The San Quentin News accepted this article from an anonymous lifer because of the importance of its content to young men and women who had to mature under extremely adverse conditions. DLS said he believes more of his peers would identify with it if the story were published this way.
At the age of 11, lacking inner strength and maturity, I had given in to peer pressures and began using drugs and committing crimes. At 13, I began abusing alcohol, and at 14 I was initiated as a member of a street gang.
When I was 16 years old my “friend,” another gang member, and I were armed with a firearm when we committed a robbery that resulted in a young man being brutally and senselessly murdered.
Our victim, who was only 11 years old, at the very onset of a promising and a hopeful future, lost his life and was forever taken away from his loving family. My crime partner and I received “life” terms in state prison and had thoroughly devastated our own families and our local community by our actions. I’ve since lived everyday of the last fifteen years with deep regret for all of the harm I caused.
After being sentenced to 16-years-to-life for second-degree murder, I was moved from juvenile detention to a state prison reception center before being transferred to a level 4 maximum-security prison mainline. Being incarcerated for the first time, I was terrified for my safety and my future although I made every effort not to show it. I was soon led to thoroughly believe that as a “lifer” I was eventually going to die in prison one way or another, and that there was no chance of ever going home.
I felt as if there was nothing to work towards; no reason to want to better myself, and my future was ultimately death in prison. Thinking that adaptation was the key to mental and physical survival. I wrongly chose to submerge myself into the penitentiary “convict” lifestyle and culture, and I took on the related mentality and distorted system of values that exists within these prison walls.
It was almost ten years into my prison sentence before I finally had my “wake-up” moment. I finally saw the “light at the end of the tunnel” and I started to feel like I might actually make it out of prison one day, have a normal life, and live it right. I was given a real sense of hope. But it was seriously enforced upon me that my release would have to be earned.
Reform, self-awareness, positive growth, self-rehabilitation, the development and exercise of self-control, self-discipline, integrity, and moral values were to become an everyday mandatory program. Just as much as rolling up my mattress first thing every morning, and keeping my shoes on all day until the bar-lock was racked closed every night.
I now had an incentive with something positive to work hard towards. Seeing other inmates repair their lives, making amends, giving back, finding inner peace, and actually being released was an enormous inspiration to me.
In retrospect though, did it really need to take so long for me to realize that I could be rehabilitated. That I should want to be, and that rehabilitation was the key to “freedom” within myself and to possibly being released someday?
If hope, an incentive, and inspiration were given or at least offered to me as a viable option when I first came into prison at 17 years old, would it have taken so long for me to get my priorities straight, fix my life up, steer myself away from “115”s (disciplinary citations), stay out of Administrative Segregation and keep myself away from all the internal prison “politics” and negativity that would serve to stunt my personal growth and keep me here in prison?
I take full responsibility and I don’t blame anyone or anything else for all the negative choices I’ve made in my life and while here in prison. But as a juvenile offender, if more specific and personalized consideration was given to both my obvious and underlying rehabilitative needs by the courts and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, would it have made a positive difference in my life, to my future, and to my ability to contribute back to society? Yes. And the same would hold true for any other juvenile offender.
Recently a bill was introduced that addresses the issue of juveniles sentenced as adults for serious crimes. Senate Bill 260 serves to show errant youth that society still cares about them, and believes that they can be rehabilitated and one day become a contributing member of society as a mature, responsible adult; and that they don’t have to waste their lives away in prison. This is not a “get out of jail free card.”
It will hold juvenile offenders responsible for their harmful acts by requiring them to serve a minimum of 10 years in prison before being able to petition to a court for a review of the remainder of their sentence.
A petitioner must demonstrate their acceptance of responsibility and their level of remorse for their crime and their victims. They must show that they’ve made every effort to rehabilitate themselves through self-help groups and programming. They must show that they have acquired marketable job skills and furthered their education. Their prison disciplinary record will be taken into consideration. And the victim(s) and/or victim’s family will be notified, and allowed to attend any possible re-sentencing hearing, and be able to make statements. A judge would then have the discretion to suspend, modify, or stay the remainder of the juvenile offender’s sentence based on an evaluation of all these factors. Senate Bill 260 gives minors who have taken a turn down the wrong path the desperately needed hope and incentive that they need to truly want to better themselves in an effort to be able to earn their freedom. Senate Bill 260 inspires positive change for our errant youth, and shows that society still wants them to have a better future.
I hereby pledge my full support for this bill, authored by Loni Hancock, which is currently undergoing the legislative process before hopefully going up to the governor to be signed into law. Without a doubt, much more needs to be done to prevent juveniles from committing crimes in our neighborhoods, to help at-risk youths and incarcerated minors, and for juvenile justice reform. www.fairsentencingforyouth.org.