Don Clemons and Rahim Buford, founder of Unheard Voices Outreach.

Don Clemons and Rahim Buford, founder of Unheard Voices Outreach.

DON’s story

At the age of 16, Don Clemons pled guilty to being a participant in a robbery that led to the death of a homeowner. Don was not a critical participant to the murder--he did not plan the crime, had no weapon and did not drive the getaway car. He was not even present in the room at the time of the murder. Despite his minimal complicity, Don was tried as an adult, charged with second degree murder and aggravated robbery, and given a 32 year prison sentence.

In 2011, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen commuted Don’s sentence, reducing his release eligibility date to August 15, 2012.

Since that date, Don has been evaluated by the Board of Parole five times.

Don’s parole has been denied all five times.

Each time, the Board of Parole has stated that Don’s release “would depreciate the seriousness of the crime of which the offender stands convicted or promote disrespect of the law.”

When a person is convicted of a felony offense, the offense is given a grade ranking using felony class sentencing guidelines. This ranking dictates the length of the offender’s sentence and his or her parole eligibility date, if applicable. Therefore, when an offender is at a parole hearing, the seriousness of his/her offense has previously been addressed in the sentencing process. When the Tennessee Board of Parole readdresses the seriousness of the offense in a parole hearing--and subsequently denies parole on that basis--it undermines the felony class system’s role in sentencing and inequitably enacts double punishment on the offender eligible for parole.

The Tennessee Board of Parole is corrupt. It is abusing its power, and Unheard Voices Outreach is calling for a change—for Don Clemons, for Cyrus Wilson, and for every caged individual whose life is being trivialized by a system designed to punish instead of rehabilitate.