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John Pace and His Friends Expected to Die in Prison

November 16, 2018, Katie Rose Quandt - The Nation

On a Saturday morning in early June, 15 men in their 40s, 50s, and 60s gathered in a drab conference room on the Philadelphia Community College campus. They greeted each other cheerfully, joking and laughing as they helped themselves to coffee, fruit cups, and pastries.

(John Pace pictured in the middle)

John Pace, seated at the head of the table in a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Proudly serving in the war on injustice,” made a phone call to a no-show who lived around the corner. “It would be good to have you. We need your wisdom, man!” he said, grinning as he listed everyone in attendance. “We’re here till one! Brush your teeth, wash your face!” Sure enough, the man showed up soon after.

“Did anybody come home this week?” Pace asked the group. Discussion commenced; someone had heard that a man nicknamed “Paz” was coming home in a few days. Everyone in the room seemed to know Paz, and one whipped out his phone to share the good news with his cousin.

Over the past several years, every man in the room had a homecoming of his own, returning to Philadelphia from prison cells where they had spent their entire adult lives and expected to die. They are among the more than 100 people who have returned to Philadelphia since 2016, when the Supreme Court ordered states to take a second look at people who had received mandatory sentences of life without parole as juveniles. Despite facing a host of difficulties, not one of the more than 130 newly released lifers across the state of Pennsylvania has been convicted of a new offense or even a serious parole violation.

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