Robert “Seth” Hayes is a U.S. political prisoner and former member of the Black Panther Party who has been imprisoned in New York state for more than three decades. When Seth was convicted in 1974, his sentence was 25 years to life. The implicit understanding at the time of his sentencing was that Seth would serve 25 years as a minimum, after which time he would be eligible for release based on his record and conduct in prison.
In December of 2008, Seth will be going before the parole board for the sixth time. At each of Seth’s previous parole hearings, he was denied release due to the serious nature of the crime he was convicted of and given another two year hit. The refusal of parole for the serious nature of the crime is contrary to the spirit of the law, for it is something that a prisoner can never change, and the giving of parole is based upon the prisoner’s behavior while behind bars.
Seth is not the only one being subjected to these unfair rules. This has become common practice for the New York state parole board, which, by denying parole based on the seriousness of the conviction, is de facto re-sentencing many prisoners to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Seth’s prison record is exemplary, and if a decision about Seth’s parole were to be based on his conduct and personal growth, he would have rejoined his family and his community years ago.
Please write a letter to the parole board to let them know that you think Seth deserves to be released. Write your own letter, or use the sample letter that has been included in this document.
If you have a personal relationship with Seth, please consider writing about this relationship in your letter. If you work with a community organization or union, have a professional job, or are a rock star, please consider mentioning this in your letter (or writing on letterhead, etc.).
If you decide to personalize your letter, you may choose to include information drawn from the short biography also included in this package, where some of Seth’s accomplishments are highlighted.
More information about Seth can be found on a web page that has been put together by his supporters at www.sethhayes.org
All letters should be mailed or faxed to Seth’s lawyer, Susan Tipograph, by no later than November 30, 2008 as Seth’s parole hearing is taking place in December of 2008. Please send all of your letters to:
Attorney at Law
New York, NY 10013
fax (212) 625-3939
Re: Robert Seth Hayes #74A2280
Dear Senior Parole Officer of Wende Correctional Institute,
I am writing on behalf of Robert Hayes, who is scheduled to appear before the parole board for the sixth time in December of 2008.
Robert Hayes’ application for parole was denied when he last appeared before the board two years ago. At the time of that appearance, his record was excellent. However, since that time his record is outstanding. Mr. Hayes has continued to work to help others and improve himself. While at Clinton Correctional Facility, he facilitated in the HIV Educators program to assist others as well as becoming a member of the Lifer’s and Long Termers Organization whose primary goal is to educate and instruct newly arriving inmates in adjustment to and preparation for final release from incarceration. Since his transfer to Wende Correctional Facility, he has coached basketball and participated in a local restorative justice project. These are but a few of his many accomplishments over his years of incarceration. I am confident that were he to be released, he would be a great asset to the community and to society at large.
There is no question that the crime for which Mr. Hayes was convicted was a serious crime. However, he has shown remorse and takes full responsibility for his acts. I am sure that you will agree that after serving 34 years, Mr. Hayes’ release at this time would not so deprecate the seriousness of the crime so as to undermine respect for the law. Moreover, if you examine all of the factors that are used to predict whether a person is likely to recidivate, those factors indicate that Mr. Hayes will not engage in any criminal activity. His disciplinary history during his incarceration indicates that he obeys the rules in prison; he has a supportive network of family and friends on the outside available to assist him in his reintegration back into society and he had an extensive work history prior to being incarcerated in addition to obtaining marketable skills in prison that will help him to obtain employment. Nothing is gained by his continued incarceration, and much is lost, as he has much to offer the community upon his release.
By the time that Mr. Hayes appears before the parole board, he will be 60 years old, more than 34 years older and considerably wiser than the man who was charged with committing the crime. He is a compassionate, caring individual and deserves a second chance. Please grant Mr. Hayes parole and give him that second chance.
Robert Seth Hayes was born in Harlem, New York in October 1948. His father, John Franklin Hayes, was the child of sharecroppers and came to New York City from South Carolina; his mother, Francine Washington Hayes, moved to New York from Pittsburgh. Both of Mr. Hayes’ parents worked for the U.S. Postal Service, trying to provide a better life for Seth and his four brothers and sisters. They also instilled in their children the desire to work for the betterment of their community. Seth writes, “My mother taught me to visualize family universally, not individually.” Seth’s father was a World War II veteran and a member of the United Negro Improvement Association, the Black Nationalist organization founded by Marcus Garvey.
Growing up in New York City, first in Harlem, later in the Bronx and Queens, Mr. Hayes saw one Black neighborhood after another suffering from neglect, despair, anger and defeat. During 1950s and 1960s with the growing rise of the civil rights and Black power movements Seth recalls witnessing over the years a birth of hope and determination to overcome these conditions.
After his schooling in New York City, Mr. Hayes worked as a psychiatric aide at Creedmoor Hospital. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam. He saw combat, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.
In the armed forces, Seth underwent a change of consciousness. After the death of Martin Luther King Junior in 1968, Seth’s troop was ordered to patrol the city streets with fixed bayonets to put down the rebellions resulting from Dr. King’s assassination. “It was the saddest day of my life,” Seth remembers, “and I could never identify again with the aims of the armed forces or the government.”
Upon returning to the United States from Vietnam, Seth was swept up in the Black Liberation movement and joined the Black Panther Party. He worked in the free breakfast for children program and began dedicating his life to the betterment of Black people. His knowledge of the effects of racism on the Black community convinced him that the Black Panthers’ program of community service ad community self-defense was what was needed. His work, like that of so many others, was disrupted by COINTELPRO. Fearing further attacks, he went underground, believing it to be the only way to protect the work of the Black Panther Party and the Black movement in general.
Robert Seth Hayes had two children prior to his arrest and imprisonment, and he has remained closely involved their lives and upbringing, despite the difficulties presented by his long incarceration. His son, Chunga, lives and works in Atlanta. His daughter, Crystal, herself mother of Myaisha, is a student at the Smith College graduate school of social work in Western Massachusetts. Seth calls his family “the loves of my life.” He describes his relationship with Crystal this way, “She has had the most intense impact on my life, always questioning, full of joy and insight, grasping lessons and maintaining her own dreams. She has kept me striving always to expand my knowledge and illuminate my principles, as I struggle to stay abreast of her questioning mind.”
Seth has been diagnosed with Type II diabetes and Hepatitis C. He has been extremely ill and had great difficulty procuring the necessary healthcare and has needed the help of his lawyers and some state political leaders in order to get adequate treatment.
While in prison, Seth continues to work for the betterment of the community in which he lives. He has participated in programs with the NAACP, the Jaycees and other organizations and has worked as a librarian, pre-release advisor and AIDS counselor. Whenever possible, he has taken college courses. He is also a longtime advisor and collaborator in the annual “Certain Days” Political Prisoner calendar project. He is dedicated to continuing to work for social justice when he gets out of prison. At Wende correctional facility, where he is currently incarcerated, Seth is working to put together a “lifers program” to help rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them to reenter the community. Seth also coaches basketball and works on assisting a local restorative justice project taking place in Buffalo.
For more information about Seth, please check out www.sethhayes.org or e-mail info (at) sethhayes.org.