Vox Populi: Richard Griffin was born and raised in Michigan. When he was 16 years old, Richard entered the Michigan Department of Corrections, sentenced to serve two life sentences as a juvenile. After years of hard work, Richard was released on parole. Here are his words:

Friends:

I still remember the smell of steel and concrete on my first day in prison. The sound of screams and keys jangling. I was 16 years old.

When a judge handed me two life sentences, it felt like drinking a cup of fire.

Prison, especially as a juvenile, is a psychologically dark place that dulls the senses and crushes all hope of ever making a change. But things can change – and they did.

Like many kids, street life was an outlet for the pain and frustration I felt growing up. But handing juveniles extreme sentences is not the answer. It condemns children to be buried alive.

I was freed in 2012, when the Supreme Court ruled that it’s against the Eighth Amendment to sentence juveniles to life in prison. Unfortunately, it was too late for me to see my mom one last time. She died of cancer just 10 months before my release.

But I know how lucky I am just to taste food, to smell trees, to be able to watch the sun rise. I go to bed listening to the sound of thunderstorms to remind me that out of struggle, there can be something to look forward to in the end.

Everybody’s made life-altering decisions, but change is possible if we stay committed. And nobody knows that better than a kid with his whole life ahead of him.

Thanks for listening,

Rich Griffin
Activist and ACLU Smart Justice campaign volunteer

To learn more about voting rights, criminal justice reform, reproductive freedom, and other ways to defend rights for all, click here.

This post is brought to you by the ACLU.