As Oklahomans started going to the polls on Thursday, more than 40 Tulsa faith leaders announced their support for State Question 805.
The measure would ban sentence enhancements for people convicted of nonviolent crimes. The religious leaders issued a statement in support of SQ805, citing Oklahoma’s disproportional incarceration rates and sentence lengths, especially for women and people of color.
"Forgiveness lies at the heart of our religious traditions, as does the possibility of redemption and renewal, and we believe that everyone deserves the chance to reach their God-given potential," the Rev. Chris Moore read from the statement at a news conference Thursday at his Fellowship Congregational Church.
The Rev. Bill Hemm of Forest Park Christian Church said he pleaded guilty to a financial crime he didn’t commit in order to serve two years in prison rather than up to 15. He said out of the 200 inmates in the minimum-security facility he went to, there were maybe five he would not welcome into his home now.
"These were intelligent, hard-working, ambitious people that made some poor, nonviolent choices. I was shocked to see kindness and humility and warmth and compassion in such a dark and dreary place," Hemm said.
The Rev. Dr. Rodney Goss of Morning Star Baptist Church also knows firsthand how the prison system works, having been convicted of felony drug charges 30 years ago.
"I think I somewhat exemplify what it means to be rehabilitated. Unfortunately, my rehabilitation was not because of the system," Goss said.
Goss said he’s discouraged by elected officials he’s called friends’ opposition to SQ805 based on claims it will let dangerous criminals get lighter sentences or go free because of a provision that makes it retroactive.
"I love my neighbors and my families, just like those who are on the other side of this argument, and I wouldn’t dare unleash a menace to society to hurt my friends and my family," Goss said.
Prosecutors and sheriffs have been the most vocal opponents of SQ805. According to Oklahomans United Against 805, 26 of Oklahoma's 27 district attorneys oppose the proposal.