Stories from the field: SPLC advocate’s meeting with teen a reminder children need second chances

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By Sharada Jambulapati

Driving down winding country back roads, I headed to an Alabama prison where I would spend the next several hours crammed into a small, makeshift interview room talking to children about their prison experiences.

In Alabama, children as young as 14 can be charged as adults and sent into the adult criminal justice system. But the vast majority are a far cry from the overhyped image of a juvenile super criminal.

More often, they’re like Aaron, who was arrested three years ago and placed in custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections two years later at age 17. Today, he’s 18 – still a minor in Alabama but living in an adult prison.

Aaron was my first interview of the day. He wrote to us at age 15 while he was being held in an adult jail. The words he scrawled in pencil haunted me. When most young people are composing essays for a high school English class, Aaron was writing about a bleak future behind bars.

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