Letters to a Lifer provides a rare insight into life without parole (LWOP) for juveniles in the USA. A true story from Pennsylvania, it is a compelling tale of faith and redemption.
Cindy Sanford tells how a chance correspondence with Ken, a prisoner artist, began to change her entrenched ideas about offenders. Her book now adds voice to the work of the USA’s National Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and will also be of interest to students of restorative justice. In 1999, America’s Most Wanted broadcast details of a notorious crime. Twelve years later Cindy was introduced to Ken, one of the two boys convicted, through his remarkable wildlife art. By then a young man, Ken had spent half his life in prison. Initially wary, Cindy was surprised to find him humble, polite and deeply grateful for her interest. Gradually she and her family were able to look beyond his crime to the person he had become. Despite a hardening of attitudes generally towards offenders in the USA and other parts of the western world, Letters to a Lifer shows why the campaign against LWOP sentences for juveniles is nonetheless gaining momentum.
‘A powerful and touching narrative that illustrates the folly of life sentences for juvenile offenders … Sanford does an excellent job of tracking the emotional response she has to Ken as she learns of his history of childhood neglect and abuse and his attempts, through his artwork and care for birds in the prison, to demonstrate to the world the ways he has changed, and she does so in a way that had a huge impact on my own perspective. It is easy to assume that someone who has been convicted of a heinous crime should be locked away for life and to not think too deeply about the life and the humanity that is forever changed by the verdict’– Juvenile Justice Blog.
As featured in Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
Cindy Sanford is a self-proclaimed “tough on crime” advocate whose accidental meeting with a juvenile lifer prompted a re-examination of long held values and beliefs. She is a registered nurse, the mother of three sons and the wife of a Wildlife Conservation Officer. She lives in Bloomsbury, USA.
With a moving Foreword by Illinois public defender Jeanne Bishop whose own sister was killed by a minor who, like Ken, received LWOP.