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Illustration by John Ponder

I was sentenced to life in Arkansas for a crime I committed at age 14. I had been a mere boy. I’m now a 41-year old man. My entire adulthood has been spent behind bars in Arkansas’ worst maximum security prisons.

Thanks to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, I was made eligible for parole after serving 25 years. Unfortunately, I was given a two-year denial by the parole board without a course of action to rehabilitate myself.

Instead, I sit in a cell serving dead time at a maximum security prison. A sensible person would think that the state would place me in a bonafide re-entry program, so I can learn life skills that I’ve never had a chance to experience.

Arkansas only has one re-entry program that a juvenile lifer can go to. It is called Arkansas Community Correction (ACC), and I have petitioned the board to send me there numerous times. Not once have my letters been answered.

Even though I’m limited in my ability to research, I seem to be one of the few lifers left in America who was sentenced as a 14-year old child. I’m the only one I know of in Arkansas. Therefore, all indicators point to my eventual release if I stay out of trouble.  As of this article, I have been disciplinary-free for a decade.

Incarcerated children, ca 1903 (Library of Congress/Detroit Publishing Company Collection)

So it baffles me, my family and my friends that the state continues to warehouse me at a prison where I have no opportunity to better myself. I imagine my incarceration must cost the average taxpayer a small fortune. What’s the total sum after three decades of incarceration?

The board has said that something will have to be done with me. Yet they will not indicate exactly what, when or how. As a man approaching the age of 50, the stark realization has hit me that now is when I need to get out and begin building a nest egg for my impending retirement.

If the board keeps passing the buck, I will instead get out and continue to be a burden to the taxpayer. Instead of languishing inside prison, I will be a burden in a state-run nursing home.  

I surely hope that any concerned citizen will contact the parole board and petition them to send me to re-entry. I will appear in front of them in July.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

John Ponder is a writer and artist incarcerated in Arkansas.