There are more than 2,000 people in prisons around the country who were convicted of murder as juveniles and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. But recent Supreme Court decisions have found these sentences unconstitutional and set in motion a process for re-evaluating these “juvenile lifers.”
To close out the first season of The FRONTLINE Dispatch, we have three stories about juvenile lifers. This first is the story of a violent crime committed by a juvenile lifer whose second chance went horribly wrong. It is an intensely personal documentary, but it carries far-reaching implications that extend into public life and into the heart of our political and correctional systems.
This piece was produced by Samantha Broun and Jay Allison. It was originally made in 2016 for the public radio website, Transom.org. Listen to that version of the story here. We are presenting an update to a version that aired later that year on This American Life.
At 15, after committing a brutal murder, Kempis Songster was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But now he has a chance to be free, thanks to a series of recent Supreme Court rulings that found the sentences of thousands of inmates who, like Songster, committed their crimes as juveniles, to be unconstitutional. Listen Here
We ❤ you Ghani, and hope to celebrate your freedom this September! There are so many behind bars who deserve a second chance at parole and commutation. Even after decades of incarceration, people are dreaming of contributing back to society and helping make things right. Support House Bill 135 in the Judiciary Committee so we can see more folks like Ghani get a second chance at parole! Read more here
Below are pictures from Ghani’s Community Resentencing which happened on Sunday July 23 in Philadelphia organized by Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI) and pictures of us the next day, Monday July 24th outside the JV court house during Ghani’s actual appeal hearing.
Mama Patricia Vickers talking about Hope is as Weapon!
outside JV court night before hearing reading the community’s ideas for resentencing ghani
The Community guidelines for resentencing
Inside the community resentencing
Wispy on the mic and Theresa in the back
Flyer we handed out about ghani
etta and yvonne
On way to JV courthouse
Sharon Shoatz and Russell Shoatz
On way to JV courthouse
Outside JV Courthouse
Russell Shoats III and Theresa Shoats
Outside JV Courthouse
Outside JV Courthouse
Old comrades pose for a pic – Andy, etta and Theresa.
Hanging outside Juvinile Court during Ghani’s hearing
C O N T R A B A N D: Art Show and Fundraiser for Prison Justice
Opening Event: Friday April 7, 2017
6 – 10pm – Art Auction – Over 30 Framed Pieces
7pm Curator Talk, Campaign Overview, Singing and Speakers
Boom Gallery Open Hours in April – Tuesdays 5-9pm Fridays 12-6pm
Contraband is the name of a series of paintings on leaves created by Todd “Hyung – Rae” Tarselli. Leaves are considered contraband or forbidden possessions in prisons across Pennsylvania. This show will feature 6 of these delicate leaf paintings illustrating detailed images of animals and nature. Incarcerated as a teenager, Hyung-Rae has served 25 years of a life sentence.
Fawn by Hyung- Rae
Budda by Hyung-Rae
Racoon by Hung-Rae
Wolf by Hyung-Rae
Self Portrait 2003 – Todd Hyung-Rae
Schematics of Solitary cell by Hyung-Rae
Sands of Solitary by Hyung -Rae
At 7pm on Friday April 7th there will be speakers and songs including family members of people serving life, survivors of violence who support the campaign, readings from the writings of those sentenced to life as juveniles, and information on the Campaign to End Death by Incarceration.
The exhibit will showcase artists from both sides of the prison walls including Mary Dewitt’s profoundly moving portraits of women serving life in PA. Illustrations describing prison conditions and self portraits by incarcerated artists from The Prison Poster Project (PPP) will also be displayed. The PPP was a collaboration between artists across the razor wire to create a teaching tool about the prison industrial complex. There is a special portrait of Ce Ce McDonald painted by political prisoner Marius Mason. Now released, CeCe gained national attention for defending herself from a racist and transphobic attack and was sentenced to 4 years.
Portrait of Brenda by Mary Dewitt
Portrait of Ce Ce McDonald by Marius Mason
Education not Incarceration by Merideth Stern
Pencil Illustration by Maurice Scott
Mental Health Care in prison by Michael Mendoza
Death Penalty by Duane Motney
A life-size solitary confinement cell will also stand in the gallery, the walls of which are made from letters written from people incarcerated to Book ‘Em, Pittsburgh’s books to prisoner program. Projected on the walls of the cell will be a slideshow of women serving life presented by the Women Lifers Resume Project. There are approximately 200 women serving life; some were sentenced as teenagers and some were commuted from death and many are in their 4th decade of imprisonment.
