The Longest Yard

By Mike Powers

          My middle school football coach used to tell us budding next-gen NFL superstars, “The longest yard is the one between the one-yard line and the endzone.” Eventually, we came to understand what he meant by that. Coach Mac was trying to tell us that most people, for whatever reason, establish a mental barrier at the finish line. If you don’t believe it, here’s an experiment: How many pushups can you do? Whatever that number is, subtract ten from it, and tell yourself that you are going to do that number of pushups and no more. If you can do fifty pushups, tell yourself you’re going to do forty pushups right now, and not one more. Now get down and do them. When you get to forty-five, you’ll start feeling the strain. By the time you get to forty-eight, your pushing with all your might just to finish, even though you KNOW you can easily do fifty. By pushing with all-out effort, you hit the forty mark, but just barely. The point is, you were physically capable, but mentally stretched.

          The end of a prison sentence is very similar. A guy with ten, fifteen, twenty years is cruising right along, doing his time well, like the blur of the lane stripes flicking down the highway. Then, all of a sudden, he sees the end of the tunnel, and some kind of time warp takes place. You can imagine if ever you sat through the last day of school before summer break. It was the longest day of the year, wasn’t it? Now imagine that day with no yearbooks to sign or pizza parties to mark the occasion, AND, you’re living in the locker room portion of the school! How’s that for torture?

          The long-awaited, much anticipated answer to my quest for parole has come. With 13 years and 10 months done on my 15-year sentence, I have completed 92%, flat-time, of my sentence. If you add in my good behavior time and my work time, I’ve completed 36 years and 8 months on a 15-year sentence. And yet, despite an excellent discipline record, participation in countless programs and Bible-study classes, and over eight continuous years of direct participation in church ministry here in the prison as a praise team member or worship director, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles wants me to take a 9-month long sex offender treatment program. This program will be paid for by the state (read that “tax dollars”) even though it is similar, but NOT AS GOOD AS, the program I voluntarily took and personally paid for over the course of the 13-months I was out on bond before I was sentenced to prison. I also don’t think it will be nearly as beneficial as the faith-based program I took at my last unit which was paid for by a sponsoring church and lasted over 9 months. On top of it all, if I accept the Board’s offer and take this program, assuming I’ll have to complete it entirely, I will have done 97% of my flat time and 38 years and 8 months “on paper”. That’s right- 39 years for a 15-year sentence.

          Friends, there’s a fine line between punishment and abuse, and nobody knows that better than a modern American parent. In fact, much discipline that, fifty years ago, wouldn’t have turned a head or batted an eye, could land you right behind bars with me if you aren’t careful, including a good, ol’fashioned smack on-the backside. I’m not trying to stir up a debate about where that line should be drawn, but suffice it to say that each one of us knows when we think that line between discipline and abuse has been crossed. All of us need good discipline. None of us should have to endure abuse. That very fact is what landed me in the pen in the first place, after all. The reason for this is simple: If the parent goes beyond the point of the lesson being learned and just keeps piling on licks or days of grounding or whatever, instead of learning the lesson and changing the behavior, the kid will just turn rebellious and stop responding to any discipline at all. Discipline that is not fair and just is counter-productive.

          I want you guys to understand something straight up. If that district attorney had come to me and said, “Michael Powers, this plea agreement is for 15 years, and you will go to prison and serve 15 years, not a day more, not an hour less,” then IF I would have signed that agreement, you wouldn’t hear a peep out of me. But that wasn’t the deal that was presented. They told me, “Michael Powers, sign this plea agreement for a 15-year sentence, and in 7 1/2, you will get out of prison if you behave yourself and work the job you’re given.” Believe me, I didn’t know it at the time, but this bait and switch is the norm, not the exception. Every prosecuted is told this, and all the first-timers like myself are dumb enough to believe it. The law is exactly the same right now as it was at that time, so they can still get away with it.

          Just about every day I’ve been in this prison house, I’ve had to listen to some corkscrew whining about the way the State messed him over, and “why should I change and stop conning people when they are the biggest crooks of all.” And it really tears my hide, because I know that the majority of folks out there in Texas aren’t “thug-huggers” (inmate friendly), but they ARE fair. And most reasonable people would see that if some guy can say he’s being messed over by the State, and it’s TRUE, well then, he’s got a point. Why SHOULD he do anything different when he gets out? And guess where that leads him! Yep, right back here where he sits eating up your tax dollars again.

          You know, if it wasn’t for Christ in my heart, it would be so easy to get bitter at the injustice of it. But I don’t only have faith in a God above who knows just how much his kids can endure, I believe that maybe my story will help good people like you finally say, enough is enough. Texas needs just and fair parole laws. In the meantime, please pray for me as I run the longest yard.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez