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Hershel Miles Jr.

"Hershel Miles Jr.," graphite on paper, 12¾″ × 17"″. 2023

Hershel Miles Jr.

Hershel Miles Jr. was subjected to extreme sentencing laws for petty theft that harken back to slave era policies

Hershel Miles Jr. was a formerly incarcerated person who served time for past burglary and drug crimes. In September 2001, he broke into a home in Mississippi and stole electronics and a checkbook. While attempting to cash a forged check at a local bank, he was arrested and convicted of “uttering a forgery and petit larceny.”

Because of habitual offender laws in Mississippi, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

While it is legal for prosecutors to pursue extreme sentences for repeat nonviolent offenders like Miles, the practice is cruel, unjust and a policy that harkens back to the slave era legacy designed to profit off the bodies of incarcerated people.  “Pig laws” and “the convict leasing system,” for example, were designed to charge formerly enslaved people with extreme sentences for minor offenses and to reincarcerate (re-enslave) them.  

The extreme sentencing that Miles experienced, illuminates the pattern of slave era policies informing modern day incarceration practices.  

Artwork and writing by Joe Ward, published June 16, 2023

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