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Life in prison? I'm only 15

I was 11 years young the 1st time I got arrested. I was attempting to steal some bike accessories so I could "pimp my ride" and look cool in the neighborhood. At the time, which was 1986, my adolescent mind had no idea that there was a political war between Democrats and Republicans being waged in Washington D.C. This war was based on who could be harder on crime in America. By 1994, the Democrats and some racially crafted bills backed by Joe Biden, along with some segregationist senators, won that war at the expense of young Black and Brown teenagers across America. Some of these bills came with $10 billion and more in incentives to build new prisons if states increased their sentencing guidelines. This lead to things like the "3 strikes" law, as well as the imbalance of 100 to 1 in sentencing for crack compared to cocaine. Another side-effect of these crime bills was the phenomenon of charging juveniles as adults and sentencing them to life behind bars for mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes, made during early developmental years.

Before Nathaniel Abraham was charged as an adult at the age of 11 for a murder in Michigan in 1997, one of my closest friends was charged as an adult in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1991. The offense was actually self-defense. Our gang had got into an altercation with a few older street dudes from another side of town, and they came back trying to get revenge. At that young age we were already heavily involved in gang activity, and carrying guns was more than just a fashion statement, it was like an extra appendage. We felt like we had to have guns on us at all times before we reached high school. Of course, there was no way we actually understood what taking a life or facing life in prison really meant in the long-term sense of things, we were just acting out images that had been fed to us through music and the influence of our environments. Most of my Homies mothers were addicted to drugs, and almost none of us had fathers in the household. The few single mothers that didn't have drug problems were overwhelmed, overworked and never at home to guide us through the traps and temptations that we faced in the late 80's and early 90's, which turned out to be the most violent era in American history.

Ironically, or by design, poverty stricken neighborhoods all over the USA experienced an influx of drugs and guns during the mid 1980's. This overdose of negative influence came with catch phrases like "say no to drugs," while those using the phrase were allowing the CIA to pour narcotics on Black communities with impunity. The apologies for these atrocites are empty, the prison system in America is filled with old men who entered as young boys for crimes they committed as juveniles. A few years ago the Supreme Court ruled that life sentences for juveniles was unconstitutional, and the Michigan courts restricted excessive sentences for youth. But right now today, the headlines in our city seem to read as if local law enforcement is proud of charging a 13 and 14 year old as adults, and parts of our community have been calling for the eternal damnation of these young boys who heartbreakingly took another young 17 year old boys life. None of them had the chance to grow up and become men, none of them had the mental capacity to make the best decisions, but if they make the worst decisions then they must be held as accountable as adults who made the same mistake?

I do not intend to diminish the forever effect of taking a persons life, but as a man who was once a young teen that stayed in serious trouble, I am now a youth mentor, a land and business owner, a father, and a positive role model in my community. If I had been sentenced to life I would have never been able to make that transition from a boy to a man. Charging kids as adults leaves them no room and no time to actually grow into adulthood while learning from their childhood mistakes. And quite often, those childhoods are full of violence and unlimited access to drugs and guns. How can we continue to simply react with harsh punishment when the systems of society have allowed this access, the environments that these kids grow up in cultivate this violence, and the adults who have the responsibility of raising these babies have been failed by the same systems that hold their children accountable for every action, reaction and mistake they make. When will we see the system charge the importers and transporters of these illegal drugs and guns that show up in the hands of our youth so often? As you can see here in this news paper clipping from one of my gangs 1st shootings, even a 15 year old knows that they should not be facing life in prison at such a young age. In the words of my best friend DeShawn:


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