Greetings to members of CADBI, Amistad Law Project, The Redemption Project, the Philadelphia community at large, and all my Friends: I am so grateful for the love and support you all continue to show me. And I am honored and humbled to share this crucial cause with you all.
The sentencing of children to death by incarceration joins the unbearable excesses on our world. From unjust wars, to civil strife, to genocides; to environmental degradation of every kind, to ecological collapse and climate change, to the daily extinction of countless species; to the HIV/AIDS pandemic; to racism, to gender oppression, to misogyny, to homophobia, to Islamophobia, to xenophobia; to the refugee crisis; to human trafficking, sex slavery, and child pornography; to terrorism; to police brutality; to street and structural violence; to mass incarceration/industrial human warehousing; to Gitmo, Homan Square, and "Black Sites" all over the world; to longterm solitary confinement, state-sanctioned torture, and all forms of human rights abuse; to the condemnation of misunderstood child offenders to death by incarceration; humankind has laid itself and Mother Earth under such heavy burdens that we can hear the grumblings Victor Hugo wrote about back in 1862 — *** "Reeking blood, overcrowded cemeteries, weeping mothers — these are formidable plaintiffs. When the earth is suffering from a surcharge, there are mysterious moanings from the deep that the heavens hear" —from Les Miseràbles ***
Although Hugo wrote that statement within the context of the French Revolution, in reference to the battle of Waterloo, if we were to simply insert "overcrowded prisons" between "overcrowded cemeteries" and "weeping mothers," the statement would then describe perfectly the social reality millions of us live in right here and now in America. And although of all the human excesses listed above, children being condemned to die in prison might make up the smallest number, it is grave enough to be on that list. For, in the words of Nelson Mandela, "There is no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way it treats its children." Thus, the fight for just mercy for child offenders may very well be a fight for the soul of our society.
The "heavens," the hearts & minds of our communities, are hearing the "moanings" of condemned children, moaning for relief from the surcharge of JLWOP/JDBI. Forces of dissatisfaction and goodwill have been responding, coming forward from every sector of American society, from every profession, to join the movement for just mercy for condemned children in America. Civil and human rights organizations and activists, lawyers, federal judges, elected officials, scientists, sociologists, criminologists, journalists, and concerned citizens, have all been in the thick of this movement.
The movement to abolish DBI for children, and for everyone, is proving to be more than a legal battle; more than a matter of highlighting or erasing the line between the sentences of Death By Injection and Death By Incarceration on the pages of law and politics. It is opening the gateway to a potentially epic ideological struggle. A struggle between philosophies, ideas, and models of justice, i.e., between reactionary-punitive justice and restorative/transformative justice; between hanging and healing.
And in this struggle it is essential to stand firm on the knowledge that children as well as adults can grow and change into positive, productive, and even beautiful human beings, as society has been bearing witness to since the release of child lifers from prison has begun. Children should be judged as children and given the proper human care, treatment, and support, to help them grow into their rightful and responsible places in the human family. I am utterly ashamed of the role I personally played in death, loss, and pain.
I cannot speak for everyone condemned to death by incarceration, whether adult or child offenders like me. But, there are many who feel the same way I do. And it is for them I feel at liberty to speak. So, to members of our communities outside: many of you were hurt by many of us. You have lost loved ones to the violent acts of children who were condemned to DBI and are now referred to as "juvenile lifers." And yet many of us are your own sons, grandsons, brothers, nephews, cousins, uncles, fathers, and even grandfathers, lost since we were young, in the American dream (or nightmare) of justice. As incarcerated members of our communities, no words exist that could communicate to you the full depth of our regret over the loss and pain we have caused the families of victims, our own families, our communities, our own selves. Sadly, the hurt and harm we have done, we cannot undo. Although we know it is impossible, we still never stop longing for a way to reverse it all and set things anew. But what are we to do now? Where do we go from here? Will every new juvenile homicide be a reindictment and resentencing of condemned children to LWOP, a reinforcement of LWOP for children who offend? Will we continue to allow our young people to be swept up by the currents of “Elenini”* (natural and man-made forces obstructing human, social, mental, and spiritual evolution) and sucked down the drains of “overcrowded cemeteries” and “overcrowded prisons”? Will we continue believing the managers and representatives of the colonialist justice system, that the cure for whatever is driving violent and even homicidal behavior in some our children is to condemn them to die in prison? The politicians/policy makers, district attorneys, judges, prisoncrats, and media execs, are not the ones caught up in the vicious cycle of youth violence, homicide, loss, pain, and suffering. They are the ones who have made lucrative careers off everyone's suffering and misery. They have been enjoying gainful livelihoods off the national epidemics of violence and crime, while having yet to provide a working solution. We, families [of victims and of condemned children], and communities [plagued by child violence and child DBI], and child lifers, must pull together and exercise our collective will & wisdom over the crises of child violence and child DBI.
