The U.S. is the ONLY country in the world that sentences children to die in prison
Michigan has the second highest number of juvenile lifers per capita among states in U.S.
Michigan one of only 4 states to oppose retroactivity of Miller until 2016
By Cortez Davis-El
Staff Writer, Voice of Detroit
September 26, 2016
When the U.S. Supreme Court made its 2012 decision banning mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders (Miller v. Alabama), more than 300 Michigan prisoners began to feel as if they were getting a second chance to right their wrongs. Four years later, they are still clinging to the hope of being free to repair that which they have broken, the trust of society.
Throughout the country, prosecutors were fighting tooth and nail trying to prevent the highest court in the land’s decision from applying to those whose cases were already finalized. When that fight proved to be unsuccessful, they began to regurgitate the false political talking points from the mid-1980’s. They tried to re-ignite the fears of those that were victims of crime- infested communities, induced when the alarm was falsely sounded about an infestation of juvenile “super-predators,” leading to the harsh treatment of children.
Now that it has been shown that there were no super-predator children, the citizens demand to repeal the way children are treated and punished, starting with those that have been locked away for decades. The citizens, families of victims, and former state officials are on record saying they want to see this change occur. They want the men and women that fell short as children to show their redemption as adults. Society is ready and willing to give these people a second chance, so why hasn’t it been given? Those who were elected by the people have chosen not to hear the people.
They are still full of fear. Their fear comes in two stages. The first stage of fear is caused by uncertainty. They look at recidivism statistics for those that go to prison with 15 years and less and equate that to those who were told they would die in prison. While some sentenced to 15 years or less may leave prison the same way they arrived, the recidivism rate for those who have spent decades in prison, particularly for assaultive crimes, is very low.
For those prosecutors that have a real concern about the rehabilitation of a juvenile lifer that has been locked away twenty plus years, we commend you for protecting society. We watch the news and we are horrified at what we see. We don’t want just anybody living next to the people that we love and all we ask is that you look at who we are today and not what we were twenty years ago.
Understand that the changes we’ve made didn’t start once the U.S. Supreme Court made the 2012 decision (Miller v. Alabama) nor once they made the 2016 decision (Montgomery v. Louisiana). We saw the need for change long before the possiblity of freedom existed for us. We want to contribute to society’s growth, not its destruction. We don’t want just anyone living next to our loved ones and we know society feels the same way about all that they love and vowed to protect. We no longer threaten the community. So instead of fearing our release, help us become successful upon release by advocating for the tools that are needed.
To the citizens of Michigan, we understand that we violated your trust. We understand that there is still pain and sorrow in your families and communities due to our actions. On behalf of myself and all the juvenile offenders that I have walked and talked with over the past twenty-two years, I am truly sorry for all of the pain and unrest that our actions caused. We truly ask for your forgiveness and blessings. We ask that you release your fears and welcome us back into your communities and allow us to help repair what we tore down and truly give.
There are many juvenile lifers that have already started trying to contribute to society while still incarcerated. A few of them are housed at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, where Cortez Davis EL, Jose Burgos, Keith Maxey of Wayne County and Dontez Tillman of Oakland County are members of the G.O.A.L.S. Program, where we share our stories with at risk youth that are brought in by various agencies.
We are no longer mindless juveniles. The same people that are let out of prison and are successful are the same people that we grew up learning from, who give us a chance to succeed. Currently, Cortez Davis volunteers as a mentor with the G.O.A.L.S. Program at the Thumb Correctional Facility, and speaks to at risk youths brought into the facility by various agencies from various counties. With all that has been said about Mr. Davis, is there any penological justification for not releasing him and accepting him back into society? Would you give him a chance?
What does rehabilitation look like? Does it resemble Jose Burgos, a juvenile lifer whose time in prison expands over two and a half decades? Like Cortez, Mr. Burgos has also undergone rehabilitative transformation and no longer has a child-like mentality. Jose Burgos has obtained his GED and is educated in various fields that would be a benefit to the community that he calls home.
Mr. Burgos is also a mentor with the G.O.A.L.S. Program at the Thumb Correctional Facility, deterring other juveniles from becoming him by making the same choices that he made at their age. Jose Burgos is also a healer in his own right. He works as a prisoner observation aid (POA) talking to and preventing mentally disturbed prisoners from committing suicide that are placed on suicide watch. Is Jose Burgos someone that you would oppose giving a second chance to? Does rehabilitation look like Jose Burgos?
What about Paul Young, Terrance Thomas, Jeremy Longerbeam, and Ryan Kendrick? All juvenile lifers housed at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer.
These four individuals have been incarcerated for decades and continue to prove their readiness to rejoin society. These men have all obtained their GED’s and strive for other academic opportunities that do not come easy for lifers of any age. They collectively sought out ways to give back to society, and gain knowledge that will guide us to live successfully. Michigan does not treat lifers and non- lifers alike when it comes to education. Lifers have to create avenues to take classes and participate in educational programs. We have to strive hard for every inch that is obtained.
“Our day-to-day role at Stiggy’s Dogs is often that of teacher. We teach our inmate handlers how to train our dogs, our dogs how to assist our handlers, and our veterans how to work with their new partner. However, every day spent instructing others has handed us our own lessons in return. If there’s anything that we’ve learned from our STaR Cadet program at Thumb Correctional Facility, it’s how incredible things can happen when a dedicated group of people work together for a common cause.”–Stiggy’s Dogs (Video above is from Muskegon Correctional Facility–previous video from the Thumb CF has been deleted.)
One chance came when they successfully persuaded the prison administration to allow Stiggy’s Dogs, a non-profit dog rescue organization, to establish a behavior training and rehabilitation site at the Thumb Correctional Facility. This organization, with the help of these individuals, transforms battered, abandoned, and abused dogs into service dogs and pets for veterans living with PTSD and other traumatic brain injuries and elders that need companionship.
Are the men in this article a reflection of what rehabilitation looks like? Do you still fear these men and others like them, or are you simply still mad at them? If you believe in the rehabilitation system and that people are sent to prison for rehabilitation, when will you accept that the system works?
VOD: Cortez Davis-EL is now 33, and was sentenced to juvenile life without parole in 1994, only after a Michigan Appeals Court overturned the original sentence of 10-14 years handed out by Judge Vera Massey-Jones. He has now served 22 years.
After the Miller decision, Judge Massey-Jones set a date to re-sentence him according to the Miller rules, but Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy appealed her action. Mr. Davis-El has now served far longer than the time intended by his original judge, who called JLWOP “unconstitutional” long before the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on JLWOP. Judge Massey-Jones, who is now retired after a long, illustrious career, said in 2012:
“I stayed here because I wanted to see justice done to my people. I followed my father around Recorder’s Court when I was a little kid . . . .I had a great deal of respect for him and for the other people who happened to be African-American lawyers, and really fought for people’s rights. And so, to me, doing the right thing was more important than anything else. And doing the right thing back then was not to sentence Mr. Davis to natural life in prison.”
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