How A Man Was Sentenced To Life In Prison For Stealing A Pair Of Socks

Via Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi on crime and punishment under California’s Three Strikes law:

Suddenly, a pair of socks caught his eye. He grabbed them and slipped them into a shopping bag. “No, they were ordinary white socks,” he says, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “Didn’t even have any stripes.”

Wilkerson never made it out of the store. At the exit, he was, shall we say, over­enthusiastically apprehended by two security officers. Thanks to a brand-new, get-tough-on-crime state law, Wilkerson would soon be sentenced to life in prison for stealing a pair of plain white tube socks worth $2.50. Because Wilkerson had two prior convictions, both dating back to 1981, the shoplifting charge counted as a third strike against him. He was sentenced to 25 years to life, meaning that his first chance for a parole hearing would be in 25 years.

Wilkerson is unlucky, but he’s hardly alone. Despite the passage in late 2012 of a new state ballot initiative that prevents California from ever again giving out life sentences to anyone whose “third strike” is not a serious crime, thousands of people – the overwhelming majority of them poor and nonwhite – remain imprisoned for a variety of offenses so absurd that any list of the unluckiest offenders reads like a macabre joke, a surrealistic comedy routine.

Have you heard the one about the guy who got life for stealing a slice of pizza? Or the guy who went away forever for lifting a pair of baby shoes? Or the one who got 50 to life for helping himself to five children’s videotapes from Kmart? How about the guy who got life for possessing 0.14 grams of meth? That last offender was a criminal mastermind by Three Strikes standards, as many others have been sentenced to life for holding even smaller amounts of drugs, including one poor sap who got the max for 0.09 grams of black-tar heroin.

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  • Anarchy Pony

    So he was a… (puts on sunglasses) Socks offender? Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaah!

    But in all seriousness that is some major bullshit. Life in jail for stealing socks… WTF!

    • I_abide

      Reasons to stay the hell out of California.

      • BuzzCoastin

        only if your skin color is dark
        otherwise
        you’re welcome to enjoy the white world of sunny Cali

      • Juan

        It is not just California. It’s the whole damn country. The prison industrial complex is nation wide. If leaving Califirnia were the answer I would’ve left long ago.
        I agree with Hedges, where he notes that The Empire is doing domestically what it does in other countries it has invaded and occupied.

    • diablo135

      What were his first two crimes? He was part of two robberies prior.

  • InfvoCuernos

    These are the things that you read about happening prior to the French Revolution. They didn’t take, and they were French!

  • Geoff Henry

    Amother employee for Dynacorp, the US version of Foxconn. Tell you what, those swcurity guards better watchout bexause if someome is going away for like over a pair of socks, they might just fight back.

  • Juan

    It is a brutal, inhuman and ultimately criminal system. I’ve had to watch little old ladies going to jail for pulling bottles and cans from the recycle bins, and disabled guys in wheelchairs going to jail for selling oranges on freeway off ramps. It’s totally fucked up.
    There is no legitimacy. You’ve got all these poor, non white, bastards doing stupid amounts of time for minor shit, while the real criminals who run Wall Street and the military are literally getting away with . . . oh, I dunno, war crimes, mass murder, money laundering, manipulation of the financial system for personal gain etc. “Justice” becomes a cruel joke in these circumstances.

    • BuzzCoastin

      people of color have long known this
      while most middle-class whites are so oblivious
      it didn’t even occur to them that Obama was a farce
      because they really think he could be fairly & freely elected
      in a land that imprisons more people of color (minorities)
      than any country on Earth

  • DeepCough

    I don’t see anywhere in the Constitution that says, “For it’s one, two, three strikes–it’s life! At the ol’ jailhouse.”

  • laws are laws

    how about this? don’t steal! it’s a crime, no matter how large or small. sure life is unreasonable, but if you obey the law, you don’t have to worry about it…EVER.

    • Juan

      The thing is, the rich and powerful are stealing trillions, destabilizing the global economy, destroying entire societies under false pretenses and literally getting away with mass murder. Perhaps if “justice” applied to them like it does to the rest of us, then I would agree with you. Until then, stick it to the man anyway you can, because there is no justice until it applies equally to everyone.
      Also, the idea that if you do not break the law you have nothing to worry about, is beyond laughable. You get outta the suburbs much?

    • InAwe

      laws are laws, humor me if you will.

      who wrote these laws?

  • http://democracylight.blogspot.com/ Art

    As Taibbi notes, the law in California has been changed so that the third strike (bringing a life sentence) must now be “serious or violent” as defined in the Penal Code, and that does not include things like stealing socks. But the law is still overly authoritarian and aimed at the people with the least power — these days the focus appears to be on inner city Hispanic and African American young people whose crimes are treated as “gang crimes” and on that basis get extra years of sentence piled on.

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

    With astoundngly stupid laws like this, is it any wonder the USA has the greatest percentage of its population incarcerated of any nation in history? It is no longer a free country. There is nothing that would induce me to even visit there.