About this story:
Recently the issue of Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP) sentencing has received media attention due to US Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of the sentence. This has brought some much needed attention on one of the most ignored and misunderstood populations in America, juveniles incarcerated as adults.
At the end of the 20th century a rise in crime saw tremendous fears of “roving gangs of teens” committing crimes and even becoming “super predators”. This fear led to changes in the law and the establishment of JLWOP and juveniles being regularly sentenced as adults and sent to adult facilities The dangers of housing children with adults in prison were simply not considered. The number of children whose crimes landed them in adult facilities in the United States is not known. Were the crimes they committed serious? Were they tragedies? Often both, but recent science has shown what we all know, that the brains of children are not fully developed; they really do make crazy choices and terrible mistakes. The victims of these crimes by these children absolutely deserve justice but, in pursuit, society has created even more tragedies by placing children in adult prisons.
The following story about “Josh” (name changed to protect the individual’s privacy) is hard to read. It is hard to hear about this dark aspect of a system that is already drenched in sorrow due to the nature of crime. But this story needs to be told because as Christians we are told to reach out to those who are lost, and this is a truly lost population. As you read this story, do be encouraged that through all the sadness and darkness there is hope. “Josh” has continued to learn and grow, to better himself despite his circumstance. He has always accepted responsibility for his choices. He has had an impact on many inmates who have come in contact with him: through friendship, advice, and kind words. Josh’s story is a true example of how kindness and encouragement keep on giving. May this story stir your heart and remind you of the incredible opportunity we each have to reach out to’ the people in our lives. With God’s love and care, we can make a difference.
The Insignificance of Josh, by Ed Spencer and David Ludwig
Today Josh is mainly known by his six digit inmate number. Other inmates call him “Rodge”, a version of his last name. He has been in the system for more than 12 years, with a decade or two to go. It doesn’t really matter. Who really cares? At least that’s how Josh feels. Josh has needed help and encouragement with his self image and self confidence years before his incarceration which occurred during his first year as a teenager; age 13. Encouragement or even acknowledgement was nowhere to be found; only condemnation, ridicule, and rejection. He lived in a completely dysfunctional environment and all of his security platforms were kicked out from under him before age 9 through a bitter parental separation and divorce. Who knows what kind of discouragement, anger and hurt Josh was carrying around with him, while everyone else was looking after their self centered rights? Who was looking after Josh? He was living on a tightrope without the balance bar. Where was his security? Who could he trust? Who could he run to? Josh’s anger and his negative attitude were miles deep by age 13. He lived as a loner in his own isolated World. He didn’t get along with his mom or his step dad. Josh was having some major trouble in school. There were signs all around that Josh needed some serious encouragement and help. He needed a friend and an encourager to help him get beyond his free fall into the bottomless pit of trouble. There is no lonelier place to be…
At age 13 things all came to a head for him. He was at the end of what he could handle. Josh killed his mother. He pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. The judge was pressured by the DA who was pressured by Josh’s step dad to try him as an adult. Josh’s step dad lobbied for nothing less than life without parole for him. The other choice they had was juvenile court where Josh could get counseling and personalized help then released at age 21. The juvenile option of only eight years was not in the cards. The judge chose that Josh be tried as an adult. Josh’s attorney plea bargained for 20 to 40 years. It is an understandable sentence and it is a fair sentence, but for a 13 year old? How could Josh have fallen through all of our society’s safety nets? Who was there to stand with Josh? Where was Josh going to find any kind of encouragement or help in “The Fourth World” (prison)?
Josh’s side of the story was never told. Who would listen to him anyway? The odds against him were 100 to 1 from the start. Nobody knows the details of how Josh went from being a normal young boy to a killer at age 13. Who came to his aid? Who could he go to when deeply troubled in school and at home? Where was the help, before Josh took matters into his own hands? Did Josh truly understand the consequences of his deep anger?
Yes, Josh committed a heinous crime and a life was lost. There was definitely a victim here: a life gone. There is also another victim here. A victim we created with our self centered society. A society where our rights come first and the fallout is not our responsibility. So, whose responsibility is it? Josh was a teen free falling into a world of self-destruction. Ultimately, he fell into “The Fourth World”, with even less hope and less self worth. It is the land of insignificance.
There are hundreds of Josh’s in our prison system now. We put them away in human warehouses. They have become insignificant. worthless and just a Department of Corrections inventory number. Are these just “throw away” kids? Josh, living isolated in the fourth world, lives a life that expects and breeds unfairness. For Josh, unfairness is all he has ever seen and ever known. He has now spent more years behind bars than his life before prison.
One day Josh will have the opportunity to go free after 20 or 30 years at age 33 to 43. When happens then? Josh will have a felony on his record which makes it nearly impossible to get a job. He will have to pay monthly restitution fees to the state. If he misses a payment, he will be sent back to the system to serve out the rest of his term. He will hop on the DOC’s ‘merry-go-round”. The entire system is weighted against rehabilitation. In fact, the system seems to cause the direct opposite of rehabilitation. Who will be there for Josh? Where will he go? How will he live and support himself? What will he do? Does anyone care?
Is it any wonder that our prisons are overcrowded? There is a reason that we talk about the revolving door of the D.O.C. and so many go right back. Not all inmates are hardened criminals. Some made one huge mistake as a teen. Others never had a chance to begin with. How do we stop the DOC revolving door? We can stop it through real rehabilitation and a caring system that truly wants to foster change. Learn about Faith based programs. See the article links below. You can write to your Pa Representative and help bring Faith Based Programs to Pennsylvania.
Josh lights up like a light bulb when he receives a Birthday card, a Christmas card, or a letter. It is a glimmer of hope that somebody cares about him. Somebody acknowledged him and remembered him. You can make a difference in the life and heart of a man behind bars. How can we help the Josh’s in our system? Things as simple as acknowledging a young man by sending him a Birthday card, a Christmas card, or an encouragement card. That can make a huge difference in the life of men like Josh. A simple card can be the beginning of an encouraging relationship. When this occurs, the encouragement is returned to you many times over. For some men, just letting them know that you are praying for them is a way of telling them that someone cares about them and more importantly, that God cares about them.
Not all of the men in the 4th World Christmas Card program (see www.PrisonMentoring.com/programs ) are Christians. Your card to them with a personalized encouragement message becomes an outreach to some of them. There are many different Prison Ministries that need men to befriend and mentor inmates and those recently released. Many of these organizations are listed below. If you are interested in helping in Prison Ministry by writing, by befriending and mentoring, or even visiting, please contact us at http://prisonmentoring.com.
Ed Spencer – (friend, mentor, and encourager to young men and Juveniles behind bars)
(This article is based on a true story, but a fictitious name has been used to protect the inmate)
– Prison Society –http:// Prisonsociety.org
– Prison Fellowship –http://Prisonfellowship.org
– Liberty Ministries Schwenksville, Pa –http://libertyministries.us
– Participate in the Fourth World Christmas card and birthday card program
(Note: More information coming soon at http://prisonmentoring.com
– Watch for opportunities on http;//prisonmentoring.com to write your Pa. Representative to make positive changes in our Pa. Department of Corrections
– Faith Based Rehabilitation: