Phillip Alvin Jones has been in prison for over 30 years. As the result of a trial allegedly riddled with irregularities and dubious evidence, Jones and his supporters say that he was wrongfully imprisoned at 19 for a crime he did not commit. What’s worse, Jones, who was arrested and tried in Baltimore, Maryland, was transferred under questionable circumstances to Washington State Penitentiary, thousands of miles away from friends and family who would otherwise be able to visit him. Supporters have set up a website and a petition for Jones, who also hosts a podcast called The Wall: Behind and Beyond, which he records from prison. In this exclusive and urgent episode of Rattling the Bars, Jones calls from Washington State Penitentiary to talk to TRNN Executive Producer and former political prisoner Eddie Conway about his fight for freedom and how people on the outside can help.
Pre-Production/Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Eddie Conway: Welcome to this episode of Rattling The Bars. 30 years ago in the state of Maryland, a juvenile got locked up. He’s still in jail serving time, but now he’s in Seattle, Washington, 3,000 miles away from home. So, joining me today is Philip Albert Jones to explain why he’s still in jail, and why he’s 3,000 miles away from Maryland. Thank you, Philip, for joining me.
Phillip Albert Jones: Thank you. And I appreciate you welcoming me to your show.
Eddie Conway: Okay, Philip. If you’ll start at the beginning and tell our audience why you got locked up, how old you were, why you are still in jail 30 years later, and how you ended up in Seattle, Washington, serving a sentence in the state of Maryland?
Phillip Albert Jones: Back in 1990, I was driving down the street in West Baltimore, and I was pulled over by the Western District Police Department after stopping at a light. They jumped out the car with guns pointed in my face, telling me to exit the car. They threw me on the ground, cuffed me up and threw me in the back of a wagon, and took me to the Western District Police Department, and told me that they had reason to believe that I was involved in a shooting that occurred a month before. I told them, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have no idea. They said, well, we got a witness that you was driving in the car that they say was leaving the scene. So I got charged that day at the age of 19 with attempted first degree murder, attempted second degree murder, conspiracy, and handgun violations.
I got no bail. And I sat in a city jail for a year and a half waiting for trial. And I finally was offered a nine year deal, which I refused, because like I said I didn’t have any knowledge of what was going on. And so I said, I don’t want to take any time. I went to trial for about seven days, and was eventually found guilty after the single eye witness, that perjured herself, testified and said that she saw me. And then Joseph Kopera, the ballistics dude who committed perjury and committed suicide, told the jury that it was more than one gun used, so therefore conspiracy. So my case was screwed up. I was 19, I’m 50 now, and I’ve been in prison for 31 years. I did 16 years in the state of Maryland first. I started off at the Maryland penitentiary. Well, ECI, then the Maryland state penitentiary.
When they closed the Maryland state penitentiary down, they sent us all out to JCI, which used to be the annex. In 1996, they had a huge riot down there, probably like 100 people involved. We all went to the super max for this incident. A lot of people got stabbed, blood everywhere, it was crazy. Kids doing dumb stuff. So I ended up being in the super max for five years. Upon me leaving the super max I went back to the annex, and that’s when they put me on as [seg] saying that I was a leader of one of these groups, which I [was] not. And then, so they decided they wanted me out of state, me and a few other dudes that’s out here with me now. We’re all older now, we was in our 20’s back then. So that’s how I got out of state.
But I had actually filed to come back in the courts of Maryland. And they told me that I have to show that my case is being impacted, and that me being so far away was negatively impacting me, my family life, and me getting out of prison. Because they said they had jurisdiction to send me wherever they want–
Recording: You have 60 seconds remaining.
Phillip Albert Jones: …As a Maryland state boarder. So that’s how I got out of there. I’m going to have to call back though, so we can get back to it.
Eddie Conway: Okay. So you’ve been out in Seattle, Washington, since 2005. And your family is still back in Maryland. How is that impacting your case, and what can they do from that far away to help you? And how does that also impact your quality of life while you’re there, not being able to get visits and stuff?
