What it means to be a juvenile offender convicted by the LWOP

What it means to be a juvenile offender convicted by the LWOP
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Karen Sternheimer

One of the basic principles I follow as a sociologist (and a man) is Max Weber’s concept to understandwhich is understood in German. Weber encourages us to apply the tools of sociology to do our best to understand experiences that may be different from our own.

It can probably be assumed that most people reading this record did not experience being shot in the face in the thirteen years of a robbery, then sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (fourteen years) and spent 26 years. in prison; 18 of them in one.

Hearing about Ian Manuel’s past described above may cause little sympathy and, for some, even resistance to understanding. It was a horrible deed that Manuel easily admits in his memories, My time will come: memoirs of crime, punishment, hope, and redemption. There is a temptation to avoid any attempt to understand Manuel’s experiences, especially if we confuse understanding with justification, which is not the goal. to understand. We can reflect on Manuel’s experience to better understand:

1) Why minors – or anyone – commit acts of violence;

2) What could be done to prevent such crimes in the future;

3) How an experience in prison can traumatize people and encourage them to become more violent;

4) As a public policy, such as the LWOP for Juveniles, now in violation of the Constitution for murder-related crimes, the public may want to punish, but its experience helps to understand why the U.S. Supreme Court considered LWOP a form of cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles.

Through Manuel’s recollections, we realize what these experiences were like, including his upbringing in a dangerous public housing project with his mother, who often expressed a wish he was never born, and his older brother, who abused him. He did well in school, especially in a Catholic school paid for by his grandmother; when she died a few years later, he was returned to a local public school with poor results. He was looking for a job at the YMCA and was taken to a mentor who sought to give children a source of support for a housing project and the opportunity to earn money by doing work because they were too young to go on pay.

Manuel does not justify himself by his actions and does not portray himself as a saint in just a bad situation. He talks openly about his mistakes, including a description of a childhood dispute with his grandmother. He lost his patience and hit her, which is still a great shame. He describes how theft from extreme poverty has become commonplace, especially with other children in the neighborhood, which has led him to shoot a woman in an unsuccessful attempt to rob her.

His detailed account of his experience in prison – mostly in solitary confinement and punishing him for behavioral offenses – helps to understand how prison itself can be a source of additional abuse and trauma rather than rehabilitation.

As Manuel describes in the NPR interview:

I was transferred to an adult prison for 14 years and was given all the duties of an adult. In prison – they punish you, they are imprisoned. So I collected disciplinary protocols for going to the grass, for being in an unauthorized place, being where I wasn’t supposed to be. The officers screamed at me – I shouted back. And when I was 15, I found myself in a long-term unit where I stayed for 18 years in a row.

The book takes us into prison life, telling us first-hand about the physical abuse that prisoners often experienced by their guards, as well as the privileges that were abducted against it in order to be abducted in often arbitrary violations. Even if a skeptical reader thinks his story is one-sided and disagrees with it, most people would admit that he did not have the opportunity to learn and was not rehabilitated.

To learn more about his experience, see this interview with Ian Manuel:

Sometimes he was angry orally against the guards, knew it was a mistake, but felt that words were the only source of his control. This would lead to a return to isolation and further mental decompensation. He began cutting himself as a mechanism for overcoming, which can be difficult for readers who had no experience of self-harm to understand.

We see how, for decades behind bars, with no hope and no parole, a prisoner would have little motivation to follow the rules and feel a source of frustration and anger.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), led by Bryan Stevenson (author Just Mercy), took the Manuel case in 2006. The EJI has previously focused on death penalty cases, but following the 2005 US Supreme Court ruling. Roper vs. Simmons, according to which the death penalty for juveniles is unconstitutional, the EJI has begun to speak out against juveniles who have been sentenced to death by the LWOP. Manuel LWOP’s punishment for a non-murder crime was indeed unusual, so in 2010. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Graham v. Florida that juveniles could not obtain LWOP for most crimes. EJI won Manuel’s 2016 release.

An extraordinary aspect of his case is how his victim Debby Baigrie forgave Manuel very publicly after many years of correspondence. Manuel called her out of jail shortly after her sentence to apologize and ask for forgiveness. The dismissal process took time, but Baigrie eventually advocated his release and was near when he was released.

While memoirs are not the same as research or sociological analysis, Manuel’s experience can help us achieve Weber’s call. to understand.

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