When Joey Rodriguez walked into our meeting alongside his sister Cathy, I could not help but smile as tears sprang to my eyes. For the last 35 years Joey has been incarcerated, and for 10 of those years I have been meeting with his sister Cathy monthly at our CRIIC (Community and Relatives of Illinois Incarcerated Children) meetings. We have cried together, laughed together, hugged each other, and offered each other encouragement and hope where there was none.
Joey is one of three men recently released from prison who attended our meeting this month. Larod Styles and Marshan Allan were also in attendance, both of these men were incarcerated for over 24 years. Each of the three were under 18 years old when sentenced to Life Without Parole; they were told they would die in prison. Yet here they were at our family meeting – enduring kisses, hugs, and well wishes from the entire CRIIC Family.
For years the CRIIC Family Group has met monthly, in our meetings we talked about our sons, nephews, brothers, and friends who were locked up. Our hopes were that one day they might be released. We shared stories of when they were young, how they were surviving in prison and tales of their accomplishments and struggles. These were dark years, where there was no hope, only years and years of visiting someone you love in prison, watching as they die a little more each time you visit. I remember Cathy telling us about her brother, how hard it was for him when their mom passed. Cathy promised her mother she would always be there for Joey and she has been faithful to this day! Larod had Michelle, a truly special friend, who attended the meetings on his behalf. When I first met Marshan his attorneys shared with me how special Marshan was and how wrong it was for him to be in prison – a young man with so much he could offer the world.
I’m not sure if any of us every really believed we would see our guys released. We all hoped that one day it would happen, but to see the Miracle of their release, to have these guys come to the meeting and actually talk to us, gave us the courage to never give up hope. Larod stood during the meeting and told all of us, that he was there to give us hope, just as our group had given him and others hope during their long years in prison.
On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to sentence anyone under 18 to mandatory life in prison. On that day, we began to have hope, to think that maybe a few of our loved ones would be returned to us. The last 4 years have been a long difficult journey for many of us; re-entering the court system, revisiting the worst time in your life, for many of us seeing the victims’ families and the pain that is still with them. Not all of the stories have been as happy as Joey, Larod and Marshan. Some have been told again, that they will die in prison, that they are not more than their worst decision in life. Still others have been given extremely long sentences. For many of us, we are still waiting for our loved ones to be resentenced; it is a limbo that eats away at you, the fear and worry is always there.
We had cake for Joey, Larod and Marshan, because we knew we needed and wanted to support and celebrate them. We all needed to celebrate! It’s was a small gesture, but the guys loved it – smiles abounded and for a little while all of us forgot our own worries and basked in the happiness and delight of these three men. I just shake my head, smile, wipe away a tear and realize that I have witnessed a miracle.
CRIIC – Communities & Relatives of Illinois Incarcerated Children, is a group of family and friends dedicated to seeing Juvenile Life Without Parole ended in the United States.
Julie Anderson- Julie’s son Eric was sentenced to Life in Prison when he was 15 years old, he is now 37 years old and is awaiting his re-sentencing. Julie directs our advocacy efforts through from the national Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Dayton Sisters of the Precious Blood.