By Xavier McElrath-Bey
June 25, 2014
I went to prison for gang-related murder when I was 13.
My public defender was able to convince the judge to sentence me to 25 years, which was less than prosecutors sought but still nearly twice as long as I had been alive. I served 13 years. While in prison, I grew up, earned a college degree, and committed to working for change on behalf of the victim in my case. In short, I transformed.
This week, we mark the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama. Thanks to that case, it is now unconstitutional to impose a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole on a child. The ruling guarantees that more children convicted of crimes will get a second chance in society, just as I did—but the potential for rehabilitation and change doesn’t end with release from prison. That’s why I am launching the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), a network of formerly incarcerated youths that demonstrates the capacity for change that resides in every child.