My name is Linda White. My 26-year-old daughter, Cathy Lyn O’Daniel, was killed by two teenagers in 1986 after she stopped to help them with car trouble.
Until my daughter’s death, I knew little about criminal or juvenile justice matters. And as I awaited the trials of the two teens, all I knew about them was that they were certified to stand trial as adults and had long criminal records. I considered them non-persons.
Eleven years ago, I asked to meet with one of the youth, Gary Brown, in a mediated dialogue. When I met him, I discovered a young man whose life had been one of abuse and neglect, a world apart from that of my childhood and that of my children. Though he offered no excuses for his actions, what he told me helped me to understand how he could have done such a tragic deed. His total remorse was an incredibly healing encounter for me.
Gary was released from prison in 2010 after serving 23 years of a 54-year sentence. He is a remarkably different person than he was as a teenager. He is proof that young people, even those who have done horrible things, can be transformed.
When my daughter was killed, I would have supported a sentence of life without parole for the juveniles who killed her. Today, I am proud to be part of the work that the Campaign has done to successfully scale back extreme sentencing for youth. And I am committed to partnering in the work ahead, as there is more to do to abolish death-in-prison sentences for all children and implement alternatives that hold children accountable in ways that reflect their age and capacity for change.