Joshua at 14 before his arrest
Joshua and Mom at 18
My son was arrested in Nov. 1998 at the age of 14, and adult sanctions were handed down. He was placed in solitary for his own protection, for 9 months, and his father and I could hug him only a handful of times during that period, as our weekly 2.5 hour visit was with a plexiglass partition and through phones that sometimes did not work. In July 1999, he was tried and convicted of first-degree murder and in August of that same year, was sentenced to life without parole. At the age of 15 he was sent to begin serving his sentence in an open bay dorm with 60 adult men. He is now 19 and thankfully, came through his early experience in pretty decent shape.
Before going to prison, he was a sensitive, compassionate child who loved his family and his pets. Now, he is learning the ropes of prison life and is thus becoming hardened and cynical. He still has his compassionate nature, but is extremely careful how, if and when, he shows it. Of course, with me and family and friends, he's still our Josh, but I am concerned the longer he remains in prison, the harder it will be for him to express.
At age 16, his father, my husband of 22 years, was killed in a car accident and I now shoulder the responsibility of helping Josh however I can. A couple of weeks after his father's untimely death, I received Joshua's GED Diploma in the mail. He is now studying college courses as I am able to afford to get them to him and is maintaining an "A" average in his first math course. This is a child who has basically had to teach himself, since he was not permitted to continue his schooling while in solitary at the pre-trial detention center and received no real help from anybody else. I have supplied him with dictionaries, almanacs and other materials in an effort to be of some help to him, but basically, he has accomplished much of his education on his own.
Currently, he is a law clerk trainee and is about to have his formal training and exams, and I know he will excel at those as he has proven in every other academic arena.
The heartache our family and friends have suffered is immeasurable. My heart dies a little more each time I leave him behind after a visit. His hope that he'll one day be home is growing dimmer with each passing week.
You're absolutely correct; the juvenile justice system is sadly lacking in how to help young people in serious trouble. I don't agree that my son should've been allowed free at age 21; as you say, many kids simply might not be ready. But, I do firmly believe that with help, Josh would make an excellent candidate for release while he is still a young man. He certainly did not plan to kill Maddie Clifton; something happened and he panicked and due to his immaturity and the factor of bilateral frontal lobe brain lesions, which I strongly feel contributed, things escalated beyond his control. He is absolutely remorseful for what happened. This is a child who would sweep bugs outside rather than step on them, who when fishing with his dad, refused to use a worm, because to Josh, it seemed that the worm was in pain when being threaded onto the hook. He never kept a fish; always he released them because he couldn't stand to see them suffering on a stringer as they gasped for air.
When my son received a life sentence, so did his father and I, but it is I who now alone must soldier on. My faith is strong, but the scars from the wounds in my heart remain. Indeed, they aren't even scars, because they never have a chance to heal to that point.
© Copyright 2003 Melissa Phillips
More to come.