When I graduated from Boston College in May of 2012, I had grown a bit weary of our school’s unofficial rallying cry: “Men and Women for Others.” It felt cliche and overused, and I wondered if some students simply used it as a blanket statement to cover any and all of the service work done by the BC community.
Since then, however, I have gained a greater understanding of just how significant the “others” are.
After graduation I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and I remain in the program today in my second year. Immediately after BC I moved to Los Angeles, where I worked among the communities of Santa Monica and Venice helping the homeless and mentally ill prepare themselves for the job search and reentry into the workforce. After deciding to stay with JVC for a second year, I moved to Washington, D.C., where I work now for an organization called The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.
The Campaign works on behalf some of the most “othered” individuals of our society. We are the national campaign working to end the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole-a population so marginalized that many in this country don’t even know it exists, and many who do are unaware that the U.S. is the only country in the world that imposes the sentence. No other nation tells its children-of any age-that they are irredeemable, that society has given up on them, and that there is nothing they can do for the rest of their life but while away months, years, and decades in prison.
I am not the only BC representative here in the office. Among a staff of 10, three of us hold degrees from BC. The Campaign was founded by BC grad Jody Kent Lavy, and her first hire as the organization grew was James Puzo, another Eagle. It’s both surprising and not at the same time: who would think that one small organization engaging in hyper-specific national-level advocacy would feature three graduates of the same school? But at the same time, who that is familiar with the ethos of BC would be surprised to find three of her graduates working for those society has given up on?
Working to change the national landscape is not easy, and when dealing with the finality of “life in prison,” it’s sometimes hard to find hope in the situation. And yet progress continues. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled three times in the last decade that children are “constitutionally different” from adults and should not be subject to our country’s harshest sentences. Most recently in June 2012, the Court ruled in Miller vs. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional when imposed upon children. Then just this past December, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that any such sentence-mandatory or otherwise-is a violation of the state constitution. Through these and other judicial and legislative actions across the country we see increasing momentum toward a criminal justice system that treats kids as kids, holding them accountable in age appropriate ways.
I invite you, the BC community, to help end this practice. As men and women for others, we represent nearly every state in the country and a demographic that will soon be making the decisions that shape this country’s future.
March has been designated Juvenile Justice Month of Faith and Healing, a unique opportunity for the worlds of faith and criminal justice to intersect. The Campaign and many other juvenile justice organizations are working alongside faith-based organizations to raise awareness of juvenile justice issues in our country. It is a unique opportunity for BC as a Jesuit institution to engage in a social justice issue from a different angle, and to help raise awareness of this practice.
I would encourage you to learn more about children sentenced to die in prison, and especially to engage in the issue this month. Reach out to your service organization or prayer group, raise the issue as an intention during your weekly service, or work to organize an interfaith prayer service that sheds more light on those society has given up on. I would also point you to the YouTube video “God Cries When We Sentence Youth to Die in Prison,” which is highlighted on our website and features faith leaders from several different traditions speaking on the issue. Sharing it among your networks and on social media can go a long way toward educating others.
For more information on the issue, the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, and Juvenile Justice Month of Faith and Healing, please visit fairsentencingofyouth.org or email me at [email protected].