Linda White never imagined that she would become an ardent critic of the practice of sentencing youth to spend their lives in prison when her 26 year-old daughter, Cathy, was killed by teenage boys on November 18, 1986.
Days later, the boys who murdered Cathy were arrested, confessed to the killing, and led police to Cathy’s body. One of them, Gary, pled guilty and was sentenced to 54 years in prison. He was 15 at the time.
Spurred by the unexpected death of her daughter, Linda went to college for a bachelor’s degree in psychology and studied to become a death educator and grief counselor. She soon began conducting research into the theory behind prison sentences. Eventually, Linda decided to pursue a doctorate. Her research brought her into direct contact with incarcerated individuals. As a professor at Sam Houston Community College, she began teaching a few classes to inmates at various facilities. There, for the first time, she interacted with people facing the possibility of spending most of their lives behind bars. She determined that even the most hardened individuals can develop a sense of deep remorse and desire to make amends for past misdeeds when given the chance.
When Linda and Gary finally met in 2001, Linda found that Gary was a different person – a remorseful grown man who was desperately seeking both forgiveness and a chance to start making up for all of the hurt that he had inflicted. Linda was more than willing to grant Gary forgiveness, and he eventually earned the second chance he so desperately wanted.
Gary has been out of prison since 2010. In that time, he has immersed himself in a new community, found and held a job, and begun working at his church with people addicted to drugs and alcohol – a role in which his minister says he has made an incredible difference. Gary has remained out of trouble. He and Linda remain in contact and he never stops apologizing for the pain that he caused. To Linda, Gary is a perfect example for why life sentences are so unjust, especially for children.
“Cathy,” Linda says, “would be gratified to see Gary have a second chance.”