I want to introduce the public and the uninformed to the man known today as Dre’maris Jackson. As a young kid growing up on the eastside of Detroit, Michigan, I fancied after the older/negative guys around my neighborhood, wanting the flashy things in life. So who was I as a kid growing up, you ask? Smart, intelligent, inquisitive, astute, witty, extremely athletic and competitive in everything that I participated in. But of course, as I got older, the nuances of grittiness and ruggedness of the Eastside started to manifest in me. I couldn’t help it if I tried; the allure of it all became too much to ignore.

Since I have been in prison, I have often thought about what I would say to a younger me. I think I would tell him to slow down and enjoy just being a kid. I would tell him to listen to his parents more, focus on his education, and stay away from the bad influences in the neighborhood. I wish I had done those things, but I had a front seat to poverty every day, and I lacked the educational tools to propel me forward. This, along with a host of other conditions, led me to a life of crime and disaster. I had to live like that to get the necessities of life, clothing, food, bills paid and a roof over my head.

Eventually I was caught, and the court process started to play out. It was like a HORRIBLE nightmare. At such a young age, I was caught in an adult system. I have vivid memories of the judge calling me a monster, a menace and someone incapable of ever changing. This has left an undeniable impression on me when I was so young. I knew it wasn’t true, and that I just needed a little guidance, but that is not how the criminal justice system works. They just saw another young Black boy, whom they did not need to care about.

Prison is meant to break, humiliate and dehumanize you. It is unbearable serving such a long sentence, because no matter how much better you become, it is never good enough in the eyes of the system.

Since being incarcerated, I had to learn how to become an adult, developing my own identity, while trying to not let my terribly rough environment affect me. There aren’t many things that bring me joy inside of the endless rows of razor wire and 15 foot high fences. I do feel joy when I receive communication from my loved ones. Other than that, there is NO joy inside of prison. Prison is meant to break, humiliate and dehumanize you. It is unbearable serving such a long sentence, because no matter how much better you become, it is never good enough in the eyes of the system.

Throughout my decade plus here, I have felt so alone and isolated. I have felt anxious, depressed, angry and sad. But in this dog-eat-dog world, you can’t show any signs of weakness or you’ll be preyed upon, from inmates to staff alike, and it will never let up.

The worst time of emotional breakdown for me comes around birthdays, holidays, special anniversaries and when I experience the loss of a loved one. Those are times when you need family the most. Perhaps one of the hardest experiences of prison was when I had to save my best friend from overdosing. He has since been released, and I am happy for him, but it is hard to be alone again. His family wants to get a chance to thank me, but they can’t.

It is hard, because I know that I have changed while I have been in prison. I have been able to obtain my bachelor’s degree in science, and get numerous other certifications and skills. This has all been of my own accord, as the M.D.O.C does not let you take those kinds of classes until you have served your minimum sentence. My thinking and decision-making process have also changed drastically. I now weigh the pros and cons of whatever I do, before I do it.

One of the ways I have tried to obtain my freedom was through the appeal process. Of course, it always failed. Ultimately, though, I was able to get a long-indeterminate sentence, and get a ruling made on juveniles who get sentenced to life without parole.

I have always seen myself as worthy of freedom because I know I can contribute so much to society. For countless days and nights, I have wanted to savor the taste of being free. I envision what my life would be like. Who would I be friends with? Where would I live? Would my family fully accept me back? How would I adjust to all the new technology? What would it be like to interact with people who do not hate me? In what ways will I give back to my community? Seeing guys come and go and come and go, while one is stuck here, takes a toll on a man’s mental and emotional stability. I want a chance to do all of those things, but I am denied. I just want an opportunity to show that I could make it.

After dreaming for a while, I eventually snap back into reality and realize that I am in a purgatory. It is such a defeating moment. I know that I would fully appreciate and value my freedom if I were released, and that I would use my skills to help society. People of the free world, there are so many wonderful people behind bars that were thrown away for making one mistake. And they all hope that they could go back and reverse what they’ve done. We are ostracized from society and have to wear a scarlet letter every day of our lives. But what society fails to realize, is just how sorrowful we are, and how much we want to be forgiven for our transgressions.

With the progress of criminal justice reform, there has been the release of so many deserving men and women who all have families that needed them back to be whole, and who got to see their loved ones before they were on their deathbed. But there are so many more who deserve to be released. If the “Good Time” disciplinary credits or programing credit system were instituted retroactively, then countless deserving men and women would have a chance to reunite with their families in a safe and just way. They can go back to the communities that they once took for granted. It would also save taxpayers a lot of money that could go towards education, diversion programs, food banks, homeless shelters and a plethora of other helpful things. As an incarcerated juvenile lifer who has repented and been reformed, I want to beg and plead on behalf of my fellow inmates and myself. We all want to desperately ask for a second chance at a meaningful opportunity at life. With that said, thank you for your time.