Living in Exile

Federal prisons are filling up with people whose only crime is the possession of a gun.

The letter described an idyllic family life in the Martinez household when Frank and Victor were children, until their father was murdered before their eyes in 1986, shot five times in the chest. A court-ordered psychiatrist who examined Victor prior to his sentencing diagnosed him with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as alcohol abuse, major depression and paranoid personality disorder, all attributed to having been a witness to his father's killing.

Frank wrote that once he was thrust into the role of breadwinner at age fifteen, he turned to crime to bring in money. "Unfortunately for Victor, who followed my every move, he was caught in the vacuum of these events, while feeling both abandoned and virtually lost within what was once a strong family fold. Victor pretty much followed my footsteps out into the criminal mix, while never truly having a grip on the future ramifications until it was way too late," he wrote. "Granted, I could probably sit here and attempt to use my father's untimely demise as the reasoning behind both my brother's and my own problems. But I do believe that after a certain age, grown men are responsible for their own actions, no matter how they are dissected and rationalized by social workers.

"However, with what I can only characterize as an unforgiving sentencing structure, it's extremely unfortunate that Victor is facing a sentence that does not have a direct correlation with the severity of the crime in question," Frank concluded. "The disproportionality of my brother's possible sentence does not take into account that he has a loving mother and a family who will be serving time right along with him. Myself and Victor's loving family ask for mercy from this Honorable Court."

That mercy wasn't forthcoming. Three months later, Judge Miller sentenced Victor to twenty years in prison -- the longest sentenced handed down under Project Exile for illegal possession of a firearm.

"I seen people killing people who ain't getting this much," Martinez said as he was led away. "I can't believe how much time you getting me for a gun."

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