actually reject Leland’s clemency request. Its tactic is not to hear Leland at all, to pretend that Leland doesn’t exist, to pretend that silence purifies those who created a sentence beyond reason or religious beliefs.

Oklahoma’s legal system functions at a low level of competence, and its broken clemency system is an example of this. Outside action from federal authorities may be required to correct Oklahoma’s failed justice system. (See this update on the re-opening of sentence commutation applications.)

What else Leland said:

  • Fellow inmates. Many of the inmates he lives with are suffering from mental illness.
  • His family. “I have no contact with anyone on the outside really. I am adopted, so my mom gave me up when I was too small to know. The people who raised me as an only child, they died 9 days apart in 1992. I do write my real mom some times but we’re not real close.”
  • His health. His teeth are in such bad condition that he needs to take medications to eat. “(Oklahoma Department of Corrections) policy will not fix my teeth. They will pull them out or clean them but they won’t do cavities or broken teeth repairs.” (Editor: When governments imprison people, they assume responsibility for basic care, such as feeding and clothing, as a a cost of the imprisonment decision. Should filling cavities be considered rudimentary healthcare? )  
  • His future. “I have no idea what I would do (if I got out). I have no idea where my kids are or whatever happened to them. I guess I’ll just go fishing.”

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