The Redemption Project investigates, documents and shares the stories of lifers, men and women sentenced to life in prison. 


There Are approximately
0
Juvenile lifers in the United States
There are
0
in every other country in the world combined

Scroll down for stories and click on the topics at the top of the page for an overview of the legal history and other resources.

Kempis Songster • Resentencing scheduled

In 1987, Kempis and a childhood friend – both gifted students – ran away from their Brooklyn homes at 15 looking for adventure. They took a train to Philadelphia and got jobs selling drugs from inside abandoned houses for a notorious Jamaican gang. They were locked in the fortified homes and distributed drugs through the mail slots. Neither had been in trouble with the law before.

A year later they were convicted for the murder of another teenage runaway, Anjo Pryce. Kempis’s story is one of paying for a single tragic mistake for the rest of his life. He grew up in prison, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree and, until recently, had very little hope of ever leaving.

Click on the image of Kempis to hear a snippet of conversation. Click below the image for video, images and more audio.

Aaron Phillips • Resentencing scheduled

In 1986 an older friend talked Aaron, then 17, into helping him rob the home of an elderly man in Pottstown, Pa. Neither were armed. The man, 86-year-old Anthony “Eddie” McEvoy, surprised Aaron and his accomplice during the robbery and was pushed to the ground as the two fled.

Mr. McEvoy died 18 days later of medical complications following surgery for a hip injury he suffered during the fall. Aaron’s co-defendant, Dennis Gibbs, took a plea deal to testify against Aaron, who was convicted of second degree murder and is serving a mandatory life sentence. Gibbs, who planned the robbery, was paroled more than 20 years ago. Aaron’s parents forbade him from taking a plea deal because they believed he was not responsible for Mr. McEvoy’s death.

Aaron’s resentencing is scheduled for June 24, 2016 at the Montgomery County Court House in Norristown.

John Pace • Released

John was 17 when he attempted to mug a man in West Philadelphia in 1985, the culmination of several bad choices he made in his teen years. Intoxicated, John clumsily attacked the older man, hitting him on the head with a blackjack. A police officer was nearby and arrested him immediately on assault charges.

Ten days later the charges changed to murder when the man died. John subsequently received bad legal advice from a court-appointed attorney and pleaded guilty to second degree murder, which in Pennsylvania required the judge to sentence him to a mandatory life sentence. John, who has earned a Bachelor’s degree inside, has so far served 30 years in prison. He hopes to one day obtain a master’s degree in social work, but for now he will settle for helping to eradicate illiteracy in prison. 

Thanks to the Montgomery decision, John was from Graterford prison in March.

David Maldonado • Released

David has been incarcerated since the age of 16, when he and his brother were convicted of homicide following a robbery and altercation after a long day of swimming and partying at a well-known swimming hole, called Devil’s Pool, along a creek in Philadelphia in August 1980. David’s brother Sam, who was 18 at the time, was also convicted in the case.

David entered the prison system as an IV drug user and over the past 35 years of his incarceration has obtained a Bachelor’s degree inside from Villanova University, a master’s degree and is currently working on a certification to be a drug and alcohol counselor.

David was released from Graterford prison on May 16, 2017. His brother Sam is still serving a life-without-parole sentence.

Michael Lehman • Resentenced

Michael was 14 years old when some older kids who he lived with at a group home in York, Pa. asked him to serve as a lookout while they robbed one of the home’s counselors, Kwame Beatty, on June 18, 1988.  Beatty was stabbed to death as Lehman sat in an upstairs hallway tasked with keeping other residents of the home in their rooms.

“I think about what I did and what I should have done and I know I can’t change anything,”  he told the York Daily Record. “That’s what I think about all the time. It’s not so much that I didn’t run and get the police. Or that I could have yelled and alerted other people in the home to what was going on. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even tell them to stop. I just went upstairs, sat in the hallway and cried. I don’t know why I didn’t leave. I don’t know why I didn’t try to go get help. I didn’t do anything.

“That’s what I see when I look in the mirror, that coward. That’s what I live with. I know there is no way to make that right.”

In April 2017, Michael was resentenced to 30 years to life and became eligible for parole. He could be released by the end of June.

Luis Gonzalez • Resentencing scheduled

Luis was 17 and living in Philadelphia in December 1986, when he and a friend decided to steal another teen’s leather jacket. They confronted the young man, Danny Martinez, and a scuffle ensued. Danny was shot and died three days later. It is unclear who pulled the trigger. Luis was charged with his death and sentenced to life without parole.

Luis came to prison illiterate and angry. But over the course of his 30 years of incarceration he learned to read, got his GED and spent 16 years pursuing a bachelor’s degree inside from Villanova University. “The best 16 years of my life,” he told a journalist.

Luis has spearheaded several programs inside including a scholarship program funded by dollars that men at Graterford could pull together from their wages. The program has distributed several hundred dollars in scholarships.

Luis, aka “Suave,” will be resentenced on June 26.

“Life in prison without the possibility of parole gives no chance for fulfillment outside prison walls, no chance for reconciliation with society, no hope. Maturity can lead to that considered reflection which is the foundation for remorse, renewal, and rehabilitation. A young person who knows that he or she has no chance to leave prison before life’s end has little incentive to become a responsible individual.”

 majority opinion, Graham v. Florida, 2010

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