BY LESTER B. MASON
My eyes have witnessed many changes throughout the nearly 40 years of being incarcerated in the Illinois prison system. My name is Lester Mason inmate #64349 at Pontiac Prison Facility. I have been granted an opportunity by the managing editor of the Community Word newspaper to speak about my long stay in prison.
I received a graveyard sentence in 1982 of natural life in prison.
I have seldom met, if ever, any man who did not claim that he is innocent of the crime he has been sent to prison for, and we all know that’s not the truth.
I, on the otherhand, do not subscribe to such claim of innocence. I admit I ran afoul of the law starting on Dec. 6, 1964 when I took a step into deep stupidity and stole a 25 caliber pistol and robbed a gas station on the north side of Peoria.
I was arrested and charged and pled guilty to my behavior on April 2, 1965 and was sentenced to prison for 3 to 5 years. However, I didn’t learn my lesson from that unfortunate ordeal and my own stupidity. In August of 1969 I was again in trouble with the law along with a co-defendant, Mr. Jessie Miller. We were arrested and charged with armed robbery. It was alleged a gun was involved.
I assure you and the citizens of Peoria County that we were not armed with any type of weapon and did not rob anyone. However, I was aware that Jessie Miller owned a gun but on the night in question when he alone went into the building on Southwest Adams Street, I waited in the car.
What if I’m being untruthful on that point and want people to believe I wasn’t armed because both of us were charged. It’s obvious two people were not both armed with one gun. Just see document and alleged bill of indictment on Aug. 31, 1969. Everything I am saying is documented by the records of the circuit court. A bail was set for me of $4,000. That is also documented in court records.
I was unable to make bond. A public defender visited me, discussed my situation and assured me he would look into the charge against me.
When my now-deceased wife visited me, I asked her to get in touch with the public defender, but she said she had spoken with another attorney about representing me. This attorney did appear in court on my behalf but my wife was only able to pay him $750 just to appear, not to represent me. I was not armed but when it was suggested by the assistant state’s attorney that I plead guilty in order to get a negotiated sentence, I complied.
However, my account here is confirmed by court records. I implore you to examine the court records. These records are available for public review. I, Lester Bobby Mason was sentenced to natural life in prison as an alleged “habitual criminal.”
I have now been in prison for nearly 40 years because I was misled to plead guilty.
One need only look at America’s prison population and see the criminal justice system is extremely unfair to Blacks and is geared to locking us up. The same is true with executions. Far more Blacks are executed that whites. Author Donald Gonies wrote in the 1960s that white man’s justice is Black man’s grief.
People like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Domer are cold-blooded killers. I, Lester B. Mason, never murdered anyone. There are also people like OJ Simpson, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffery Epstein whose money allowed them to abuse hundreds of women and get away with it for years.
I want to thank anyone who has tried to highlight our unjust criminal justice system and anyone who has spoken on my behalf. The three-strikes law under which I was sentenced to natural life in prison is not justice. My thanks to everyone who has spoken on my behalf.
I am 76 years old and yes, I was armed with a gun in 1964, however, that is the only time I had a weapon. Yet in my stupidity, I trusted the attorney who told me to plead guilty in order to secure a negotiated settlement. I have never harmed anyone in prison. The appellate court has ordered the Peoria Circuit Court to review my post-conviction hearing request, but that has not happened. I am just another old Black man in prison –– let him die in prison.
The order to review my post-conviction hearing request came from the appellate court in May 2019 and it’s now April 2020. Another year of delay and nearly 40 years in grave yard suffering.