Phillip Albert Jones: I’ve actually built the whole team around my situation, and my case is actually going good now, because I’m getting a lot of publicity and people are taking notice. As far as my family and me being so far away from Maryland, the only downside of that–Because it’s phenomenal out here, I’m doing a lot of good things I couldn’t do in Maryland. But the only downside of that is that I don’t get the news of what’s going on in the criminal justice world until late. I have to read about in newsletters or have my family go online and try to find out what’s happening. And that’s how I found out late about some of the stuff that was going on with some of these bills and all that. But as far as me being away from here, what I’m doing to get my case recognized and heard and get some lawyers involved, I wouldn’t have been able to do in Maryland because I have a whole platform going on. And I’m all about bringing attention to the fact that I didn’t have a fair trial, and I’ve been doing that effectively.
Eddie Conway: Okay, Phillip. You were a juvenile 30 years ago, and Maryland, the state Maryland, passed a law, and the courts have also made some other legal decisions about juvenile. Juveniles are being released all over the country, in particular in the state of Maryland. Don’t your case fall under those guidelines?
Phillip Albert Jones: They’re saying that in Maryland they don’t recognize that new brain science. So if you was over the age of 17, they’re trying to say that you don’t fit the criteria as long as you have a reasonable chance at parole. But in Maryland, there is no reasonable chance at parole, because you only get one as a lifer. And if they don’t grant it, then you have to fight to get another hearing, and so that’s kind of like no parole. Now, because I wasn’t 17, they’re saying as long as you get an opportunity for parole, then you don’t fit the criteria. These bills they’re passing are excluding people over 18.
Eddie Conway: Okay. One of the things that you say happened is that the expert ballistic witness in the state of Maryland, who had lied on 800 other cases and ultimately he committed suicide, they were releasing those people. He was a key witness in your case. How is that not a situation to get you relief?
Phillip Albert Jones: Yes, absolutely. The state’s attorney used him to bolster a conspiracy case. That’s how come my case held a life sentence if I went to trial. He didn’t have no evidence of no conspiracy. They told him to do that because he started talking about two guns being used and if it was more than one person. But I was originally charged with assault with intent to murder, which did carry no life sentence. And so he definitely affected my case, and the jury sent the note back saying they didn’t want to find me guilty of attempted murder. But the judge told him, you have to, because if you don’t, then you have to find him not guilty of everything, which was a false instruction. But I didn’t have the right attorneys or the right defense set up, and so he got away with it.
But saying that to say, Joseph Kopera, all the people who he affected like he affected me, a lot of them are already gone. They’re trying to tell me that I’d have to file a writ of actual innocence, which I did. They brought me back to court in 2017. I didn’t have an attorney. I ended up postponing it. And while I sat it on [inaudible], I got very sick because of the conditions. So they sent me back here, and then I withdrew the petition without prejudice. So, I still haven’t been heard yet on this issue, although I did go back to court for it in 2017. So I’m still trying to get myself back in there.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Marilyn Mosby has set up an integrity in sentencing unit, and it seems like your case should fall under those guidelines. Have you been in contact with her office and that unit? And what’s the situation with that?
Phillip Albert Jones: Yes. We reached out to Marilyn Mosby like five times. We got two responses. They said that they are going to review my case, but the sentencing review unit has it right now. And the sentencing review unit or the State’s Attorney’s Office is looking through my file. So, my lawyer is waiting and hoping that they will accept my case as one of the ones that they need to go back and look at and review. As far as the integrity unit, I also wrote them. I wrote to all the heads that would give me the opportunity to show that my trial wasn’t fair, or that my sentence was too harsh. So right now, they’re saying that they review it. It has been a couple of months. So we’re sitting on standby trying to see, are they going to make a report or tell us what’s going on?
Eddie Conway: Okay. So do they have you in the gang database? Because some years ago they put me in there and it took me three years to get out. Every year they would call me in, they would take my picture, and they would write up a little report on my activities for that year. So, are they doing that to you? Do they still have you in that gang database and are they taking your pictures every year?
Phillip Albert Jones: I think they left me alone because I haven’t had any of that happen the whole time I’ve been in Washington. But apparently since I’m still here, they have me out here for that purpose, then they must still believe that I’m connected to it in some way. But they should know that I’m not, if they’ve been following me, because my record, all the things I do in here, are anti-gang. And also, I try to mentor the youth about the pitfalls of prison gang life. You know what I mean? That’s not something that you should be doing. Your first day in prison should be spent trying to get back out. And I bet they know that.
Eddie Conway: So what can the public do to help your family or to help your case? Do you have a website set up? Is there some way for people to at least look at what happened to you and why you are still being held 3,000 miles away?
