Editor’s note: Today’s guest post comes from John Legend, artist, producer and activist; and Ty Stiklorius, veteran music manager, CEO of Friends at Work, Producer and Activist
At the age of 17, Jarrett Harper was sentenced to life in prison without parole. His crime was killing the man who had sexually abused him and his brother over a number of years. But he was not seen as a desperate child victim trying to stop the abuse he and his brother were enduring. Instead, he was sentenced as a child to die in prison.
We were honored to meet Jarrett during a visit to Lancaster Prison in 2015. When we met, Jarrett was 33 years old and had already served 16 years behind bars. During that time, Jarrett devoted himself to learning and healing. He reached out to others who were incarcerated with him, to mentor and give counsel to them. This young man, who had suffered so much and been through so much trauma, was dedicated to transforming himself and to finding hope.
Meeting Jarrett changed us. It reinvigorated our commitment to addressing how children are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, the conditions of their confinement—and to Jarrett’s personal plea for freedom. We co-authored a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown petitioning for Jarrett’s sentence of life without parole to be reduced. In 2019, newly-elected Governor Gavin Newsom agreed with Governor Jerry Brown’s decision. Jarrett was finally released after serving 20 years.