Photo by Richard Polk. Michael F., escorted by two guards from Patuxent Institute, arrives at the courthouse in Talbot County, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005
Submission to: The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth
Pride precedes destruction, and so every teenager dwells on the doorstep of disaster. I lived it; I was 16, an honor-roll student with loving parents and no criminal record. But i had serious emotional problems – maybe even PTSD – from abuse I suffered as a boy, and I refused to face it. I told myself i was fine, indestructible. I was wrong.
In February of 1996, I killed my mom, step-dad, and younger brother. I didn’t know I was going to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to, but I did – because I denied my problems. Because I thought I was infallible, I wrecked my community, devastated my family, and killed the three best people I have ever known.
I was saved by acceptance into a prison that offered both college and therapy. Through five years of therapy sessions, I learned about how stunted my emotions were and how to open up to people in healthy ways. In college I not only got an education, I was also exposed to new ideas and to our society’s many needs for community service. From that, I gained direction in my life.
Now, I have committed myself to two missions – starting the Susan Rae Foundation, a charity I’ll name in honor of my mom, and working to develop better community systems for recognizing and assisting at-risk youth. I want other kids in danger to get help before it’s too late. I mean “too late” for everyone; not only the victims, but the kids themselves.
Right now, a kid who commits a crime like mine is done in life. I have 90 years. Many similar kids get life without parole or huge numbers like mine. I’m an author, I serve as a facilitator in the Alternatives to Violence Project here at the prison, and I’m always seeking opportunities to reach out to and aid the community. I do it because it feels good to help, and for my mom. I don’t do it because I hope it will pay dividends; when it looks like you’ll never leave prison, you need hope, but not too much of it.
That is my wish for all the children who are entering prison – hope. Coming here at 13-17 years old and knowing you’ll never see the world again is crushing. Young people who might be saved by a realistic sentence and education are lost to drugs, gangs, and despair because they see nothing in front of them. Pride precedes destruction, but mercy precedes healing. If we save our children, even when they err, we save ourselves as well.
I personally know two men who received life sentences as teens, but they both got an education and therapy, and received sentence relief in court. One now owns to software firms and the other appeared in Forbes magazine. How many more stories like this could there be? We will only know if we show our children mercy.