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After Supreme Court Decision, John Pace of YSRP Discusses What A 2nd Chance Meant to Him

NPR: Courtney Dorning, Connor Donevan, Ari Shapiro - April 22, 2021

The Supreme Court just made it easier to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole. NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with John Pace, a "juvenile lifer," released thanks to an earlier decision.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: The Supreme Court just made it easier for judges to sentence kids to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In a 6-3 ruling, the justices reversed earlier precedents that favored more leniency for minors. We're going to talk now with someone who has firsthand experience with this. John Pace was sentenced to life in prison without parole when he was 17 years old.

JOHN PACE: You know, you really haven't formed a sense of who you are. And so you're going into this environment, trying to figure this out. I will tell you honestly there is some level of fear.

SHAPIRO: He pleaded guilty to murder as a teenager, and more than 30 years later, he was released after a 2016 Supreme Court decision. It found that people like him serving mandatory minimum sentences without parole for crimes they committed as minors had a right to argue for their release. He now helps other people in his shoes return to society - people who entered prison as minors without any real hope of getting out.

PACE: A lot of us really don't know what life really means until years later, you know, whether - and in my particular case, I pled guilty to second-degree under the pretense that I would get out after a certain many years. So I didn't really know that I would be spending the rest of my life in prison. But I'm telling you, though, actually, a lot of young people actually don't know it until you've been in prison for probably 10 to 15 years, and then you begin to face the reality that this could mean the rest of your life.

And so, you know - and in my particular case, you know, because I didn't, you know, believe that from the very beginning, I was very optimistic. And, you know, one of the things - I was proactive in terms of taking responsibility for my actions. I wanted to demonstrate that I was more than my - that worst moment that I had in my life.

SHAPIRO: What did it mean to you to have the opportunity for a second chance?

PACE: Well, I'm very grateful. And I don't know if you know Philadelphia is ground zero in the sentencing of children to a life sentence without the possibility of parole. And it was over 300 that actually was sentenced to life without parole in Philadelphia. And so close to 250 have been released. And I deal with a lot of them, and I can tell you how grateful they are to have this opportunity and to demonstrate that they are better than that worst moment that they had in their lives.

To read the full interview, click here.

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