Decades ago, we committed reckless but serious crimes that landed us in prison as children. Ed Ramsey grew up in Kansas City in the 1980s, in a community where role models encouraged young men to pursue criminal behavior rather than education. Michael Vincent grew up in northern St. Louis neighborhoods where drugs and violence were rampant, bouncing between 13 different schools before dropping out before high school. As children, we were compulsorily sentenced to life without parole, regardless of our youth or any other mitigating evidence.
But our crimes don’t define us. We are living proof that hope is not lost for children who commit even very serious crimes. Children change and grow. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to prove this to the Missouri parole board, and we are now home and able to give back to our community as a result. We write this editorial in the hope that others imprisoned as children can have the same opportunity to show that they have changed and deserve a second chance.
A Supreme Court ruling in 2012 made mandatory life sentences without parole for children unconstitutional, and the Missouri legislature passed a law making us eligible for parole at 25 years. Through this change in law and advocacy from the MacArthur Justice Center, we had the opportunity to demonstrate our rehabilitation and readiness for release.
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For the first time, we were able to present mitigating evidence about our youth at the time of the crime, and evidence about how we have grown and matured since, including the opportunities we took in prison to help others. . Ed has been a palliative care worker for over 16 years, comforting incarcerated patients in their final moments. And he co-founded a program that ran group counseling sessions with at-risk teens. For Michael, his participation in the intensive therapeutic community has changed his life.
After completing this intensive and strict program, he continued to teach subjects such as anger management.
The parole board recognized our growth and development, and we were finally able to return home. Ed was released in December 2021, after 33 years in prison. Michael came out in October 2020, after 31 years and 10 months.
The transition to community was a welcome challenge. Ed found opportunities to mentor young athletes as they navigated the difficulties of being a teenager in Kansas City.
Michael has found steady employment at a chemical plant, where he excels, and he continues to find joy in reconnecting with his family. Both men have a new appreciation for everyday life. Last session, the Missouri legislature expanded parole eligibility to all juvenile offenders after 15 years, recognizing that children deserve that same second chance at freedom.
We are a living example of what scientific and statistical studies tell us about children who commit crimes. Because of their still-developing brains, teens are more likely to exhibit brash and short-sighted behavior, especially in a social situation. But children grow old because of criminal behavior. In fact, people sentenced to long prison terms for childhood crimes have the lowest risk of recidivism.
None of this is an excuse for the harms we have caused – harms that have had a ripple effect on countless people whose lives we have touched. Being sorry for what we have done is not enough. Instead, long ago, we dedicated our lives to helping others – not to try to undo what we had done, but in the hope of pointing other young people in a direction where there is no there would be more victims.
It is doing our communities a disservice to keep people in prison when they are ready and able to safely reintegrate into society. The Supreme Court ruled that life sentences were excessive for all but the very rare juvenile offender whose crime reflected irreparable corruption rather than transient immaturity.
Now Missouri wants to take that second chance away from nearly 200 juvenile offenders. But Supreme Court case law tells us that all children deserve a meaningful chance to get out of prison when they have demonstrated growth and maturity. We encourage you to call your rep and ask them to make sure the kids aren’t thrown out for life. Lawmakers are expected to vote no on Senate Bill 664.
Ed Ramsey and Michael Vincent were both incarcerated for life without parole for crimes they committed as children.