National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers

Several weeks ago, I spoke with Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins of after she commented on a post I’d done that she felt had portrayed murder victims’ families as vengeful.

That hadn’t been my intent, but after speaking with Jennifer, I realized that my reference to victims’ families in the post had been insensitive.

My stated purpose for the creation of this blog is to create a dialogue, but doing so has proven easier said than done.

I realized that with very few exceptions, there was no conduit for meaningful dialogue between the advocates for eliminating the sentence of Juvenile Life without the Possibility of Parole and the living victims of those inmates serving LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles.

The Pendulum Foundation is an advocacy organization for juveniles convicted as adults. The mission statement on Pendulum’s website is this:

“Children are our most precious natural resource.

The Pendulum Foundation believes in second chances. As a juvenile justice non-profit organization, we are committed to educating the public about the issues surrounding children convicted and sentenced as adults. We are also committed to taking groundbreaking programs and projects into the prisons that will help our incarcerated youth survive and thrive, as well as transform the lives of young prisoners re-entering society and at-risk youth. Our goal is to ensure – whether inside or outside of prison — happy, healthy, well-adjusted and productive adults.”

There is no advocacy organization for the families of murder victims in Colorado. I thought about this and realized how tragic that really is. I thought about what it might feel like to have lost a loved one to a brutal crime and I imagined how hurt and angry I would feel to see blog posts and news articles in support of the offenders, with no thought to the victims’ perspective. Jennifer helped me to understand how truly traumatizing it is for the living survivors. She helped me to understand that the extreme cases of victims’ families who appear to be vengeful tell only a tiny part of the story. What we don’t see is the long term impact that survivors of these terrible tragedies live with. She helped me to understand that in addition to their grief, victims’ families often deal with divorce, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and that the prospect of having to testify at parole hearings on a recurring basis, therefore reopening the trauma of the crimes is something that has to be considered when debating changes to LWOP sentences.

Historically, there has been no constructive dialogue between “pro-offender” and “pro-victim” advocacy groups and in order to consider changes to sentencing law, this dialogue has to occur.

I just discovered that there is now a new site called The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers.

This is an excerpt from the web site, explaining why the site was created:

“The national effort is now well underway by advocates for juvenile offenders to eliminate, or certainly to moderate, the juvenile life without parole sentence for the over 2000 convicted murderers in the United States that were under the age of 18 at the time of their offenses.

While we can understand their well-meaning motives, murder victims’ family members of those cases have, for the most part, been left out of that discussion.

This is not acceptable – to leave the victims of these crimes out of the conversation about what to do with their loved ones’ killers – and will not lead to the broad social change the advocates for the juvenile lifers would hope for, in any case. Unless principles of victims’ rights and human rights and restorative justice are applied to the victims’ families, the social discourse on this sentence for younger killers will degenerate, as it already has in several states, to polarized adversarial battling, resulting in no reforms accomplished and no victims being supported.

Even though there has been a well-funded, fully staffed, orchestrated multi-organizational movement calling for an end to the Juvenile LWOP sentence operating nationally for years, only one state has passed any legislation reforming Juvenile Life without Parole sentences – Colorado.

And Colorado had to pass its law in a painfully adversarial battle with the victims’ families (that knew about the legislative effort to lessen the sentences of their loved ones’ killers). This opposition, we know, saddened and frustrated the conscientious advocates for the juvenile offenders. They have written to us and stated how much they wish that there could have been a respectful and responsible dialogue between them. Instead it was agonizing for all sides.”

I’m encouraged that this new site has been established and is reaching out to contact victims’ families and to offer them voice in this discussion. It’s only when we, as a society are able to examine the complex issue of juvenile life sentences together that we be able to find solutions and alternatives that consider the rights and the humanity of everyone.


10 responses to “National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers

  1. My compliments to Lisa for recognizing the problems with her initial offender-centered approach and I am so encouraged that the advocates for the juvenile lifers in Colorado are leading the way nationally, from what I can see, to do this dialogue correctly – fully including and respecting the lives left behind in these awful murder cases.

