[March 2019]: I had been locked away for 75 days already, unable to even imagine posting my $175k bail set. The reality was, I’d recently been extradited to Williamson County after 60 days in Travis County Jail without any contact with my hired lawyer. Learning that the 8th Amendment was concise but also very clear, I wanted to file a motion for bail reduction and was confident in a strong argument on TxCCP Article 17.15 & 17.151 grounds — since I hadn’t yet been formally charged, or indicted, thus far. In the case review I labored through in my first ninety (90) days. I knew that this meant the prosecution had to deem itself ready for trial. By my ninetieth day, I was denied a court appearance because my assumed representation had never filed upon my case, I wondered — what next?
A cellmate moons ago told me that you could learn how to compose a habeas corpus writ and have a pro se defense, on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel and excessive bail. I spent 15 hours a day studying cases, codes, and procedures and argued unsuccessfully my self-composed writ of habeas corpus on August 12, 2019. Few months later, with a new public defender, I testified to my presumed innocence as well as constitutional violations and was granted bail on my personal recognizance on December 9, 2019.
Long story short, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted county and district courts altogether and politics were applied to my case as I awaited trial, causing me to become a felon on February 5, 2020 [1 in 3 Black men have a prison experience]. Due to my efficacy in the pre-trial court process, I negotiated past the 20-year offer provided to me and justified the minimum sentence of 2 years — Williamson County wasn’t aware however, that I’d earned 15-months back credit in time served. After suffering some weeks of lay-ins [appointments] and long days, I was extradited to Georgetown, TX and made parole from a county facility on May 7, 2020.
During my 378 days in two different counties and then in prison, I served as jailhouse lawyer. I was trusted by many men that I called brothers, no matter where I was housed, to teach and train them about what was going on with not only their case, but also from relative case reviews from the past. With 405 cases, 56 men were released on bond or their cases were dismissed, and 35 were able to get their bonds reduced.
Having and holding the utmost authority in my case and helped those hundreds of other cases as the jailhouse lawyer, and was informed during the time of a show on the ABC Network named “For Life” — of which I earned stark comparisons to, yet ironically had never watched. But an old guy I shared a cell with in December 2019, had been given a life sentence for possessing a bag of marijuana under 28 grams — so even the idea of, “for life” is unsettling, much less enticing to find the time to watch [I have since caught the show, and it is good].
Those first 75 days then, however, determined the last 75 days I’ve just completed — as in completing and discharging from Parole earlier in Summer 2021 without any technical violations and overpaying fees by $35. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice [TDCJ] owes me $60 that I never received after intake, so I must inform you of what an ordinary injustice the real experience is. Whatever mistakes I made, the mistakes taught me this much: a loss is not a loss but a lesson learned, as long as you learn from the lesson. The scales will be balanced when you do — trust me. I’m able to share this with you because I did. On the outside now, I’ve weighed the scales and know that when you’re on the inside, the odds are against you. What can you do? Apply the lessons learned, and walk hard.
Written by: Chivas Watson
*featured photo is of actor Nicholas Pinnock while staring in the film “For Life.”