Commentary: Loss as it relates to life without parole for youth

The following is an excerpt from a blog post titled, “Reclaiming Faith” from CFSY Outreach Coordinator, Emily Dillon. To read the full post, click here


“I’m reading this book right now titled The Art of Growing Older.  It’s compelling—so compelling, in fact, that I walk down the street reading poems about aging on my way to work.  Admittedly, I use my hands to hide the title as I do so.  As a 22-year-old, I figure most people who see me with it would think that I’m a hipster, a know-it-all, or an anxious wreck.  At times I guess I’m all three of these, which explains why I don’t want people to see the title.

So why am I reading it?  I wasn’t so sure when I first picked it up.  But as I’ve read, I’ve come to realize that I want the elderly to provide me with some comfort, perspective, and community through the trail of losses that I’ve experienced this year.  Let me rewind to the beginning of September when, within two weeks, I lost a third of my Jesuit Volunteer Corps housemates, my first real boyfriend broke up with me, my dad’s law firm went under, and my girlfriends from college (still living together) all started drifting apart.  On top of all this was the general pain of leaving college last year and losing all sense of my identity as a student.  Loss, as well as the instability it engenders, was quite simply everywhere.  Like the elderly who watch their future slip away into the past, I felt like I was losing everything.

The loss I have experienced, though, pales in comparison to the reality of many others.  Not that loss should be measured in comparisons, but I can’t help but notice the depths of pain that I have thus far escaped.  The elderly artists writing in this “Growing Older” book have experienced so many losses—of  vitality and life—multiplied far beyond my imagining.   And it isn’t only the aged that have experienced such great pain.  As I walked to work this morning my thoughts turned to another group of persons: the youth that I serve through my work, children in adult prisons serving life without parole.

There are about 2,500 people currently in US prisons who have been sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed when they were younger than 18.  I am faced with each of those realities every day in every paper on my desk and every file in my computer.  They will die in prison.  A child who went into prison at age twelve, fourteen, or even seventeen. This is an unimaginable, complete loss.  It is, in a way, a premature aging.  Like the elderly in my book, these kids have lost all sense of possibility and future.  They feel discarded by society, as everyone waits for them to die.”

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