Criminal justice students get inside look at incarceration and policing

By Emma Patton, Online Content Editor

Both a federal prisoner and an Oklahoma City policewoman offered criminal justice students at OBU an inside look at life behind bars. Via email, students first asked questions of Halim Flowers, a 36-year-old convicted felon from Washington, D.C.

Flowers fell asleep one day during a college recruit lecture at his high school. He awakened to the start of his journey through the “school-to-prison” pipeline.

“A school security guard woke me up and told me to step outside into the hallway,” Flowers said. “Once I entered the hallway, still half asleep, I was greeted by the sight of over a dozen overzealous police officers and detectives. Swiftly handcuffed, I was escorted out of the building and placed inside of a squad car without any explanation as to why I was being arrested.”

A young Halim Flowers stands handcuffed. / Courtesy Photo

Flowers was sentenced to a mandatory 30 years in prison at age 16 for being an accomplice to felony murder. Though he admits his responsibility for the burglary that occurred, he never shot the victim.

“After being cuffed to a chair for over eight hours without any access to an attorney or parental guardian, a homicide detective informed me that I was being charged as an adult for first degree felony murder,” Flowers said. “I was not charged as being the actual shooter, and the shooter in this case had all of the charges dismissed against him and was never tried for the shooting.”

Flowers grew up in the violent, cocaine-ridden streets of the nation’s capital, which had a national high murder and incarceration rate at the time.

“Even the Mayor Marion Barry was arrested and imprisoned for smoking crack cocaine. That is where I grew up,” Flowers said.

Now, Flowers spends his time educating himself by reading and watching the news from behind bars in a high-security federal penitentiary in California.

“I have met guys here from Hawaii, Nevada, and California that were given life sentences as juveniles,” Flowers said. “One of the guys from D.C. was the youngest prisoner ever sent to the federal supermax ADX prison in Florence, Colorado, where he was held [in] solitary confinement for 20 years from the age of 19 to 39. So, I meet people from all over the world that have similar situations to mine. The Somalian [pirate] from the Captain Phillips film [is] even here with me.”

In addition to Flowers’ comments, students heard from Oklahoma City Police Officer Elizabeth Herman in-person on March 9. Herman went on to the OKC Police Academy after graduating from OBU. She is now the second-ever female to be on the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.

“I was an anthropology major,” Herman said. “It turned out to be really useful…interacting with so many different cultures here in Oklahoma City.”

The SWAT team is called upon in some of the most dangerous of situations, Herman said. Because of the high-risk associated with the job, officers endure intense, military-like training.

“I’ve heard people say it is worse than boot camp,” Herman said.

Herman said she got her job not because she is female, but because she works hard and is good at her job. Though small in stature, she packs a punch—Herman teaches Brazilian jujitsu to all incoming police cadets.

“I feel confident in it,” Herman said. “If you do it correctly, you can fight and win, even if someone is [bigger than you].”

However, Herman also spoke of another form of non-lethal force she uses daily: talking.

“More and more, we are taught to deescalate [verbally],” she said.

Herman said one of the most rewarding times during her years as a cop was a run-in at a convenient store with a guy she once arrested for driving under the influence.

“He was like, ‘Officer Herman, Officer Herman! I have a job… I’m back with my family’ and all these good things,” Herman said. “I arrested the guy, but it turned out to be… one of the best things that could have happened to him.”

Though on vastly different sides of the system, Herman and Flowers both strive to prevent future crime. Flowers hopes to someday help young men stay out of jail.

“I’m convinced that once I can get a youth to appreciate their own life even more that they will begin to appreciate the lives of others more as well,” Flowers said. “At the age of 15, I wish I would have known that it was more to the world, more to my own city than the hip-hop/inner-city/thug-drug gun violence culture that I was so infatuated with at that time of my life.”

Due to a recently passed D.C. law—D.C. Act 21-568—Flowers may be granted an early release from prison.

“I haven’t incurred any disciplinary infractions in the last 13 years, so I am optimistic about my judge Ronna Beck giving serious consideration to releasing me back to society when the bill takes effect in April 2017.”

For the full exclusive interview with Halim Flowers, click here.

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