A recent article posted on CNN stated that there are over 70 13-14 year olds who have been imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole. Most of these incarcerations are for murder, and some are for kidnapping and sexual assault. Those who advocate for this type of sentencing have stated that those who commit these crimes can never be reformed, regardless of age. The truth of the matter is that as long as American society continues to place more emphasis on punishment versus reform, the supporters of teen life without parole might have a case, however, the way the laws currently stand, imprisoning teens for life is the ultimate form of American hypocrisy.
The Judeo-Christian principles that this country was founded on stress the importance of forgiveness. Furthermore, every religion I know that is practiced in America stresses not only the importance of forgiveness, but the power of it. I am not pointing this out to say that any teen who commits a crime should automatically be forgiven and sent on her way. What I simply mean is that when giving a child life without parole, we should really look at his background in order to determine why his actions occurred and then see if there is any way to improve the child’s environment. As the saying goes “What kids see is what they’ll be.”
Case in point. CNN’s featured case was that of Quantel Lotts. At 14, Lotts killed his brother-in-law (stabbed him to death) after horseplay went awry. Lotts was raised in a crack house with a crack-addicted and drug-selling mother. He was also sexually abused and when he was taken by the State at aged 8, he wreaked of urine, had horrible teeth, and had scars all over his body. He committed the crime while both his parents went away for a week to do cocaine. Do you think you might have some anger management issues if you were raised in that environment? Why not see that his psychological needs are met rather than determining that he is a throwaway.
Can you briefly think back to your past? Maybe you did not commit murder, kidnapping, or sexual assault (or maybe you did), but you had someone who believed in you. Maybe some of you reading this were incarcerated for your crime or got away with a lesser crime with a slap on the wrist. Maybe you’re just that person who never got caught. Are you the same person you were back when you made your mistake? Would you like to be judged now for what you did then? Why do we not give our youth the same chance? What makes us so divine that we can map out the course of someone else’s life after only 13 misguided years on the planet?
Lastly, I find it shameful that people such as the Son of Sam and Charles Manson still get parole hearings. They committed these crimes as adults. The Son of Sam actually has the luxury of denying his parole hearings because he feels he is undeserving of parole. The minds of teenagers, especially, early teens, are not fully developed in any way, shape, or form and they depend on their parents or others for guidance. Short of that support, our children will go astray. We as a community should take responsibility for bringing them back into the fold as opposed to trying to score political points with the lives of our future on the line. By the way, that killer-for-life Lotts is now an avid reader of Dean Koontz and wants to be a lawyer. Now he has been robbed of helping other children not go down the same path. Let’s get it together people.