Greetings! By the time this letter reaches you, I truly pray that you and your family are in the best of health, mentally as well as physically. I am writing to you on this day because I just read in a Michigan paper an article that touched on a subject that has been on my mind and heart for many years. I never before had the help or platform to get this point across. The article I am speaking of is entitled: “If You Want To Help End Mass Incarceration.” In this article, it was stated that it is important for the public to better understand the stories of the men and women who are serving life and long sentences in this state. It says that until there is an understanding of those incarcerated, it’s doubtful that lawmakers and the public will want to help them. This is the subject that has been on my mind for many years, and you can see why. For so many years, I have felt alone and lost in this system that has broken me in so many ways. I can’t understand the reasons for this treatment, and that is what I want to express in this letter. Please bear with me, and I promise to be 100 percent honest with you.

Please allow me to introduce myself, so you can become somewhat familiar with who I am. My name is Romallis Colvin. I am 48 years old, and I have been in prison since the age of 17. That’s 30 years! This is my first time in prison. I am in prison for one count of kidnapping. I will give you my case in a nutshell, so you may have an understanding of why I feel this way, and why the article touched me so deeply!

In 1990, my four co-defendants approached a man in his driveway, claiming to be police officers with weapons. He was then placed in a van and told to be honest. The man was hit, kicked and burned with a fork. We found out that he was not the drug-dealer we thought him to be. We gave him money to make up for what we did, and after he picked it up, the police arrived. One of the defendants was arrested, but the rest of us ran away. After six months, I was arrested with the others. The other defendants were much older than me and had been to jail before, both as adults and juveniles. We were all offered plea deals for 10 to 20 years, except for one defendant who was kidnapped again while on the run, and was offered 13 to 20. I did not take the plea deal, and the judge gave me life with parole. I appealed, and my new judge agreed, saying that my sentence was grossly excessive if not vindictive. It is a judge’s job to look at the sentence of each defendant, his participation in the crime, and his record. Being so young, I did not understand the law and ended up missing a deadline, which meant my old sentence stayed. I was not allowed to raise my case again, not even to the judge that ruled in my favor. I was confused and felt alone! Years passed and each of my co-defendants were released.

Please just understand my mindset at this age. I am a kid with a daughter just born, and I have a life sentence on me. For years, I felt lost, depressed and abandoned, with no hope. I saw the pain in my mother and daughter’s eyes and could do nothing about it. I first saw the parole board after 10 years, and not again till my 30th. Every five years, after my first parole hearing, instead of getting another chance, I just got a letter that said “no interest.”

I am trying to paint you a clear picture into the mind of someone that experienced this “mass incarceration.” Understand that I am not saying I am innocent, or that I am trying to use my age at the time of my crime as an excuse. I know right from wrong. Even though I was raised in a one-parent household, I had love, food and clothing. I was not forced or coerced to commit this crime. Rather, I gave into peer-pressure through my desire to be accepted by the wrong crowd. I accept full responsibility for what I did. I feel remorseful and empathetic because I understand my actions not only affected this gentleman, but they hurt his family as well. It also affected the community because people feel afraid to come out of their homes after something like this happens. It affected my mother to hear her son was involved in this, and that he received a life sentence. It affected my daughter, who was born three weeks after I was arrested. Her father was not around to guide her through her life experiences. I do realize my actions caused a terrible fate!

Several years after being in jail, I wrote to my victim, apologizing for what I did. He wrote back, accepting the apology and saying that he did not think we should all have to rot in jail forever. Do you agree with him, or do you think I should be in prison for the rest of my life?

I am hoping this letter can help the public understand this incarcerated individual. There are people here who have made mistakes or bad choices. If they were juveniles, then they did not get a chance to experience life at all. Many of these people have changed, but have not had a chance to show that. Help is very much needed! Thank you for your time and patience.