    Once every victims family member of the 2300 plus juvenile lifers has had the opportunity to know about the efforts to change the sentences nationally, and possibly in their state, if legislation has been proposed or is being considered, then they can choose for themselves if they wish to participate in the public policy discussion.

    But they must be notified and they must make that choice for themselves.

    To be told that a life without parole sentence has been accomplished for the murderer of their loved one, and then to walk into whatever future they then can find, they are doing it under the assumption that they at least never have to worry about the release of the killer or killers.

    If anyone proposes changing that, those persons are under full moral and, many are arguing, legal obligation to find and inform those victims families so that they may participate in this public policy discussion so vital to their own personal well-being.

    Advocates for change in the status quo will learn quickly (witness the debaucle in Illinois – see for more information) that if doing the long, careful, harder work of building bridges to the victims families is not done first, any political efforts to lighten the sentences of these younger murderers will probably fail, and fail hard.

    We stand ready to facilitate the dialogue but notification to victims families of proposed changes in a right and is non-negotiable.

    Restorative Justice principles would never exclude victims families from such discussions, and in fact, Restorative Justice’s entire focus is on the victims and their needs and their healing journey.

    Anyone working on this issue – either victims families or offender advocates – that wishes to use our website to do outreach and dialogue should go there and contact us and we will do what we can to help.

    In Nancy, Richard, and their baby’s names,

  2. Jennifer,

    Thank you so much for commenting and thank you for all that you do. I have enormous respect for what both you and Mary Ellen Johnson do and I am optimistic that meaningful dialogue can and must happen when it comes to this important issue.

  3. To Victims of Juvenile lifers,

    First I would like to say that I apologize to the victims in my case and their loved ones for the pain that I have caused. I would also like to apologize to all the victims of Juvenile lifers. I know it’s not my place to apologize for others actions, but I feel that you all truly deserve it. I know that you all have been through a lot. And I know that there is nothing I can say or do that will bring your loved ones back. But, I hope my thoughts help ease your pain and hopefully help you see our journey better. But before I begin please know that I mean no disrespect to you all and never will try to take away from what has happened. I just want to share my thoughts with you with the hopes that we can come together and bring change.

    I know you all have been through a lot and I know some of you are still hurting an dstill have that built up hate in your hearts, and I do understand that and will never tell you not to feel the way you do, but today I ask that your clear your heart and mind for a moment and let me in. Hear me out. That’s all I ask.

    Like I said, I understand that lives have been lost and that the people that’s responsible should pay. I truly agree with that. But I don’t agree with giving a 13, 14, 15, and 16 year old life without parole. That is saying that we can’t be rehabilitated and that’s not true at all. Yes, we made bad decisions as youth, but that should not condemn us for the rest of our lives. Now I know it’s a hard thing to do, but put aside that pain and let the heart of a mother, father and the heart and love God has blessed us with lead you. And you will see that we don’t deserve life. There are some of us who has grown mentally and spiritually who deserve a second chance at freedom. But the parole board will not let them go. But right now the reality of the matter is ALL Juveniles with life are condemned. Because without getting the bill (HR4300)—ending-juvenile-life-without-parole passed, most of us will die in prison. That’s why I write this with the hopes that I can gain some of your support in getting the bill passed or coming together to come up with a bill that will help both sides. I know it can happen. We just have to give it a shot and I know there are those who are allowing hate to lead them on this matter and don’t care how much the person has changed who killed their loved ones and they want them to die in prison. And I understand that, but I also understand that’s just hate you are working from. If you would just allow your heart to lead you, you won’t feel the same. You will see that both sides are losing. Yes, we are alive, but we are not living , just existing.

