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Young Americans for Liberty bring awareness to prison system

Maria Esquinca
Senior commercial music major, Robert Vega speaks about his time in prison.

As Robert Vega stood in front of a podium in a small room located in the third floor of the UTEP Union, he took a deep breath and proceeded to read an article he wrote, where he detailed his harrowing experience in the Texas prison system.

“Fear, hatred, vulgarity, perversion and racial discrimination are a part of daily existence,” Vega said. “The rules of law and order that govern free society have no law over the laws of survival and respect of the prison system.”

Vega, a UTEP music student, was one of three speakers present at the Young Americans for Liberty, Incarceration Nation Battling for Our Freedoms in a Police State. The event, which was held Thursday, April 9 at the Templeton Suite in the Union East Building, was held to create awareness about the rising incarceration rates and the dangers they might pose to the economy.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 6,899,000 persons were under the supervision of adult correctional systems in 2013. About 2,228,424 of them are in prisons, making the US the country with the highest prison population and the second highest when it comes to incarceration rate—707 per 100,000 population.

“The problem is getting heard, considered. Especially in the state of Texas, which refuses to admit they are wrong or if there is even a problem at all,” Vega said.   

As Texas goes, according to the statistical report for the fiscal year of 2014, the state is responsible for 150,361 convicted offenders; El Paso has a total of 2,210 of them, which makes it the 11th highest in the state. Harris County has the largest population with 26,647convicted offenders.

Although Vega considers himself fortunate to be one of the few exceptions to beat the odds, the reality is that he may have been much more than fortunate, as 76.6 percent of released prisoners are arrested within five years of release for a new crime.

Petitions for reform could also be signed by those who attended to the event.

“For an event that was planned with very little time, we are happy with how it turned out,” said Jonathan Farias, UTEP business student and president of the Young Americans for Liberty, UTEP chapter. “We would have liked to have a bigger turnout, but it’s still a good way to bring awareness.”

Also present at the event was Danny “Kike” Perez, treasurer and member of El Paso National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, who spoke about the legalization of marijuana and the criminalization of those who consume it, which has led states to spend over $3 billion in order to enforce marijuana laws every year.

“Recently, a Texas teen was facing the possibility of life in prison over pot brownies,” said William Roman, vice president of Young Americans for Liberty, UTEP chapter. “His life could be ruined for something that cannot be used to harm anyone.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 52 percent of all drug arrests in 2010 were marijuana related, and more than seven million people were caught with marijuana from 2001 to 2010.

The third and final speaker at the event was Dr. Mimi Gladstein, professor of English and sponsor for the Young Americans for Liberty at UTEP, who addressed and informed the students that were present about opportunities to study outside of El Paso.

“I wanted to encourage you all to get out of town,” Gladstein said. “You can certainly get a quality education here at UTEP, but I encourage you to go out, meet people, explore and get educated.”   

Alonso Moreno may be reached at [email protected].

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Young Americans for Liberty bring awareness to prison system