In 1986, I was sentenced to prison for a maximum of five years. Because of my addictions to alcohol and other drugs, I had forged my parents' checks multiple times and one night, I didn’t return to work release.
At 23, I found myself with two forgery and one escape felonies. Prison was hard. I never intended to grow up and go to prison. I wanted to go to college and be a decent person like my parents. I wanted a family, a home and children of my own.
In a few weeks, the voters of Whatcom County will be asked whether they support providing financial resources to improve our local criminal justice system. Part of that will include replacing the deplorable downtown jail.
My life has changed a lot since I went to prison. I am a person in long-term recovery, which for me, means I haven’t used any drugs or alcohol in more than 33 years. My felonies were all vacated, and I can legally say I was never convicted of them. I have three children and a granddaughter. Fifteen years ago, when I adopted my then 10-year-old son from foster care, the home study determined I was a “fit parent.” I never imagined as a gay ex-felon I would have a family or enjoy the many successes that have come my way.
I never expected Whatcom County would choose me to be the first co-chair of the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force and the Law and Justice Council, but I have been the co-chair since 2015. It is significant that when county leaders and concerned citizens chose a leader to help improve our criminal justice system, they chose me: an ex-felon who has spent months in our county jail and experienced the near-debilitating challenges that come from going to prison, and knowing the dark realities of alcoholism and substance abuse addiction.
I have had a front-row seat and participated in creating all the recommendations that inspired the ballot initiative that would help our community improve our criminal justice system. I fully support it. Is it perfect? No, but to vote “no” on this ballot initiative is to vote “yes” for the status quo. What we have today is woefully inadequate. As a community, this ballot initiative gives us an opportunity to do better.
As one who has experienced the inside and outside of the criminal justice system, I encourage you to vote “yes.” Everyone affected by the criminal justice system, from law enforcement and staff who work in the jail to the public defenders, prosecutors and the individuals who are incarcerated, many of whom suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders as I do, deserve better.
Voting “yes” is an important step forward and an opportunity for Whatcom County to significantly improve a system that desperately needs to be better.
Please vote “yes” on the initiative to improve our criminal justice system.
Jacob (Jack) Hovenier is one of eight members of the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force appointed by the Whatcom County Council. Hovenier is co-chair with Stephen Gockley.
Editor's Note: With most relevant issues seemingly covered, CDN is putting a lid for this election season on guest commentaries about the jail tax. Thanks to the many readers who submitted opinions.