By Austin Fisher
As the Second Chance bill was making its way through the New Mexico Legislature, community members were already thinking ahead to how they could try to also improve the conditions on the inside of New Mexico’s juvenile and adult prison systems.
Prison is not an environment conducive to the type of development and change children need, said Eric Alexander, senior advocate with the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, during an informal panel in January at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.
“There was nothing placed inside of the prison environment that encouraged me to change,” he said. “Maturity helped me to understand what I needed within myself.”
Even though society has placed children in prison to die, they muster the wherewithal to do it themselves, and “found a way out of no way,” said Alexander, who himself faced an extreme sentence in prison as a child.
“They’re coming home as totally changed, new individuals,” he said. “They changed there, with no incentive at all.”
Clifton White, a father and activist in Albuquerque, joined impacted families and organizers in the audience at the panel. Together, they strategized about how to get Senate Bill 64 written into New Mexico law.
“This bill is very important, because it addresses the issue in our state that we haven’t done nothing for at all, period,” said White, who was first sentenced to 25 years in prison at age 19.
Part of the problem, he said, is that people serving life in New Mexico prisons have no incentive to change because of state law prohibiting 30-year sentences from being reduced through good time.
Programming in prisons is “actually very slim picking here in New Mexico,” said Carissa McGee, a formerly incarcerated woman from Albuquerque. Providing more and better programming to children and adults is something she hopes can also be addressed.
During the 2023 session, some state lawmakers told Abby Long they are also interested in prevention and programming for people both in the adult and juvenile criminal legal system. She wants to turn her attention to those issues now that the Second Chance bill is signed.
“I feel like I’m over having these conversations and having to work so hard to convince people that children shouldn’t be thrown away,” she said.
Whether the child inflicted violence, or it was inflicted upon them, or both, like in her son Seven’s case, the juvenile system unfortunately doesn’t have appropriate ways for them to heal while they are inside, Abby said.
“A lot of them, I think, would benefit greatly from doing that kind of work while they’re there,” she said.
Seven wants to help fellow young people not end up where he is. A child who may be right now experiencing similar problems with people trying to lure them into a gang, Abby said, could be helped by hearing from a credible, slightly older person.
“I think it’d be cool, honestly, if they had peer support training in these facilities,” she said. “That’s a dream of mine.”
Abby gets teary-eyed just thinking about the day her son Seven Long will get out.
“That’s going to be such a huge day for me,” she said.
She has also been speaking with lawmakers and other social workers about the need for a grassroots support network for folks coming out of prisons. She thinks without such a support network, people may be getting set up to fail once they get out.
“That would definitely weigh heavy on my heart,” she said. “That’s not what we’re going to do.”
Austin Fisher is a Reporter with Source New Mexico. This article is republished from Source New Mexico under a Creative Commons license.
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