SHOULD JUVENILES BE SENTENCED TO DIE IN PRISON?

I was a juvenile when I committed a heinous murder. A “jury of my peers” decided I should spend the rest of my life in prison. They weren’t a bunch of head-banging teenagers but middle-aged and elderly men and women.

Who were you in your teens?

The law says I was old enough to make right decisions and fully understand the consequences of my actions. Really? I wasn’t old enough to smoke, buy alcohol or vote, but I was old enough to spend the rest of my life in prison. What sense does that make? Why do we as a society insist on saying adolescents should be treated as adults?

Science tells us otherwise. Neurology says that an adolescent brain isn’t fully developed. Common sense should tell us that. Every other nation in the world knows this. Some states have realized this. Why not all? Why is the U.S. the only modern nation in the world that sentences adolescents to die in prison?

Some would say I was a danger to society and they needed to be protected from me. Yes, I committed a horrible act, but would I ever do it again? Did that one act represent who I was? Did that one act mean I was “irretrievably depraved?” It would take a number of years to see if that is the case. Should we be given a “meaningful opportunity of release after a demonstration of rehabilitation,” as discussed by the Supreme Court recently?

After spending almost two decades in prison (more than half my life), I know what a person of irretrievable depravity acts like. This extremely rare type of individual can’t help committing acts of violence. In all my years of incarceration, I haven’t even been in a fight, much less seriously hurt anyone. Everyone who knows me knows the horrible act I committed all those years ago wasn’t a sign of an irretrievably depraved individual, but was the result of a horribly immature decision.

There’s no question that I should be held responsible and that it may take years to see if I could be rehabilitated. Some states say after 25 years, juveniles that commit heinous acts should be considered for parole if there is evidence of rehabilitation. Other states like Tennessee still say “no way in hell.” What is the most humane? I have demonstrated that I’ve been rehabilitated, so it’s not about public safety.

Justice?

Will inflicting pain upon me by separating me from my family and society for the rest of my life make things right? Does it help the victims to heal from the terrible loss they suffered? Or does it prolong their hurt and keep the wound open? I wish with everything I am that I could bring back their loved ones. But I can’t.

If punishing me cannot bring peace, what can? Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Not that I deserve it, but it’s not just about me; it’s about them as well. Forgive but do not forget. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the memory of the lost loved one is forgotten or dishonored. Un-forgiveness doesn’t allow for healing.

What I did was horrible. I am sorry and will live with deep regret all the days of my life. I was an adolescent, and I do not have an irredeemably depraved character. I have changed, in spite of my circumstances, in spite of the courts telling me good behavior doesn’t matter, rehabilitation doesn’t matter. It does matter. It matters to me, and it matters for the memory of those innocent lives I took. I am not who I was. I have so much to offer. I could be given a second chance.

Do you think so? Why or why not?

by Joshua

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