Matt was only 15 years old when the Judge’s gavel slammed down with a sentence of 30 to 60 years. Matt was tried as an adult for the shooting of a store clerk in rural Pennsylvania, a state which is especially brutal when it comes to sentencing of juveniles tried as adults for violent crimes.
Matt had never planned to use the gun given to him by his friend and accomplice when they robbed the General Store. At the time, Matt was full of fear, adrenaline, teen hormones, and serious lack of teen judgment when he pulled the trigger several times hitting the store clerk. At that point, Matt did not see the consequences of his actions and he had that teen feeling of “invincibility”. Matt stood in disbelief with the instant feeling of horror as the clerk fell to the floor. “Did I really do this” he thought.
Matt and his accomplice were apprehended within hours of the robbery and taken into custody. The Pennsylvania law, as written, does not allow leniency or mercy for any teen that makes a violent mistake. Matt was never in trouble before , yet he just committed a horrific crime.
Thank God the victim survived, but he had to go through many surgeries and much pain, in his rehabilitation journey.
Matt sat in disbelief in his holding cell. He began to realize that he may have taken another man’s life, destroyed the man’s family’s life and at the same time, destroyed his own life along with his family. That one short second in time can never be taken back. It can never be undone. Full of remorse and self-torture, Matt just wanted to inflict pain upon himself and end his life.
Teens today are making bad impulsive choices at an alarming rate. Jesus said in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”. The enemy is out to steal the hearts and minds of our teens, irrespective of family stature or income level. The enemy makes it easy for a teen to make those wrong choices with lies and deception. The lines of communication are often broken between fathers and their teenage boys. Fathers and other male role models lead busy lives, often leaving little time for involvement in the lives of their teen boys. These young men need other men to believe in them and to affirm them–and, importantly, to provide guidance.
I believe we can begin taking back our teens through mentoring–whether you are a dad, an uncle, or a friend–you can be a leader in the lives of young men. Your involvement and input is needed before the bad choices are made. Teens still respond positively to acknowledgement, acceptance, and encouragement. When young men have mentors that believe in them and hold them accountable, they make much better choices in life. They tend to actually think before they act, and avoid the temptations that could have dire consequences.
Surely, more mentoring would help prevent teen crime tragedies. But let’s not forget those teens that have already committed a violent crime. There are thousands like “Matt” in our State prison system that could use a friend. Many could use a mentor that is willing to reach out and get to know them, to be a friend, to make them feel significant and valuable. It’s not hard…it’s as easy as sending out a birthday card or a Christmas card. That simple act often “blows their minds” that someone actually cares. It doesn’t take a counseling degree or a degree in physiology. It only takes a man willing to move out of his comfort zone, reach out, and be a friend and a listener. Often you will get a thankful reply, and you will know that you have already begun to make a difference.
Being a friend to these young men has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and they are my teacher. They, too, are God’s creation with gifts and talents waiting to be shared.
The Federal Government finally realized that teens do crazy things and make poor judgements partially due to lack of mental development. Research has proven that he frontal lobe portion of their brains (the area that sees and processes consequences and judgment) is not fully developed until the mid twenties. Therefore, some Juvenile Lifers With Out Parole (JLWOP), and others with excessively long sentences, may have their sentences reduced on appeal–but as it stands now, only if their crime was committed before age 18. Presently, there is still no relief for those teens who committed a serious crime if aged 18 or above…
Hundreds of teens in Pennsylvania have Life Without Parole sentences. Thousands in Pa. have sentences of 20 to 40 or 30 to 60 years. They will one day leave the prison system as an older adult and need support. They will need a caring mentor to show them that they can make it on the outside–that someone believes in them. As you can easily see, there are many opportunities to make a mentoring difference!
Check out our web page at www.prisonmentoring.com and read stories of these young men. Go to the “programs” tab and click on Birthday Card program for an easy way to make a difference. Learn how you can help.
Matthew 25:40 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
by Ed Spencer