Amid the recent attention surrounding the Youth Rehabilitation Act, success stories such as mine have been overlooked.
When I was 16, I was arrested for first-degree murder. The author of the pre-sentencing report, which included information about my background and a recommendation for sentencing, suggested I be punished to the fullest extent of the law, believing that I was irreparable, that I could not change.
The recommendation was for me to spend the remainder of my life in prison, with no hope for a second chance. I was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 22 years in prison — longer than I had been alive. But at least it left me with the possibility of a second chance. I took advantage of it. In the decade since my release, I have focused my life on serving my community, trying to make amends for my crime and offering mentorship and guidance to others who share my experiences.
Upon sentencing, I entered the Youth Center at the Lorton Reformatory. At Lorton, I was overwhelmed by emotions, and my depression quickly turned into anger. As a result, I acted out. I got into a fight with two others in my unit and was moved to a medium-security institution in Lorton. Despite getting into trouble early on during my time in Lorton, I did much better after being moved as I was growing older and beginning to mature.
After my time in Lorton, I was moved around from prison to prison, state to state, with stays in southeast Virginia and Youngstown, Ohio. Finally, in 2000, I was moved to one of the most secure facilities in Colorado. I carried out the remainder of my sentence 1,600 miles from my friends and family. Despite being warehoused in one prison after another, I knew I wanted to be a better person and make a better life for myself.
Despite the failure of the prison system to provide meaningful rehabilitation for people my age, I began to educate myself, learned to distance myself from the negative influences around me and began to take responsibility for my actions. Through all of my personal growth and maturation, I knew that I had become a different person from the one I was when I entered the prison system.
By the time I was released in 2006, I had served 15 years — nearly half my life. In 2009, I founded One by 1 , a nonprofit organization dedicated to youth mentorship and successful reentry for formerly incarcerated members of the community.
In addition to serving as chief executive of One by 1, I have earned certification in faith-based mentorship, offender employment services, peer mentoring and community-building.
When I was a teenager, my life was nearly thrown away. Some people thought I would never change and deserved nothing more than to die in prison. In reality, all children grow and change, and researchers document that most youths age out of criminal behavior by the time they reach their late 20s. I certainly did.
In 2010, I completed the terms of my parole, and the next year the District sealed my case (part of the Youth Rehabilitation Act). Despite this, I continue to live with the weight of the actions taken by 16-year-old me. I can never undo what I did. The best honor I can pay to the victim in my case and his loved ones is to prove every day that I am worthy of the second chance I received.
I am not the exception. I am an illustration that we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done. If the D.C. Council revisits the Youth Rehabilitation Act, it would do well to address the lack of rehabilitation that exists for young people in the prison system and be mindful of people like me who were able to succeed in life because of the second chances we received.