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YSRP Celebrates 5th Anniversary of Montgomery Decision

YSRP Reentry Coordinator John Pace

In commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the landmark Montgomery v. Louisiana US Supreme Court decision, former Juvenile Lifers, advocates, movement leaders and loved ones gathered with the YSRP team to celebrate freedom on January 28, 2021 via Zoom.

YSRP Reentry Coordinator John Pace emceed the event, which brought together over 80 individuals to honor and celebrate the community of former Juvenile Lifers.

In his opening remarks, John stated:

For many of us condemned to die in prison, it was our rejection of being labelled ‘incorrigible’ that often fueled us to debunk the myth [that we be defined by our worst mistake]. This passion carried us through many dark moments while incarcerated, and how we tapped into our ability to be resilient while incarcerated and in our transition back home.

It is not only the wisdom of the US Supreme Court, but the resiliency of many of these men and women that we should focus on as we look to honor a few of the men and women this evening for being ‘unsung heroes’.

The event also featured a special appearance and remarks by Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman.

In his tenure as Lt. Governor, Mr. Fetterman has revamped the commutations process in Pennsylvania, more so than any other administration within the last 35 years. He told partygoers:

I will never do anything more meaningful in my public life than to lead the charge to give people the opportunity to not die in prison.

Lt. Governor John Fetterman

Mr. Fetterman continued:

The State should not be in the vengeance business. The State should be in the [business of] redemption and forgiveness, and it should be in what really enhances public safety and justice. And that is what is obviously not meant when you are condemning children to die in prison.

The [Montgomery] ruling has been an outstanding ruling. The results have borne out the wisdom of that ruling – with the recidivism rate so low, it just demonstrates the unnecessary number of inmates that we have in our prisons all across Pennsylvania and in this country.

Robert Saleem Holbrook

Robert Saleem Holbrook, with John Pace, then presented awards to recognize the “unsung heroes and sheroes” who have returned home and continue to represent the growing community of former Juvenile Lifers with dignity.

The path home, he said, was built by the movement. He continued: “My sister worked hard as hell to bring me home, and I love her for that everyday. She would be the first to say that she couldn’t have done it alone, and everyone here is a result of that. We brought each other home.”

Saleem acknowledged the incredible number of formerly-incarcerated people who have served life without parole sentences as children who are now home, and who are doing tremendous work — holding down jobs, and contributing to the community — despite the odds.

In presenting the awards to eight men and women former Juvenile Lifers, Saleem said, “I don’t think there’s any reward we could give you to translate how much you mean to this movement, and to the sacrifices and struggle that you and everyone else has been through.”

The awardees shared their love and appreciation for the community as they accepted their awards.

John Pace also acknowledged Larry Gregory, Shariff Ingram and Aaron Smith, who were formerly sentenced to die in prison as children, and who have returned to the Philadelphia area within the last six months. Shariff and Larry each shared reflections of their first months home, and gratitude for their freedom.

The evening closed with commemorations of the Montgomery decision, and celebratory toasts. Partygoers also looked forward to the date, in just a couple of weeks, when Mr. Joe Ligon would join the community of former Juvenile Lifers in Philadelphia. We at YSRP are proud to be among those welcoming him home.

2021 “Unsung Hero” Awardees

Giovanni Reid

Marlo Clark

Stacey Torrance

Steve Austin

Tamika Bell

Troy Davis

Vernon Steed

Vincent Sharif Boyd

We are grateful to all partygoers and supporters for celebrating a powerful evening of freedom and liberation with us.

Click below to see more photos from the event.

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