"The truth is always the best argument." —Sophocles
Who am I? I am but only one of thousands of people who was a child prosecuted as an adult — then sentenced to rot inside a living tomb until I die.
My name is Tony Farrell, and I am fighting for my life. Just a chance to even experience what “life” is or may be.
I could easily say that I was failed by the system. An underprivileged kid who fell through the cracks. But that would give the false impression my situation is an isolated case.
The truth is, our justice system is inherently flawed and broken when it comes to our children. Who wants to live in a society where children from broken homes are punished for being vulnerable? Falling victim to the negative influences preying on them; for being impressionable, immature and ill-equipped to discern between those who mean them well and those who mean them harm.
Tens of thousands of children are being left in the lurch every day, then expected to fend for themselves and comprehend the evils of this world that manipulates their minds.
When I visualize what society means to me, I see people coming together to protect and care for each other, especially the children. I see us honoring one another’s heritage and culture, in a common effort towards peace and prosperity. If this is a view that you share, then we must demand more to be done. People must understand that the three most basic desires are to be loved, accepted and respected. No matter class, race, gender or age.
It’s easy to think the worst of what we don’t understand. Like many children, I was born into this world with nothing, and treated like nothing my entire life. As a child, I just wanted to be loved and accepted. But I was at the mercy of some mentally ill people with no love, made to feel more like a burden than a bundle of joy. Until it was discovered that I made a good punching bag and torture toy.
I’ve heard people say an abusive childhood is no excuse. I say there is no excuse for punishing a child for becoming the product of that abuse.
I take responsibility for all of my childish decisions. But it’s only as the man I’ve become that I began to comprehend the full ramifications of those decisions. With only negative examples to follow, I chose the only path I saw, a negative one.
My teachers were thugs, thieves, drug dealers and gangsters. It was all too easy to learn the lies of this upside-down world. Where love became a weakness and violence equaled respect.
The distorted morals and values of an abusive home and the streets became a part of my thinking. And a constant struggle in my young mind, I wanted to be loved but learned to trust none and love none. I became emotionless. My acceptance came from the only people who would listen, street people. All of whom were damaged, broken and discarded — just like me.
People must know that turning a blind eye will not make this problem disappear. Throwing children into prison is not humane or a civilized solution. I cried out many times in many ways for love and the help that I needed as a child. In the only ways that a child in my situation understood. But like so many others, my cries were upon deaf ears or met with apathy. In a system designed more to hurt/punish, than to heal.
It’s taken many years, but that day of realization came to me. In discovering my own humanity, I have gained a respect for self, others and human life. I’ve also learned that everyone locked up is not a monster. I was lucky to have met genuine individuals who were and are influential in my positive development.
I’ve been fighting all my life. And I’m still fighting, except now I’m fighting to change. I have become a man of righteous courage, compassion and integrity.
I engage in a variety of personal challenges daily, learning to face myself, the ones I love and hurt, with a painful yet peaceful heart and a growing spirit. My life has definitely taken on more dimension mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
I work hard to be a light to others, to give hope and inspiration. And even though prison has made it hard for me to experience the love of a woman, I envision the day I’m able to meet someone special and have a family of my own.
To have no opinion on the subject of punishing children as adults is to condone the cruelty of allowing America’s children to languish and die in prison. So please — stand up and help put an end to this tragedy.
Allow us the chance to redeem ourselves as adults and show society that children can be and are worth being rehabilitated. And finally, if you have taken the time to read my words, I thank you for hearing my voice.
Tony Farrell, a juvenile serving a life sentence, is in Sterling Correctional Facility in Sterling, Colo.
This column appeared in The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. David Inocencio founded The Beat Within in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.