At the age of 14 my son was sentenced to 30-years in prison without the possibility of parole.
My boy, Christopher, was convicted and sentenced under a set of laws passed by the Georgia Legislature in 1994. This package of misguided legislation popularly known as “the Seven Deadly Sins,” was an effort to lock up juveniles without any meaningful opportunity for rehabilitation and without any possibility of parole.
He is not, I’ll make clear, an innocent victim. We are responsible for our own actions. But the circumstances of his crime did not then and do not now warrant destroying his life with a 30-year sentence.
A group of older teens put him up to robbing a woman and stealing her car. During the ordeal, she was tied up, understandably terrified, but not injured. After my son and the others were arrested, the older ones put the blame on Christopher. With the help of their testimony, he was convicted as an adult and is currently serving the 30-year mandatory sentence without the possibility of parole.
He has already served 14 years to date, and has been incarcerated with men who have lighter sentences for more severe crimes. Even if he had received a life sentence for his actions, he would now be eligible for parole after serving 14 years.
For the last two years, I’ve been aggressively advocating — not only on Christopher’s personal behalf — but for all juveniles who find themselves in the middle of a very unbalanced and harshly brutal method of sentencing. It is indeed my most earnest hope that I can lend my voice to an effort to create equal justice in our judicial system.
Abraham Lincoln said, “He who sees cruelty and does nothing about it is himself cruel.” I feel this statement is so applicable to the current judicial system, which requires lengthy mandatory sentencing for juveniles as young as 14, with no opportunity for parole.
As I began this tumultuous journey on behalf of my son, I was saddened to discover that the public is largely ignorant of Georgia’s and the nation’s laws governing juveniles, and therefore truly unaware of these issues and injustices within the juvenile system. Many are in the dark as it relates to these appalling harsh realities that so many of our nation’s young people, all under the age of 18, are enduring as they are being tried as adults and serving disproportionately long sentences in violent adult prisons.
I am troubled as I dig deeper in my research and engage in dialog with other mothers, fighting their way through to make sense of such an unjust system. This fight has forced me to take a more aggressively active role in sharing this story and educating the masses about this horrendous, unjust judicial system.
While Christopher and others must accept the consequences of their actions, only an inhumane and unjust system would apply Georgia’s laws (SB 440 & SB 441) to children, removing them from the juvenile justice system and placing them in an overly populated adult prison system, where the chance of rehabilitation is almost non-existent.
After two years, Christopher was placed under a 24-hour suicide watch after slitting his wrist. Being incarcerated from a young age with deviates, murderers and hardened criminals can extract that kind of emotional toll on a young teen. He has, to say the least, been emotionally damaged.
Mixing men and children together in prisons creates the perfect school for debauchery. I was devastated to discover that he was physically and emotionally assaulted as a prison guard turned a blind eye during these disgusting incidents.
My son and other young inmates do not belong in an adult prison where other seasoned inmates prey on their weaknesses, innocence and vulnerabilities. We need to do away with draconian laws that oppress and humiliate our children. Instead, they need a system that will give them the help they so desperately need.
My son is currently enduring a living hell and this hell will last until he is forty-four years old.
During these 14 years of serving his sentence, Christopher continues to express his genuine remorse about his choices as a teenager and continually expresses repentance for his actions. However, he can do little else to make restitution while in prison.
Recently, Georgia’s new governor, Nathan Deal, has quietly indicated that he may be willing to reassess SB 440 and 441. It is still a long way from becoming reality, but reforming the 1990s-era laws could provide my son the opportunity to be heard in this life. As an advocate, it also provides me a chance to help change these horrific, unjust laws that so detrimentally effect all youth.
As Christopher’s mother, I want his story to be yelled from every rooftop. I want him and others like him to have an opportunity for restoration, rehabilitation and a safe reintegration into society.
I want them to be given a second chance to have a productive life.