BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The United States is the only country in the world that permits youth to be sentenced to life without parole. Most of them are concentrated in just five states — Louisiana being one of them.
Louisiana was the nation’s third highest jailer of juvenile lifers until 2016’s Montgomery vs. Louisiana when the Supreme Court said that except in the rarest cases, youth offenders deserve a shot at a second chance. It’s a reality that seemed so far away for some like Lloyd Jarrow.
“I spent more than 25 years incarcerated. I was in as a juvenile, 17 years old,” said re-entry specialist Lloyd Jarrow. “I was obsessed, my obsession was what I’m going to do when I get out. I’m talking about to the tiniest fraction of putting a seat belt on. Seventeen, I was young, illiterate, couldn’t spell the word ‘what.’ I was misguided, insecure.”
He was also the product of a broken home and poverty. Today, Jarrow is a reentry specialist with the Louisiana Parole Project, helping others adjust to a world they may not understand. Jarrow said he does not take his second chance lightly.
“It was never ever a relaxed moment. In fact, I was explaining to a friend of mine when we embrace I have a habit of inhaling very, very deeply, and she was like, ‘Why do you do that?’ Because it’s moments like this that I get to mentally let all my guards down,” said Jarrow.
With a recent uptick in juvenile crime, some lawmakers have called for repealing some prison reform laws, including the Raise the Age law that currently keeps 17-year-olds out of adult prisons. Louisiana Parole Project Executive Director Andrew Hundley, also a former juvenile lifer, said this will only set the state back.
“I was incarcerated from the age of 15 to the age of 34,” said Hundley. “What we’ve seen since these recent reforms, are over 100 people in Louisiana, men and women, who were told that they would die in prison as children. They’ve come home, not only are they not going back to prison, they’re paying taxes, they’re working.”
Because of Hundley, former juvenile lifer Matthew Pineda is now a community engagement coordinator.
“When he came into the system I was probably already in 10-12 years,” said Pineda. “I went in at 16 years old, I did 35 years.”
On the day of his release, Hundley was outside waiting for him. For Pineda, the road to redemption has been a long one.
“It was a terrible mistake and God allowed me to go through the restorative justice program where I could talk to my victims’ daughters. For them to meet me, and I cried the entire time and apologized the entire time and for them to embrace me and say, ‘You know, we’ve been praying for you all these years,’” said Pineda.
At 51, Pineda said he’s a completely different person than his 16-year-old self. Although he still has many regrets, he is grateful for another day.
“My very best day inside prison is no comparison to my worst day on the outside. It’s so much better being free,” said Pineda.
Research confirms that individuals under the age of 18 are not fully developed physically, intellectually or emotionally. Jarrow said it wasn’t until nearly 15 years into his life sentence that he had woken up to the reality of his situation. Former juvenile lifer Christi Cheramie, now a reentry manager for the Louisiana Parole Project, said at the age of 16 she was thinking about the consequences of her actions.
“I was a 16-year-old girl going to prison so I was coming home as a 41, almost 42-year-old woman,” said Cheramie.
Today, Cheramie has devoted her life to giving hope to those who she said nurtured her as a little girl who grew up in prison.
“There’s so many people that are there that wake up every single day, praying and hoping that someone just recognizes the good in them. I’ve been home a little over three years and my God, I never saw my life to where it is today,” said Cheramie.
Now engaged and a homeowner, Cheramie focuses on strengthening a relationship with her family.
“They remember that 16-year-old, who she was. But to know who I am, they only grabbed that within a two-hour visit,” said Cheramie.
Each of these former juvenile lifers said they owe their second chances to Henry Montgomery, a juvenile lifer who didn’t see freedom himself until the age of 75.
“As crazy as it may sound, I’m learning to live life, I’m learning each and every day what it’s like to experience life,” said Cheramie.
The Louisiana Parole Project Inc. is a nonprofit organization that was created to respond to the needs of those affected by Supreme Court rulings and changes in the law. Now in their 40s, 50s and 60s, many will be paroled and returned to our communities and the Parole Project is committed to ensuring that their reintegration is successful.