The answer to the question "When will the healing and restoration begin for us; all of us?" is plain. Only when all of us, our whole community — families and friends of victims, families and friends of the condemned, those who are or we're themselves condemned, and survivors of violence — take responsibility for solving our community's problems TOGETHER will the healing begin.
Then we must begin to imagine better together. Imagine a healing justice system in place of the hanging justice system our society now has. Next comes Imaginative Action, to actually pierce our vision through the hopelessness of a hanging justice system, and push for the possibilities and promise of redemption, reconciliation, and community healing, even though the hanging justice system says those things are not possible.
Our Community Resentencing Hearing is beautiful imaginative action we are taking together. It is the necessary exploration of what CAN exist, as opposed to forever suffering what DOES exist. It is Our gift to ourselves as families, communities, and individuals, long plagued by street, domestic, and other forms of individual violence made worse by the structural violence of the hanging justice and its sentencing of human beings to DBI. We are giving ourselves a glimpse of new possibilities in the area of justice, which has been controlled and shaped by forces and philosophies of colonialist justice for way too long now. Forces and philosophies that have simply traded in their gallows, guillotines, pillories, stockades, whips, nooses, and firing squads, for electric chairs, lethal injections, black sites, waterboarding, solitary confinement and other forms of tormenting and destroying the human spirit, and death by incarceration.
Our Community Resentencing Hearing is a gift to us from our global indigenous ancestors who knew that the drawbacks of human nature would often have us in need for reconciliation, faith in the human capacity for transformation and redemption, community healing. So, they have left us with beautiful models of effective healing justice. We draw ideas from these models to build our own distinct Community Resentencing Hearing to suit the needs of the Philadelphia communities today in the era of mass incarceration and DBI sentencing.
Our Community Resentencing Hearing is Our gift to our young people and to the generations coming behind us. It is our responsibility to leave them with ideas and systems for resolving conflicts that will undoubtedly arise between them; for healing after loss, pain, and all forms of trauma that they will unfortunately, but certainly, incur upon one another; for transforming the conditions that generate their problems; and for restoring balance, harmony, and collective wellbeing in their families and communities. It is Our responsibility to the ones coming up, and the ones who have yet to come, of all shades and hues, types and stripes, to leave them with systems that will help keep them solidly together in environments and amid forces that are hellbent on tearing them apart and turning them against one another.
Perhaps our Community Resentencing Hearing can be the seed that will sprout into tomorrow's healing justice system. In that sense, it is also our gift to the managers and minds of the colonialist/hanging justice system; to, hopefully, inspire them to imagine better; better than simply more police, harsher sentences, and more prisons. Imagine better than mass incarceration and DBI for human beingsof any age.
It is vital that we all remain fully alive and open to this very special time we're in. The seeds of change, which were sown by generations of social justice advocates before us, and which we have been cultivating, are beginning to sprout. And the time draws near to harvest. We have pushed Pennsylvania's Supreme Court to finally tie the prosecutors hands, making it next to impossible for them to seek DBI sentences for children. A glimpse of healing justice at our Community Resentencing Hearing can inspire us to muster the courage to blaze the trail to hope, healing, and transformation in our communities.
* Elenini is a Yoruba word for a self invoked and self generated negative spirit. “Self created demons are the hardest to destroy because they have no existence in the first place. As a diviner when you encounter elenini, you know that you can't kill it, all you can do is educate it, try and convince the elenini that it is not real."