In a recent article published in Mother Jones magazine, Jan-Feb 2016 by Corey G Johnson and Ken Armstrong, writers for The Marshall Project, there was a story that I could relate to. It is the story of a black man, Taurus Buchanan, who is serving a life without parole sentence for an offense he committed as a juvenile, at the age of 16. Here is the back story.
Taurus Buchanan killed Jacques Brown during a street fight, with on punch. His cousin Colin Know and Jacques had an elementary beef. Both were 5th graders who went to the same school. They had been exchanging words, as typical 5th graders do, and it went too far. One day the two happen to meet each other on the street, where they began fighting. Taurus was with his Colin, along with another cousin, Mario. Taurus stepped in and blindsided Jacques with one punch, the punch that would kill him. Jacques dropped to the ground. Taurus tried to wake him up, unsuccessfully. It was too late. The blow killed him.
The prosecutor in this case was a recently graduated law student, Tony Clayton. Who is also black. He wanted conservative jurors, people angry and fearful about crime, people he suspected would appreciate tough measures to stomp it out. He deliberately picked a jury of 10 whites and 2 blacks, ranging from ages 20 to 77.
Years later Clayton would see Taurus at a state sponsored boxing match and tell him that if he could do it over he would. That he would offer him a plea of 21 years, of which he would do 7. Instead he prosecuted him for second degree murder, which gave Taurus a life sentence. Clayton says, ” I should not have prosecuted Taurus for murder. I think I went to far. If the state of Louisiana let him out, I would fall on my knees and thank God.
Likewise Travis’ life sentence did not got well with other jury members, when they got older. One jury member wish he had a chance of parole. He quoted, “the person he was at 16 is not the person he could have become.” In Louisiana the oldest juvenile lifer is 69 years old. He as been in prison since the age of 17, 52 years.
The numbers, as of 2015, more than 2,230 people in the United States are serving juvenile life without parole sentences. According to data compiled by the Phillips Black Project, a non profit law practice that collects information of all 50 states. Their research show that with 376, Pennsylvania has the most amount of people serving juvenile life sentences. But Louisiana has a higher number of such inmates, per capita, than any other state. Of the 247 inmates, 199 are African American. In East Baton Rogue Parish where Taurus stood trial, about half of the Parish population is white, but of the 32 of the 33 juvenile life sentences being served are black.
There is a person interest in this story. Like Taurus I was a juvenile when I committed my offense of homicide. There are many similarities and differences between our cases. The most significant thing is that throughout the years we both have changed a lot, for the better.
What is interesting is that neuroscientists have been studying the adolescent brain for years have made certain findings. Findings that should be taken into consideration when dealing with juveniles. They have concluded that compared to adults the average teenager is more impulsive, volatile, and vulnerable to peer pressure and less aware of long term consequences. It has been concluded that the human brain does not fully develop until around the age of 24/25. The National Institute of Health Study proposes that the part of the brain, the ventral striatum, often referred to as the risk taking part of the brain or reward base region, deep inside the brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25. Thus offering an explanation to why teenagers are more likely to be involved in car crashes, resulting in death, compared to adults. Teenagers just don’t have the same thinking skills as adults.
The brain develops over time. Changes in the brain take place within the context of inborn traits, personal history, family, friends, community and culture. To sentence a juvenile to life, in prison, without parole is unfair considering the scientific data that exist to refute the claim that juveniles have the same thinking capacity as adults.
Where he and I differ is I have a parole-able life sentence. But, it might as well be life without as the parole board refuse to release me, for an act I committed at 17. Like Taurus I have done a lot in the 23 years I have been incarcerated. Whether it be from working with the outside community to help deter at risk youth from criminal behavior and acts. Teaching class in here such as victim impact, life coaching, or other cognitive based courses, they don’t recognize the changes I have made. Or have they? My question is what good is it to have a parole system if they refuse to use it, accordingly.
There has to be more to the process of granting parole for juvenile lifers. There are 2.3 million people incarcerated. Of that number 2,230 are juvenile lifers. There is hardly any talk about how to deal with this population of inmates. There needs to be greater oversight to these issues. These cases need to be reviewed by qualified personal, and not with the same standards used to review adult cases.
I have a case. One I am trying to raise money for. I have an attorney, willing to take my case, but she needs money. About $25,000 to be exact. Why so much money? She wants to hire a forensic Psychiatrist to review my case, from the past to the present, and make a report. Guess what the report will say? I am not the same 17 year old kid, and that at 40 years old, after 23 years in prison I am not the same person. That with all the family and community support I have, and with all of the achievements I have from years of institutional programming, that I can be released from prison, and not be a safety risk to the public. It takes that much money to prove the obvious. Well if that is what it takes I am willing to pay the price. One thing I have realized is freedom is priceless.
I need your help, and others, to get the ball rolling. We are putting together a site to do crowd funding. Any little bit helps. We will be discussing this more in our upcoming blogs. When that time comes I hope, and pray, that you will be supportive in helping us reach this goal. Thanks for your support.