Juvie Lifers

Stories from adults with lifetime sentences as juveniles.

I’m from rural Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Yes, we actually call it Pennsatucky. I was 12 when I first went into detention. I ran away and stole a car. At 13 I was doing powder, acid, alcohol. At 14-15 I was put in a foster home. They worked me there. By the time I was 15 I was living with my baby’s dad and my Mother and Father had moved to Florida. My boyfriend was 18. I was 15. I could live with my boyfriend because I would get SSI checks through my Dad. My Baby’s Dad was hard on crack. They tried to give me the death penalty because my baby’s daddy tried to testify against me so I took 35 years. 31 is a possible early date; 36 is my late date. My daughter saw me in shackles and hated it. She hates me.
— KIMBERLY WILLIAMS. AGE 35
 
 
 
I might stand a chance. I was 16 when I got me 44 to life. Kids and adults are all in the same system, just different shackles. When I was 16 I wasn’t making any reasonable choices. I was running on the streets at age nine. My father was in Federal prison. I didn’t understand the concept of family. It was always poverty. But I somehow felt loved. But I knew I was a burden and they couldn’t afford me. My big idea was to get on probation so I could have some food and clothing and housing. I drove myself to Juvenile Hall and asked to be locked up. The lady there laughed at me. “I can’t lock you up because you didn’t commit a crime.” So two weeks later I was involved in a car-jacking—20 years+ later… I haven’t been in trouble while in here…but I am still here.
— LUIS GUERRERO. Age 37
 
My Mother was a violent alcoholic. She used me as a punching bag. I ran away and was hanging out.I would just walk around. I was semi-homeless. All of the people here are from broken families. I returned to the same environment. I ran away again. My Mother was not giving me love. She drank herself to death. I was 15 years old when I got Life- mandatory 25 with no possibility of parole. I might get relief from the Life/25 with Atwell. ATWELL would take me out of the parole system which is fruitless and into the court with a definite date. I’ve been incarcerated since I was 16. Parole is a MAJOR battle. I am not going to make the same choices again. Now they are just warehousing people. You have to be 3-5 years from release to get programming and there is none there to get. There is NO form of rehabilitation—No education—No vocation… there’s nothing. The parole board wants us to do programming but there is nothing available. This place is medieval. There are no flat screens there is an old school TV that gets 2 or 3 channels. No computers-old books. Nothing here to really help anyone. They have a PREA tip line but you have to give your Corrections number and they retaliate against you. Women also use PREA as a weapon against guards or other inmates.
— CHANTAY CLARK. Age 39
 

 

I have been here at this parole board 16 times previously in my forty years of incarceration. Sixteen times I was denied parole. Today I’m hopeful. Now I fall under twin categories for special consideration—being both a youth at the time my offense was committed and now a senior, over sixty after forty years in prison. I was raised by my Mother and Grandmother. My father was rarely involved in my upbringing or the five siblings that lived in the house. I was never successful in school. I was from a poor part of Richmond in the East Bay. Part of my upbringing was homelessness and a ward of the state. I have never known a successful family, never had a job nor earned a paycheck. I only knew the streets and a series of juvenile halls, camps and group homes. I grew up in custody and learned how to survive. My skill set is that of survival. I am a different person than the one that entered the system in 1975.


Five minutes into the readings by the parole comissioner states “we have found positive and negative of the case but you are still a clear, present and continuing danger to the general public.

Refused for the 16th time, he is told to come back and reapply in three more years when he will be close to 64. Godfrey rocks as he sits in his holding cell, staring off into space. Knowing he is going back to his 36 sq. foot cell that he shares for another three years.
— VINCENT GODFREY. Age 64