This Is Heart Work That Breaks Your Heart
Minors, who are 14, 15, 16 or 17, can not legally buy tobacco, alcohol or get a tattoo. They can not vote. They can not enter into a legal binding contract. They are unable to leave school early, get a permit, driver’s license, passport or married without the permission of a parent.
And yet, at 14, 15, 16 or 17, they can be tried as an adult and go to state prison.
NS has been in prison since he was 16 years old. Prison. Not Juvenile Hall. Not the Department of Juvenile Justice (CYA). Prison. California State Prison. Since he was 16 years old. “I raised myself in prison” were the words he said today.
At the age of 10, his Dad took him to loot during the LA Uprisings. His mom was a “smoker” and “everyone in the neighborhood knew”. At the age of 12 he was raped by an older cousin.
He joined a gang cause there is no minimum age or parental permission required.
At the age of 14, after being “disciplined” by his gang and his loyalty questioned, he killed a rival gang member. He was sentenced to 35 years to life. He was 14 at the time of the murder. He was 16 when he was sentenced. He is 33 now.
As he told his story today, he was fully accountable for the crime he committed. That is what is “supposed” to happen right? He is absolutely remorseful for the harm he caused his victim’s family. That’s what “we” want, right?
But who is held accountable for his harm? Who is held responsible for not nurturing and loving him? What happens when those who are supposed to provide and protect you, don’t? With no parental guidance, in the ’90’s, in South Central LA, what were his real life chances of not going to prison or dying?
Like I have said before….who is raising our babies?
Gangs, the block, the death style – open and available 24/7, no requirements, no parental permission needed.
Despite the trauma and tragedy that my family has experienced, my heart breaks every time I hear the stories of how the seeds of violence and criminality are planted in those behind the walls. I am never surprised at how the untreated trauma and the unprocessed anger, fear and pain manifest.
In the United States of America, there continues to be over 2,000 men and women in prison who were sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole as Juveniles. Please read that sentence again. Some cases do not even involve homicides (even if they do the sentence is inappropriate).
A guy I grew up with named Clay Morrison, at the age of 16, was tried as an adult. It was 1979. He is still in prison.
I do not know how many Juvenile Lifers there are in California, much less the United States. What I do know is that we need to do better.
Someone recently asked me when I was going to retire. I will not stop working, I will not stop fighting, I will not stop writing until the following things happen:
- Every person sentenced to LWOP as a juvenile is released.
- Every Juvenile Lifer is released.
- The Death Penalty is abolished.
Only then, will I think about having a seat. Until then, I fight, I sit in circles, I encourage, I write, I speak and I continue to believe in the power of transformation, redemption and that no one should forever pay a price for the worst decision they ever made
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