Incarceration Nation

The Untold Story of Jerod Fralerson

By Peter Kamau Mukuria

“Black men born in the U.S. and fortunate enough to live past the age of eighteen are conditioned to accept the inevitability of prison. For most of us it simply looms as the next sequence of humiliations. Being born a slave in a captive state and never experiencing any objective basis for expectation had the effect of preparing me for the progressively traumatic misfortunes that lead so many Black men to the prison gate. I was prepared for prison. It required only minor psychic adjustments.” —George Jackson

In a country in which African Americans are a minority, ironically, they constitute the majority in state and federal prisons. This isn’t an implication that they commit most crimes, quite the contrary. It is the by-product of a system which disproportionately target and effects African Americans more than any other racial group.

So, who is Jerod Fralerson? He is an African American man incarcerated in the state of Virginia, serving a 30-year prison term. Given such a lengthy imposed draconian sentence one would assume that he was convicted of a heinous violent crime of some sort. However, that isn’t the case. Mr. Fralerson is from Richmond, Virginia. He was arrested in New Kent County for possession of 1.777 grams of cocaine. At the trial proceeding he was found guilty by an all-white jury who, along with the Commonwealth prosecutor, recommended a ten-year prison term but ultimately, the decision was up to the presiding Judge Thomas B. Hoover, who rendered a 30-year prison sentence. As though that wasn’t enough, he mockingly suggested to Mr. Fralerson “I’d appeal if I were you.” Prior to this case, Mr. Fralerson had only one previous drug conviction and minor traffic violations.

I met Mr. Fralerson in the unit I’m currently housed in after recently being released from eight years in solitary confinement. As we were talking, he disclosed to me the amount of time he is serving. Surely there must be more to this story was my initial thought and I instantly made a presumptive assumption that he was most likely incarcerated for a violent crime. However, even after explaining his case with legal documents to corroborate, I still found it inconceivable and mind boggling that a life would be so nonchalantly discarded and condemned to decades in prison over such an iota amount of drugs, a non-violent offense when there are a plethora of people who get convicted daily of actual violent crimes and sentenced to drastically lighter sentences.

During Mr. Fralerson’s sentencing the presiding judge issued much lighter sentences to other defendants who were indicted and found guilty on felony drug distribution, crimes far worse than Mr. Fralerson’s. One defendant was issued a work release program, another was sentenced to a mere six months in jail, whereas another received a little over a year in jail. The conspicuous difference between these other defendants and Mr. Fralerson was their skin color; they, being white, whereas Mr. Fralerson is Black. The disparity between the sentences is a vivid illustration of how race is a determining factor in how justice is administered.

A letter authored May 17, 1993 by the Judicial Sentencing Guidelines Committee provides an historical framework for appropriate sentencing in which it stated verbatim, “The single purpose of Virginia’s sentencing guidelines is the establishment of rational and consistent sentencing standards which…reduce unwarranted sentencing disparity.” Clearly, this established guideline was not applied in Mr. Fralerson’s case. Additionally, these sentencing guidelines recommended an active sentence of five years, nine months on the low end, and nine years, five months on the high end. The Commonwealth prosecutor recommended a ten-year prison sentence which lands on the high end of the sentencing guidelines, but Judge Thomas B. Hoover disregarded those established guidelines and recommendations and arbitrarily sentenced him to an astounding 30 year prison term, three times harsher than what the sentencing guidelines along with the Commonwealth prosecutor recommended.

Mr. Fralerson has been incarcerated since May 2009. He has missed out on his two sons’ growing up, family events, graduations, and weddings. He recently suffered the tragic loss of his mother to Covid-19. Her one wish before passing away was to see her son doing great things with his life, but that wish did not come to fruition as he is still unjustly incarcerated. His niece was merely a kid at the time of his arrest. Now she’s a young woman fighting for the release of her uncle. His brother continues to fight for his pardon. His wife has stood by his side fighting and advocating on his behalf. When Judge Hoover condemned Mr. Fralerson to 30-years in prison for a non-violent crime, he not only utterly destroyed his life and future, but also destroyed his family, for they too suffer daily with the unjust incarceration of their loved one.

I hate to mention the obvious, but had Mr. Frlerson been a Caucasian male, chances are astronomical that he would not have been sentenced to such a draconian prison term. What we have learned through the pseudo “War on Drugs” and mass incarceration is that in every state African Americans—particularly in the poorest neighborhoods—are subject to tactics and practices that would result in public outrage if committed in white neighborhoods. Another lesson procured is that justice is unambiguously administered unequally.

Mr. Fralerson was a teenager at the time of his arrest and has expressed deep regret for the decisions he made which landed him in prison. As human beings none of us are perfect. We all have failed to live up to our highest ideals and values and certain decisions we make as teenagers, particularly non-violent ones, shouldn’t condemn anyone to decades in prison.

We all deserve a second chance. Many of us even deserve a third and fourth chance. Had Mr. Fralerson perhaps received a second chance he rightfully deserved; he could have graduated college rather than languish in prison. He could have been doing great things with his life which was his mother’s last wish, and been a productive member of society had he been given a chance.

His case warrants close and broad public attention for his story and experiences with the criminal injustice system is a microcosm of the stories and experiences of a myriad of other African Americans men and women whose lives have been deemed disposable and buried in these dark places. If Black lives truly matter, then even those discarded and condemned to decades in these human warehouses should also be included in this nationwide discussion. I’m more than privileged to shed any light on this case for it speaks volumes into the functionality of the criminal injustice system.

Write to Mr. Fralerson:

Jerod Fralerson #1119041

Red Onion State Prison

P.O. Box 1800

Pound, VA 24279

Peter Kamau Mukuria #1197165

Red Onion State Prison

P.O. Box 1800

Pound, VA 24279