Eric Alexander

Eric joined the CFSY team in 2017 and currently serves as the Youth Justice Advocate. In his role, he speaks to groups throughout the country in support of our public education and advocacy efforts. He is also a founding member of ICAN (Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network) and works with formerly incarcerated youth to help engage them deeply and strategically in the movement for the fair sentencing and treatment of all children.

At 17 years of age, Eric was arrested and subsequently charged with especially aggravated robbery and first-degree murder. Aware that the court was seeking a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, he pled guilty in order to receive two 25 year sentences (with a chance for parole) to be served concurrently in the Tennessee Department of Corrections. He was later paroled in 2004.

After his release, he began to volunteer in Alternative Schools for students with behavioral issues. He joined AmeriCorps Community Health Corps and assisted in establishing full-service medical clinics inside of local high-schools that provided health care to poor and underserved students and families. Eric became an independent vendor for the public school system. He facilitated trainings for school staff and campus security that offered strategies in identifying gang members and providing intervention for them and their families. He partnered with the Juvenile Detention Center and local organizations to provide services for students with trauma-related issues. The goal of this coalition of providers was to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system. As a Program Director for the YMCA of Middle TN, Eric operated a 3-point program that addressed the socio-emotional development in students with behavioral and academic performance issues.

In his downtime, Eric enjoys spending time with family and cycling. He finds time for a ‘flea market flip’ every now and then.

Eddie Ellis

Eddie Ellis joined the CFSY team as the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN) Coordinator in early 2018. In this role, he works with ICAN members across the country, connecting them to each other and with local resources. He also works with other directly impacted communities, including the family members of juvenile lifers.

Eddie, a native Washingtonian, was arrested and charged with murder at the age of 16 — he was later found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 22 years in prison. He served 15 years and finished the rest of his time on parole.

Eddie came home in 2006 and since that time he has worked on a variety of issues, including reentry, solitary confinement, and on behalf of people with disabilities who are in the system and coming home. He has served on the board of directors of a national legal organization, and helped with client center training for lawyers, probation officers and social workers. He is an advocate for those in the system, a mentor, and a motivational speaker. His lived experience as a formerly incarcerated person provides invaluable insight and depth into his work that allows him to connect with and engage the community he serves.

Kimberly Simmons

At age 17, Kimberly Simmons was an expectant mother who was charged with first degree felony murder and was later sentenced to serve her the rest of her life in prison. Today, at 47, Kimberly is a free woman who is a member of ICAN, and is discovering what it is like to live as an adult in free society and preparing to be the kind of mother she wasn’t allowed to be the first time.

When Kim was a child, she experienced trauma and neglect in many forms. Her parents separated when she was young, and her mother was paralyzed in an incident of extreme domestic violence when Kim was just 9 years old. Kim was also sexually abused by relatives, and slowly but surely she became angry and disconnected, isolating herself both in school, at home, and from her peers. At 16, she dropped out, and learned too late that she could not earn her GED until she was 18. She found herself alone in a new city, Cleveland, met a man, and became pregnant.

After a dispute with the father of her child over someone else he was seeing, some of Kim’s friends retaliated by throwing a Molotov cocktail into the house of his other love interest. Tragically, an elderly woman in the house was killed. Although Kim was not the one to throw the device, she was charged with and convicted of first degree felony murder and arson and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Kim gave birth while incarcerated, and her mother took her child in to raise her.

Like so many young people who enter the system, Kim says being locked up was incredibly difficult, particularly at first. “I was sexually harassed in prison, and I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. I was really trying to do the right things in a negative environment without proper guidance,” she says. “They say prison is supposed to rehabilitate you but they don’t give you the tools to grow. They don’t tell you how. They say you need to get rid of your anger but they never take you through the steps on how to deal with it.”

Over time, however, Kim transformed from a disenchanted teenager into a mature and remorseful adult, and was able to find herself, even within the confines of a prison. She earned her GED, her associate’s degree in applied arts and sciences, and her bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. She excelled academically, grew spiritually, and dreamed of someday being free.

Today, Kimberly is one of two female juvenile lifers who have been released in Michigan in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana (10 more remain incarcerated). Simmons, a native of Detroit, came home on May 3, 2017, after serving 29 years. Now 47, she is living with her family and expecting her second child, a girl, due in the summer.

But being home is not without its challenges, like finding work and learning how to drive. Still, Kim is more than determined to succeed, particularly when it comes to having her new baby. “While I have a 29-year-old daughter, I have never been a full-time mom because I had my first child in prison,” she says. “It’s going to take a lot of prayer and patience. I’ll have to stay humble.”

But on most days, Kim’s new surroundings still feel wonderfully surreal to her. “I still have my days where I wake up and the first thing I do is look around, and think, ‘Ok, it’s really here. I’m really here,” she says. “It wasn’t a dream. I really am home.”

Marshan Allen

As a kid growing up in Southeast Chicago, Marshan Allen enjoyed fishing, hanging with friends, and even dabbling in music.

As a young person, Marshan witnessed the physical abuse of his mother, his father’s drug addiction, and eventually, started selling drugs alongside his brother. One day, a drug pickup turned robbery spiraled into Marshan stealing a car to aid in his brother’s vengeance. Although Marshan did not pull the trigger during the robbery, he was charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder and home invasion. This led to Marshan being sentenced to two counts of mandatory life without parole at the age of 15.

While in prison, Marshan became certified as a paralegal to fight his own case, served as a teacher’s aide for computer technology courses, earned an associate’s degree, and clerked in the law library, among many other activities. Today, after two years of freedom, Marshan says he is working diligently, “trying to change the laws, trying to change the way the system views juveniles, and ultimately how they treat them.” All of the obstacles he has faced thus far have shaped how he approaches sentencing reform and the paths he has taken to produce change.

