Xavier McElrath-Bey was arrested for a gang-related murder when he was 13. After he was convicted, he was sentenced to serve 25 years in prison, nearly twice as long he had been alive. While in prison, Xavier earned a college degree and developed remorse for his role in the crime. He also committed his life to working for change on behalf of the victim in the case.
Xavier was released in 2002 after 13 years.
Soon after his release, Xavier earned a Master of Arts in Roosevelt University’s Counseling and Human Services program. For 12 years, he worked in various positions that were designed to help keep children out of the criminal justice system, including as an outreach worker and intervention specialist and as a clinical research interviewer for Northwestern University’s Juvenile Project, where he assessed the mental health needs and outcomes of formerly incarcerated youth.
Xavier now serves as the Youth Justice Advocate with the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. In his role he speaks to groups throughout the country in support of our public education and advocacy efforts.
Xavier also works with other people who were incarcerated as youth to help them engage more deeply and strategically in the movement for the fair sentencing and treatment of all children. Through the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network, or ICAN, which Xavier launched in 2014, dozens of people who were incarcerated as children have come together through social media and other channels to share support and information about their own advocacy efforts.
“I am a firm believer that no child is born bad, and all children—including those who have made horrible mistakes—deserve another chance for positive change,” he said.
When not working, Xavier spends as much time as possible exploring his hometown of Chicago with his young daughter, and spending time with family and friends. He fills the rest of his free time watching documentaries and finding vintage paintings, household decorations and other treasures in local thrift stores.