By Julie Anderson
In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us that “God is more interested in our future than in our past,” and that past sin is never the last word.
Might then, there be mercy for my son, Eric, and others sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed as youth? The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door in June 2012 when it ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a mandatory life sentence for anyone under 18 was unconstitutional.
And in a sweeping decision yesterday (Jan. 25), the Supreme Court expanded the 2012 decision. It said that anyone who received a life sentence for murders committed in their youth must be given an opportunity to show they should be released from prison, not only in cases going forward, but retroactively too.
My son, Eric, was sentenced to life without any possibility of parole when he was 15 in 1995, and we were told he would die in prison. He would never get a second look to see if he had changed or matured, yet here was our ray of hope.
The ruling meant that the courts would review the cases of Eric and 80 other Illinois inmates.
The state of Illinois argued that the ruling should apply only to future cases but in March 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that “Miller” would be applied retroactively in Illinois, meaning that courts would look at the 80 individuals who received mandatory life. That still left another 1,200 inmates who received 40 or more years as juveniles.
Last month, a judge determined that Gerald Rice, the son of a friend of mine, had served enough of his life sentence imposed in 1985 when he was 17. Gerald Rice, a grown man now, will come home on Feb. 16!
I heard this great news at a meeting I regularly attend of family members of incarcerated men and women in Illinois.
The Rices shared how even after 30 years, they never gave up hope that they would one day see Gerald walk out of prison a free man. They shared their experiences of what their hearing was like, what the judge asked. Family members sat in full attention, absorbing every word, listening to every word about what the judge said, what the attorneys said, no detail was too small.
This was a ray of hope, a true miracle. One of our own would be released, not because he proved he was innocent, but because the judge saw a changed man, one who has a great deal to offer society.
Gerald has served 30 years in prison, and is now 47, ready to begin his life. For 30 years, Gerald’s family visited him, wrote him, supported him and never gave up hope and faith that someday he would be home.
Pope Francis has asked us to open doors and offer forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy to the oppressed and to those who have been condemned and seen as unworthy of love.
Is it not the time in this New Year of 2016 – to open our doors, build community, close the gap, and offer hope to those who are looking for a second chance?
There are more than a thousand children in the U.S. who have been locked up for years, and lived in darkness, isolation and fear.
Suddenly, a star arises and there is hope.
We publish this blog with permission from the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, which works with young people making the transition from incarceration. The Adorers of the Blood of Christ are part of the Precious Blood family of religious priests, brothers and sisters.