Op-Ed: Growing up behind bars

By Elizabeth Calvin
Los Angeles Times
January 13, 2014

“It could have been anyone in this courtroom. Your mother. Your lawyer. It could have been me.” The judge drilled down on the random murder of a woman for her car. Edel Gonzalez, a diminutive 38-year-old man, sat shackled in a prison jumpsuit before the bench and nodded in agreement. “It was brutal,” the judge repeated with force.

This was not your typical sentencing hearing. It was a historic moment. As the judge talked to the defendant, whispering in the courtroom stopped. The attorneys didn’t move, and the guard faded back against the wall. This was a conversation between two people: a judge and a man convicted of murder.

But that man was a boy when the murder was committed in 1991. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. The United States is the only country that imposes life without parole on people under 18, and in California more than 330 such offenders have received this sentence. Edel was 16 at the time of his crime, and in December, he was back in court as the first case under a new California law.

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