This is a truly remarkable story of courage in the face of injustice by Leroy Skeete. I am very grateful that he has allowed me to share his experience.
Leroy spoke recently at the Legal Aid Rally (https://gemmab82.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/report-and-pictures-legal-aid-rally-to-celebrate-64-years-30th-july-2013/) about how legal aid gave him hope. Leroy was a prisoner, and spent 11 years inside. He had not caused any trouble during this time, not had he been using or selling drugs, but, towards the end of his sentence, he was told he would never be released. A clear injustice for which he had to fight. Leroy, with the help of legal aid, successfully challenged that decision. With thanks to Leroy, here is his story (in his words):
“My name is Leroy Skeete. On July 8th 2009, I was released from prison. Prior to my release from prison, I was simply known as: SKEETE PE2617. This was how I was identified throughout my 11 years of incarceration.
My original sentence, a section 2 life sentence with a six year tariff (an act that was passed in 1997 by Michael Howard) was far from a straightforward affair. No-one really knew what the future held for prisoners sentenced under this new act. It was at first thought, that we would be fast tracked in order for us to be released, around the time of tariff expiry as long as all criteria were met and you didn’t present a risk to the public. However, it soon became apparent that they was no infrastructure in place to facilitate the objectives. So, this would mean that prisoners would have to fight, not just for their release, but for anything relative to the process of progressing through the system – with the hope of eventual release.
Whilst the public were being fed lies by the British media, that as well as having flat screen tv’s, most prisoners were being released early. This could not have been further from the truth. Prisoners were in fact being denied release not because of their risk to the public, but because the infrastructure could not handle the vast numbers of prisoners being sentenced under this new act. Myself and other prisoners were left to rot.
No admission was made in acknowledgment of the shambolic mess that was caused by the new sentence. In fact, there were those in the system that used it as a chance to mete out their own sadistic form of punishment. No release date, plus no infrastructure to facilitate release, equalled a form of psychological torture that was second to none. Some prisoners committed suicide, some became mentally broken, but many turned to class A drugs to numb the pain and anguish of no hope.
For those of us that had the strength and will to fight, hope came in the form of Legal Aid. With Legal Aid we were able to seek justice, and while there were battles that were not won, it did give the one thing that every human being deserves when faced with such adversity. Hope!
Legal Aid gave me Hope. And Hope is the last the thing in the world a person with nothing, can turn to. It gives you the strength and optimism needed in times of adversity. That hope gave me the strength to carry on when I considered taking my own life. That hope gave me the strength to fight on when I was told I would lose. That hope gave me the will to carry on. That hope gave me the tenacity to see it through and as a result, that hope was well rewarded, because I was eventually released on July 8th 2009.
Where am I now? Recently married to a beautiful wife, employed, mentoring, and going from strength to strength.
Where would I be without Legal Aid? At best, languishing in a prison cell with an addiction to heroin used to dull the pain. At worst, another statistic along side the long list of prisoners who have committed suicide due to a failing prison system in a supposedly advanced democratic society.”
Leroy is embarking on a career as a writer, beginning with his life story.