Second Chance at Life

By Michelle Newell

We are all better than the worst things we have done—and this is especially true of children. A bill that will be reconsidered in the California Assembly this week would create the hope, not a guarantee, of a second chance for youth who are sentenced to life without parole.

When he was just 16-years-old – too young for prom, two years shy of voting age, and just barely old enough to drive – Jay, under the influence of five adults, was involved in a fatal gang shooting. He was sentenced to life without parole and has been in prison for almost 18 years. In prison, Jay felt pressured to stay involved in gangs, and had every reason to be hopeless about the future; however, in his mid-twenties he rejected that life determined to “avoid bad influences” and to become a better person.

Jay states, “I have spent long periods of time reflecting on my past actions and on myself. Each moment of my life in here I am thankful to be alive.” Speaking of the pain caused to others by his actions, he says, “I can’t imagine losing someone like that… like a son. It’s like you have lost your own life in a way.”

Jay believes he has changed immensely, insisting that “the person I was before, I know I am not him anymore.” Realizing that “education is the most important thing,” he has earned his GED, and now spends much of his time in prison reading and meditating. Jay has stayed on this course of self-improvement without the slightest hope that he will be given a second chance. He knows he will die in prison for a crime he committed as a teenager because state law does not currently permit him or anyone like him to ever rejoin society regardless of the course his life takes.

California Assembly members have a second chance to change this by voting yes on SB 9 – the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act that fell one vote shy of passing two weeks ago – and give young offenders like Jay hope of a second chance in life with the possibility of parole.

Read more on the Children’s Defense Fund Site