There are over 30 brilliant framed pieces of art for sale and still more unframed pieces. Outside artists include: Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Merideth Stern, Jim Kidd, Alisha Wormsley, Bec Young, Leslie Stem, Ellen Melchiondo, Josh Macphee, Shaun Slifer, KT Tierney and Vanessa Adams. These are just a few of the many brilliant artists that have donated pieces. Justseeds donated hundreds of dollars of lino cuts and screen prints by artists including: Jesus Barraza, Fernando Martí, Kristine Virsis, Favianna Rodriguez, Mary Tremonte, Melanie Cervantes, Melanie Cervantes.
Save the date of Saturday April 22nd – 2pm, for an interfaith panel exploring how local religious institutions have influenced the transformation of society throughout history until the present, from the movement to abolish slavery through prison justice. Marcus Rediker will share stories from his latest book about the Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lay, who in the early eighteenth century saw the destructive connections among slavery, race, incarceration, and capital punishment. Other panelists are still being confirmed.
Looking back on this year, Let’s Get Free has done a lot of work, made solid connections, grown in community, and has been supported and built by so many amazing folks. In 2016, we officially launched our Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation, hosted a legislator call-in day to begin laying tracks for future commutation reform, lobbied in Harrisburg and held a press conference in support of HB2135 and commutation reform. We sent our first newsletter, organized ongoing support for Juvenile Lifer cases in PA, began fundraising in earnest to be able to realize our goals for mobilizing and organizing across the state, and lobbied again with CADBI on October 18 to end Death By Incarceration.
The last 6 months have felt big, working to ride on the crest of the wave stirred up by our rally and lobbying efforts in June and October, and the introduction of HB2135–legislation for Parole Expansion for Lifers. We have been successfully fostering and growing relationships with PA state representatives who support HB2135, and have begun working with representatives in SW PA to craft a strategic approach to statewide campaigning for this legislation. We had the opportunity to participate in a historic Lifer’s Retreat at SCI Graterford, making incredible connections and community with others in the struggle across the state, and are collaborating to expand a scholarship fund. We hosted a deeply moving listening event with Samantha Broun, who has produced a singularly important radio piece about violence, harm, healing, and commutation. Our statewide collaboration and networking with other justice groups across the state has been growing stronger, and we have successfully started to expand our working group. Building our house up so we can invite more people in to keep on in 2017!
The Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation has gathered a Commutation Support Kit. It includes tips from Ellen, a copy of an application that ended up winning freedom for a lifer, and sample letters to write to family and friends to help them support you in this process.
Please join members of Let’s Get Free on this National Day of action for Economic Justice and Living Wages for all. Meet up with us at 4pm at the Federal Building in Downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday November 29th.
Saturday October 29, from 5pm – 7pm at the Dance Alloy Studios in East Liberty – 5300 Penn Avenue $ 5 – 25 Sliding Scale. Pay what you can. We want you here.
The event will involve listening to the piece together followed by a community discussion. The discussion afterwards would be led by producer Samantha Broun and former lifer, Tyrone Werts. We will be joined by Representative Ed Gainey, Co-Sponsor of HB 2135, the new bill that would expand parole eligibility for lifers. Darlene Williams and Donna Hill will be present as well, both of them mothers of a daughter serving life without parole.
In 1994, Jeremy Broun was 55 years old and living alone in Nyack, New York. On the evening of September 21st a stranger came into her backyard. The stranger attacked her from behind. Five hours later, he left her lying on her bed. Hands and feet bound with tape. Alive. She survived.
As told by Jeremy’s daughter, Samantha Broun, “A Life Sentence” is the story of this terrible crime and everything that followed. It looks at the acute and long-lasting impact the crime had on Jeremy and her family, as well as the societal and political impact, felt most acutely in Pennsylvania where the offender was from. It changed the outcome of a Governor’s race and altered the state constitution.
Twenty years later, Samantha teamed up with Jay Allison, Peabody Award Winner and public radio producer, to make this documentary, which was two and half years in production.