A personal account from Debbie Wells, Founder of Reaching Beyond Bars:
"On November 14, 2007, my life was forever changed. I received a phone call stating that my 17-year-old son had been involved in a crime that would lead him to prison. Once detained and evaluated, he was diagnosed with having bi-polar and mild personality disorder and sent to serve out his sentence in a mental health prison. Although he faced many challenges while incarcerated, there was no greater challenge than when he walked out of the gates as a free man—he was given a gold envelope with no plan of action, no medication or prescription, no help and little hope. What was supposed to be his second chance, became just another sentence.
Although my son was now in the “free world,” he wasn’t free. He continued to wrestle with his mental illness. He faced many other challenges, such as finding housing, gaining employment, and securing reliable transportation. He feared that he'd never be able to establish a stable environment for he and his daughter.
We were not able to receive any assistance, forcing me to work through the roadblocks on my own. It was then that I remembered the faces of those around me when I visited my son during his incarceration, realizing that they too, would someday face the same challenges my son had faced. In an attempt to change this harsh reality, Reaching Beyond Bars was created.
The mission of Reaching Beyond Bars is to give both youth and adults returning home the opportunity at a fair and just second chance by providing them with the necessary resources and tools to live a self-sustaining life. With the help of our volunteers, donors, and partnerships, all returning citizens can make real strides towards success.
They say Justice is blind, but is she also deaf. In my work, the cries of the young, the old, the poor and mentally ill go unheard. The world does not seem fair while evil still abounds, and so those oppressed petition God to intervene on their behalf. Justice can hardly be found amongst those charged with ruling our nation with fairness and equity. Instead we seem to be bombarded by the “system” of plea bargaining, overburdened and overpopulated prisons, and an alarming number of wrongful convictions. In America today, data shows that only three percent of those charged with a federal crime will see a jury trial. In fact, there was no jury trial for my son when they attempted to send him away on a 10-year mandatory sentence. Where is/was the justice in that?
In the United States, dozens of 13- and 14-year-old children have been sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole after being prosecuted as adults. A study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 73 cases where children 13 and 14 years of age have been condemned to death in prison. Almost all of these kids currently lack legal representation and in most of these cases the propriety and constitutionality of their extreme sentences have never been reviewed.
Some may ask, “What can I do? This is too big for one person.” Trust me, it’s not a one person job. It will take us all. Our responsibility as a nation is to act justly which should inspire us to CONSTANTLY speak out against injustice in forums, with friends and family, organizations embedded in this work, social media, etc. Over criminalization, especially in the US is a liberty issue. Every American should know if they are about to break the law, and have the right to choose not to break it. Because there are so many laws, many of which are so capricious, almost everyone is ignorant of these laws on some level. The laws in most cases, vary from state to state. For example, my son was 17 and was charged with armed robbery but didn’t have a gun. This charge carries a minimum 10 year sentence because it’s considered one of the Georgia’s “7 Deadly Sins”. I never remembered my children coming home from school studying such “sins”. Before there is such harsh sentencing, we citizens should demand such “sins” or “laws” be taught to us, our children, teachers, and other educational institutions. How else are we to know? There is no magic repository listing ALL the laws of the land. Even if there were, where would one begin given the vast number of them? Most of the time, we don’t know we’ve broken a law until the hand of “injustice” comes crushing down. I’m not advocating we let those who’ve broken the law get away with such things. However, there should be a just, fair, and equitable solution. Most importantly, we MUST get back to the platinum rule which supersedes the golden one and that’s Love as God loved, have mercy when it’s in your power to do otherwise, extend forgiveness daily. This is what justice looks like to me."
Debbie Wells, Reaching Beyond Bars