Fair Sentencing for Youth



Family & Friends

Parents, brothers, sisters, friends:  many people are affected when a youth is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If you have a loved one who was sentenced to life in prison for a crime that occurred when he or she was under the age of 18, please consider joining the family and friends group, CARES 4 Youth.

A Family Member’s Point of View: My Brother is Serving Life in Prison

By Brenda. My little brother was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime that happened when he was 16 years old. He’s now 23 years old and is at Pelican Bay State Prison. This year I started volunteering at Human Rights Watch (HRW) to help change the law, and I have had contact with many of you over the phone. I share with you feelings of loss, fear, and a sense of helplessness. There is so much pain in this situation, and I know that many of you, like me, also think about the suffering of crime victims and their families.

Having a family member serving this sentence has made me uncomfortable with other people because just like them, I used to think that someone serving this type of sentence had to be a vicious criminal. Now I know that this can happen to anybody. Other times I just feel angry about how unjust it is. My brother is not a bad person, he is a loving son, brother, and uncle who in his immaturity made a mistake. And he is trying to do the best he can, and I am very proud of him. For example, he studies on his own and has taken correspondence classes. He is a thoughtful person who always asks how everyone is doing and does not ask for anything because he doesn’t want to feel that he is a burden to our family. The hardest thing for all of us is being so far away from him. And it’s hard for us as a family to not have many people to talk about this with. I know that many of you share similar feelings of concern, pride, and love for your son, daughter, sister, brother, spouse, or friend.

Maybe you had the same reaction I had when contacted by HRW: it gave me hope to know that someone took notice of this injustice and was already working to change the law. It also gives me hope to know that there are other families out there like mine. HRW realized after speaking with many of us that we want to take a more active role in the process of bringing change. We have started a group for families and friends of people serving juvenile life without parole, and are creating a safe place to share our stories and struggles, and give each other and our loved ones encouragement and support. We can learn from one another, educate ourselves and most importantly, we can work together to find ways to help bring change. I’m excited about this idea of having a family and friends group, and I know many of those of you whom I spoke with are too. The success of a group like this will require team effort, and the collaboration and the talents of each one of us.

Family Member’s Point of View: The Man My Son Has Become

By Vanessa. My son was arrested when he was 17 years old and was ultimately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

I, like everyone who has experienced this, have feelings of loss and sorrow, anger and confusion, and pride. Yes, pride.  Pride in the man my son has grown to become.  He was taken from me as a boy, and forced to grow up in an environment that doesn’t encourage kindness, compassion, or friendship.  Despite that, he has become a man of honor and integrity, who keeps his word and deals honestly with people.  He has compassion for those around him and offers help when and where he can.  He shares with those who don’t have enough, and listens when that is all he can offer.  He continues to build friendships with like-minded and honorable men, and avoids those who have shown themselves to be otherwise.

The media bias has the public only hearing about the worst and most heinous individuals that are in prison. But we know, as families and friends of men and women who are incarcerated, that there are more like us – honest, hard-working, kind, and compassionate – than there are monsters.  It is important for law-makers and the public to see our children for who they are: people with potential that deserve a chance to have a life outside of prison.

We can work to give them that opportunity, and I would ask that you do what you can…for all of our children.