He currently serves as Project Manager at Restore Justice Foundation, Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN) Regional Connector for Illinois, board member of The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY), and a mentor in his community. When asked about how he sees himself giving back in the future, Marshan said, “I want to be an example and show that we are not the monsters or predators that they claimed we were. That given the chance, we can integrate into society and be a positive change.” It is Marshan’s dream to obtain a bachelor’s degree and go on to become an attorney. In the meantime, he plans to continue teaching youth in his community about Illinois law of accountability.

Marshan’s hobbies include reading, learning, fishing, and he has just recently picked up DJing.

Sean Taylor

At only 17 years old, Sean made a terrible decision that would change his life forever. A former gang member who grew up in Colorado during the late eighties, he entered the prison system early, sentenced to spend the rest of his life there. Though others may have lost hope in similar circumstances, Sean was dedicated to bettering himself and others leading gang intervention work while incarcerated. After serving 22 years, his life sentence was commuted by Governor Ritter and he was released.

Sean took full advantage of his second chance for a fresh start and continued the self-improvement journey he started in prison to become the deputy director and certified fitness instructor of Second Chance Center. Currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in nonprofit management, Sean leads by genuine example, driven to help others succeed and avoid the pitfalls of criminal behavior. He also sits on several committees addressing gang issues in Denver and Aurora and has been featured in the documentary, “Lost for Life”.

Dolphy Jordan

Dolphy Jordan is living proof that all children have the capacity to change and grow.

At 16, Dolphy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He was released from prison in April 2010, after serving nearly 22 years. Since then, he has worked hard to build a productive life in the Seattle area.

During the more than 21 years he served in prison, Dolphy earned his GED.  After he was released, Dolphy earned an associate’s degree, graduating with honors. He has since been working on an undergraduate degree in social work while working fulltime for Therapeutic Health Services, a nonprofit organization that provides a wide array of services. Dolphy helps provide services to people who have been diverted to Drug Court, rather than to jail for low-level drug offenses. Dolphy connects Drug Court clients — many of them homeless people — to community resources, such as health and housing services, and assists them with employment and education. He also makes sure they have ID, health coverage, clothes — the essentials for building a successful life.

Dolphy’s early life was challenging. He was born in San Diego, and grew up in Seattle in an impoverished and abusive home environment. His father was addicted to drugs, and Dolphy’s mother relied on welfare to raise him and his sister.

By the time he was in the 9th grade, Dolphy had attended 15 or 16 different schools. He acted out, and was kicked out of some schools for truancy and bad behavior. At one point, his mom also kicked him out of the house. For a while, Dolphy bounced between the streets and various foster homes. He also started using drugs.

In 1989, Dolphy and two friends ran away to California together. One of the other teenagers hated his mother, who worked as a prostitute. One of the woman’s clients had abused Dolphy’s teenage friend, who had talked of wanting to kill his mom. Before they left Washington state, the three teenagers participated in her death, then went on the run. Dolphy was 16.

Dolphy quickly surrendered to authorities in California and took responsibility for his role in the crime. Authorities charged him as an adult, he pleaded guilty to killing the woman. A judge sentenced Dolphy to 27 years in prison. It wasn’t until about six years later — after he began to mature — that Dolphy understood how others had been harmed by his actions. One he realized that, Dolphy started working on becoming a better person.

Dolphy now advocates for changes in the laws regarding the ways we hold young people accountable. He also works with young people to encourage them to avoid the bad choices he made as a youngster.

Dolphy often shares his story with children, especially those dealing with truancy. He often goes to adult prisons in Washington state to talk about his journey. He said he understands he will have to deal with feelings of remorse his entire life.

“I’m not the same person I was at 16,” Dolphy said. “I will not be defined by my worst decision. I will be defined by the person I’ve become.”

Xavier McElrath-Bey

At 13 years old, Xavier McElrath-Bey was arrested for gang-related murder. Xavier was convicted and sentenced to 25 years, of which he served 13. While in prison he earned a college degree and dedicated his life to working for change on behalf of the victim in his case.

Xavier joined the CFSY in 2014 and is now our senior advisor and national advocate and is based in his native Chicago. In this role, he speaks to groups throughout the country in support of our public education and advocacy efforts. As a restorative justice practitioner, Xavier previously worked for a longitudinal study of the mental health needs, service utilization, and outcomes of formerly incarcerated youth at Northwestern University, where he conducted more than 800 clinical field interviews. He also worked in Chicago as the juvenile justice diversion program coordinator for Alternatives, Inc., as a Catholic Charities street intervention specialist with children in the Back of the Yards neighborhood where he grew up, and as a cease-fire outreach worker.

Outside of work, Xavier works with young people in Chicago to help them avoid involvement in the criminal justice system. He has worked to develop a network of formerly incarcerated youth and has been active in state coalitions working to eliminate extreme sentences for children.

Watch Xavier’s Ted Talk here.

Watch Xavier’s inspiring Chance for Change video here.

Read Xavier’s op-ed in The Huffington Post here.

Ralph Brazel, Jr.

At 17, Ralph Brazel was given three life-without-parole sentences. Mr. Brazel was found guilty of being part of a drug operation led by adults, including older members of his own family. Nationwide, youth who are sentenced to life without parole often acted alongside adults, who are frequently given less harsh sentences. “It didn’t hit me until maybe a year or so later. I was just sitting down watching TV one day and I thought, I have life in prison. It was beyond belief.” In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that it is unconstitutional to impose life without parole on a child for a non-homicide offense. Mr. Brazel became eligible for parole and was released in 2013, weeks before his 40th birthday. Since his release, Mr. Brazel has become an advocate for sentencing reform. He speaks frequently to educate youth and others about life without parole for children.