Goodbye to Devoted Warrior for Justice

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Grace Warren

Grace Warren

Grace Warren of Chicago was an advocate on behalf of incarcerated children, including her son, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole at age 17. She was on the steering committee of the National Family Network, a support and advocacy group for family of people sentenced as children to life without parole and other extreme sentences. She also had been active in several other justice reform organizations, including the Campaign for Youth Justice and Justice for Families.

Mostly, Grace was a mother who loved her child and wanted to see him and all other children given the opportunity to demonstrate that they are more than the worst thing they have ever done. Her impact is a reminder of the power of families to educate, inspire and lead efforts to reform unjust policies that impact them perhaps more profoundly than anyone else. She died on Dec. 27.

Dear Grace,

It’s hard to believe you were laid to rest today. Your passing came as a shock to many of us, not knowing you were even sick, let alone living your last days on this earth. I am filled to the brim with sadness that you’re no longer with us, and deeply grateful to have known you.

Jody Kent Lavy pic square

Jody Kent Lavy

You were a warrior for justice — a natural leader, organizer and advocate for reform of our broken justice systems. Your power came through your unwavering devotion to your son, Laron, who was taken from you at age 17, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. That was over 20 years ago, and not a day has gone by since then that you haven’t fought for his freedom.

I will never forget sitting next to you in Sen. Dick Durbin’s office on Capitol Hill as you courageously described the pain of seeing Laron sentenced to die in prison, of being told he was unworthy of a second chance. You shared what it was like to drive 5 ½ hours to the prison to see him on weekends, knowing there was always a chance they wouldn’t let you in if you hit traffic and arrived a few minutes late. You knew that if they did let you in, you might have to endure an invasive and humiliating search, but you were never deterred.

Nothing could get in the way of your steadfast commitment to your son. I remember you describing your fear for his well-being when he was housed in solitary confinement, and your tireless, and ultimately successful, advocacy to get the Supermax prison where he was housed shut down.

I will never forget you telling me about the guilt you felt when you laughed or experienced joy. Your child — your flesh and blood — was going to die in prison, so how could you spend time on anything but the fight for his freedom?

Grace, my heart breaks that you died before you were able to see Laron walk free. To add to the cruelty of this sentence and its impact on your family, Laron was refused the opportunity to attend your funeral because he is a “lifer.” So instead, he sat in a prison cell, separated from the loved ones who gathered together to honor, remember and bid farewell to the most important person in his life. The person who gave him life. The person who gave him hope and inspiration to keep on living after being told as a child he would die in prison.

You maintained hope until the end, so now that hope must live on in all of us. You better believe we won’t give up the fight for Laron’s freedom.

Grace, I thank you for making me a stronger, better advocate for justice. But I am most grateful for the model you set for me, and all who knew you, of how to serve as an unconditionally loving, devoted mother.

Rest in peace, my dear friend.

Jody Kent Lavy is executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, the country’s only national organization working to replace life without parole and other extreme sentences for youth with age-appropriate, trauma-informed accountability measures.

5 thoughts on “Goodbye to Devoted Warrior for Justice

  1. I called Grace to wish her a Happy New Year and she has never called me back as she always did because she was hope and encouragement to me. Today I decided to look her up on Google and Facebook in case she changed her number and I AM SO SORRY , PLEASE lORD REST HER SOUL IN PEACE. I met Grace through an email that I wrote about wrongful incarceration and she has been in my life ever since whenever I am hopeless and helpless and live in fear and do not know where to turn to. She was always there with Bible verses that console a broken heart and uplift the weak and weary. I can not believe that I did not even know that Grace was sick and would die without getting her son out. I am left without a word to say, heart broken because it hurts me most just to imagine what pain her son went through the day he learned his only hope had left this world. This hurts me more to believe that Grace is gone and this boy will not see her again. I am terribly sad. I would be very grateful to be in touch with her daughter or any of her relatives just to tell them I am sorry. ” Ooh Lord give her family especially her son, strength and peace” I did not meet Grace but I knew her voice, so well, I knew of her great love and comfort . I do not know what to say but I wish God could Have done it differently. Rest In Peace Grace. May God Have Mercy on your son, may there be a miracle from God in his life. I know God is Able. Lord Have Mercy.

  2. I represented Laron on a Petition for Adjudication of Wardship many years ago. It was my good fortune to have met his mother Grace. I never encountered a kinder, more thoughtful and concerned parent. Her compassion did not end with concern for Laron. She made a profound impression on me. As a result, in the 20+ years that I have practiced law since meeting Grace, I have never failed to ask a client about their mother or talk with the mothers of my clients to see how they are doing. My regret is that I could never help her when she reached out to me a few years after Laron received his life sentence. An advocate and mother like Grace deserved more from the criminal justice system and so does Laron.

  3. OMG, this woman and legacy touched my heart. I am sadden to hear of the loss of a selfless person like she was. But I am happy to hear that heaven gain an angel. I pray that her son gets out of jail, and do not die in the correctional system. This story impowers me to do more advocacy work in this broken and unfair judicial system. Thank you for sharing Grace story.

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