I finally met Bobby Harris in May of 2019, but I say we were destined to meet because we attended the same Get Set program at Zion Baptist Church in the 1970s and then later, Edward T. Steel Elementary School. We don’t recall meeting during those years, but that was the beginning of our history, and part of the reason I am dedicated to ending parole in the state of Pennsylvania as it currently exists.
Our paths crossed, then split, and the next recollection I have of Bobby Harris was in 1992. The Inquirer wrote an extensive article on children sentenced to life imprisonment. Instead of humanizing children, The Inquirer pushed the prevailing image of the “super predator.” Although I had no recollection of that name or face, there was 18-year-old Bobby Harris’s photo, front and center, already three years into serving a life sentence. I remember wondering how he ended up there. I kept that face etched in my memory for many years, as I watched people in my family cycle through the carceral system.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to sentence a child to a lifetime prison sentence. In 2017, Bobby went before a judge who exclaimed in the hearing that she had never seen a person with such an exemplary record and released him. Bobby and many other juvenile lifers were released. However, for each and every one of them, release was not the end of their sentence. Bobby and many others were subject to lifetime parole.
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