Photo by Wesley Eland on Unsplash

New laws have passed in California that allow individuals who were sentenced to life in prison a chance to earn their freedom. Individuals that have been incarcerated for decades and defined only by the “L” attached to their sentences are going home. To me that spells wins across the board. Having been a victim of the cycle myself, I know too well that it’s the voices of  individuals like these, the OG’s (original gangster, a respectful term for someone that has been in prison for a long time) and the veterans that younger offenders will listen to. 

Only now instead of pointing young minds towards gang violence and to crime, our released lifers — our second chance citizens — are advocating for unity and education. With many youths having no positive role models, they turn to gangs for support with the same loyalty that a child has for their parents. Youngsters are going to great lengths to earn the admiration of fellow gang members. Many of them have no obvious alternatives.

It’s the individuals that have been down that road that understand the swift and deadly currents that carried them to disaster. They have the power to save lives. It’s individuals like Eddy F., an inmate at Corcoran State Prison in California serving 18-years-to-life for a gang-related shooting death that occurred in 1992. Eddy is just one of the many California lifers scheduled to go in front of the parole board in 2021. 

If found suitable, Eddy will be given a release date after serving 30 years in prison, 20 of which were spent in solitary confinement, while struggling to cut ties with the gang life. 

“We are the ones who can seek out and save kids falling into the cycle,” Eddy said to me. “We know what to look for and how to reach them.”

Once we begin to recognize the insight that Eddy and others like him have, we can begin to take action. 

As communities, it’s our responsibility to save misguided youth. I see a need for an online community, where people who want to can offer their support, where people in communities that have a need can shine a light on their youngsters. It would be place where like-minded individuals and their families and friends can come together and get the conversation started. 

How can we work together to turn our past L’s (lifers) into future W’s (winners)?

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Brandon Lee Sr.

Brandon Lee Sr. is a writer incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison in California. He is an advocate for second chances and healthy living. He is from Visalia, Calif., and graduated from LaSierra Military Academy in 2005, where he said he was voted “least likely to succeed.” Today he is a professional cook, a tattoo artist and an aspiring novelist.