Phillip Albert Jones: Absolutely. Thank you for asking. I have a website, it’s called grantparoletophillip.com. I have a petition. I have a petition also that they can sign on change.org, and also I have a podcast called The Wall: Behind and Beyond for anybody that wants to hear some of the issues that go on inside the criminal justice system and the prison reforms.
Eddie Conway: So we’ll include your address at the end of this broadcast, but tell me, what have you been doing? It sounds like you’ve been working with young people, and you’ve been doing some positive work up in that particular penitentiary.
Phillip Albert Jones: Man, I’m a college student right now. I’ve been taking college for a couple of years. I’m trying to get my degree in business administration. I’ve been taking all kinds of therapeutic and cognitive programs, but I’m also a facilitator of a program called Release Readiness. So I deal in reentry. And what I do is I put on Zoom panels for awareness, and this is how come I shine a light on some of the problems that we’re having in Maryland, as far as the way the system is not working properly. So that’s what I do. I spend a lot of time with that, doing my podcast, mentoring youth, and trying to make the public aware of that we are very behind in Maryland. All the other states have figured out that it’s not about punishment. It’s about rehabilitation, and reforms, and reentry. Because 80% of us are going back to the community, whether they like it or not. So they should be spending more time doing that. So that’s what I do on my show.
Eddie Conway: That was 30 years ago. You are like 50 now, you are a different person than you was 30 years ago. The courts, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, everybody recognizes that juveniles don’t have mature thinking ability, and that doesn’t really kick in until they’re 24, 25, something like that. So 30 years later, you a different person than you was 30 years ago, and the courts and the parole board should recognize that, and recognize that you deserve a second chance. So have you been making any efforts to go in front of the parole board? And what’s the situation with that and how can people help you with that?
Phillip Albert Jones: Yes, that’s good, I’m glad you brought that point up. I just went up for parole in March. This month they passed, and actually Bloomberg himself was on my parole hearing with another commissioner. And Bloomberg said I’m doing good. He said, “Man, on paper, everything looks right. Keep doing what you’re doing, get that degree.” He said, “But I’m going to give you a rehearing. I’m not going to grant it today, but I’m not denying it.” So I have to go back in 18 months for a rehearing and get a chance to present myself again and all that I got going on.
Eddie Conway: Okay. So what would you have the public do, if you could ask them to do something for you, what would you have them do for you right now?
Phillip Albert Jones: I need the public to write the parole commission, Maryland Parole Commission, on my behalf saying that they support me and that I’ve been locked up long enough and I’m doing good things with my time, and that I should be granted parole.
Eddie Conway: Okay. So, Phillip, you get an opportunity now to say anything that you want to say to the public, so they can hear at least what your feelings are and what your position is.
Phillip Albert Jones: Oh, yeah. First of all, thank you for allowing me to come on and do this interview. I really appreciate that. Second of all, I really just want an opportunity to come back out to my community where they took me from as a child, and show that I can be a positive influence and make a great contribution to my community. My community loves me, and they still need me. My kids need me. And so I would just like to say that, in Maryland give us… You know we haven’t had a first chance, let alone a second chance. I’m not bitter, I’m not upset, but I am ready to go home and return to my family and my community and make a difference. Because as you can see, we’re in a lot of trouble in Baltimore City and we need people out there, man, that’s coming with positive reinforcement and influence. And I want to be a part of that solution. So I appreciate that, man. And thank you very much. It was nice, man, talking to you.
Eddie Conway: Yes, I would just like to echo that sentiment. We need you out here. The community need you out here. People that’s been in prison for 20, 30 years, that’s been working with young people in prison, that’s been mentoring, would be a valuable asset to our community, and would also help us with talking to young people in our community to help keep down that level of violence. So I hope that when the public see this and when your family shares it with people, that the public will come forth and support you and get you back here. Because we need you in the community to help us make the community safer. So, I hope people will look at your podcast and check out your website. And hopefully, good luck to you.
Phillip Albert Jones: Okay, man. Thank you so much, man. And I will do that, and I love platforms like this, man. You’re doing the work, man. I know you been here, too, that you’ve seen what I saw. So, I really appreciate you going out there and still doing the good work for us.
Eddie Conway: Okay. So, thank you for joining me, Phillip.
Phillip Albert Jones: All right. Take care, man.
Eddie Conway: And thank you for joining this episode of Rattling The Bars