    I know this is a big thing to ask of you all, but if I didn’t I would be giving up on life, on my daughter, on everyone who loves and believes in me. I am not that misguided child I was back then. I have grown in every way and continue to grow and feel some where in the future I deserve to be freed. And there are many more juveniles with life who also deserve a better chance at freedom. Yes, I was a lost 14yr. old teen back then who made some bad decisions and one landed me here with life without parole. But that 14yr. old don’t represent who I am today as a 32 yr. old man. So I ask that you allow your heart to lead you and help support the bill that will give some of us a chance at freedom through parole after 20 years. With that said I will close this with the hopes that you will support the bill. Take Care and God Bless.

    Respectfully, Addolfo

    Post Thoughts: I hope I haven’t offended anyone. That was not my intention. If I have I truly apologize and I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue because I want to know your thoughts instead of what someone say you feel or think about this. So please write. Thank You and God Bless you.

    Addolfo Davis B-55374
    P.O. Box 711
    Menard, IL 62259

  4. It seems clear to me that dialogue is needed. It’s so horrible that Jennifer suffered the pain and loss of a family member.

    It’s unfortunate, however, that she is trying to make children, children who made terrible mistakes, suffer their entire lives for what they did, before they even had a chance to have a life, with no second chance.

    She has clearly suffered, and continues to suffer, greatly.

  5. I believe that many members of victim families are for revenge. I believe they are biased. An example is what they say concerning Torey Adamcik who was imprisoned without real evidence just some comments on a videotape on which Brian Draper admits to have been the killer not Torey. Also their idea that it is fair to destroy a youth’s life because they murdered is pure revenge. An eye for an eye. But the victim will not return, the offender can be rehabilitated. Two wrongs do not make a right. Maybe I would see things differently if a loved one of mine was a victim but then again I would be biased because of it. On these issues only third parties can have a correct view. Our Lord Jesus Christ told us to love our enemies, will we ever obey Him?

  6. The concept of restorative justice is that the victim will realize the offender is not such a bad guy after all, forgive him, and support a light punishment that will allow him to go on with his life as though nothing much happened.

    Addolfo- if you had real respect for your victims you would serve your sentence without complaint, knowing it is the least you can do to make amends. However the fundamental problem with you is not that you killed people, but that you consider yourself more important than others- which led you to kill people of course, but also to now see things primarily in terms of what you want, what’s good for you, not what’s good for others. It’s pretty easy to repent of murder- “My bad! Won’t do that again! Can I please go home now?” and much harder to repent of self-centeredness.

    Themis- God is just as well as merciful. Martin Luther said to overemphasize mercy at the expense of justice created despair, as wrong as excessive punishment. Loving your enemies does not mean exempting them from just punishment.

  7. Jesus words are more than clear. Study and OBEY the Sermon on the Mount IF you are a Christian. I do not care what Luther said, I am not a Lutheran. Loving your enemies means wanting what is GOOD for them, HELPING THEM. In the Justice System this would mean REHABILITATION and TREATMENT. I cannot bring back the dead BUT I can help the living. That is what EVERY moral person should do. Punishment meaning revenge is wrong. The job of Justice is to make things just not satisfy the lower human instincts. If a young person can be rehabilitated and live a good and moral life we have NO excuse not allowing it. Christ said go and learn the meaning of the words “I want MERCY not Sacrifice”. Serving a sentence is NOT respecting the victims it is satisfying someones lust for revenge, truly respecting the victims and soiciety and making amends is fixing the offender so they can CONTRIBUTE to society. God Bless and God show you the Light!

  8. Seeing me advocate for the good and rehabilitation of young offenders some have asked me if I would feel the same way if a child killed a loved one of mine. This is a silly question because in order to judge justly one must not be biased but then again I could ask them… if that child who killed my loved one was their child how would they want the Law to treat him? Every coin has two sides. Truth doesn’t change according to our situation, Truth is Truth, either we serve it or not.

  9. I BELIEVE that advocates of “Adult Crime, Adult Time” promote sexual, physical and mental abuse of children, for this happens to children in adult Jails and Prisons. This explains why for me every single person who comments on YouTube, Facebook or anywhere else in favour of charging any juvenile as an adult is GUILTY of CHILD ABUSE! I do not want to have anything to do with people who are responsible for ANY child being abused. Period!

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