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Michigan remains one of only FIVE states that automatically prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults. This policy is at odds with state laws and national and international policies that declare adulthood to begin at age 18, and is detrimental to the development and rehabilitation of our kids.
Why do you connect with the Raise the Age campaign?
When I was 17, I was convicted as an adult. At that stage in my life, I was already living on the streets on my own. I had grown up in the mid-80s, the crack era of Detroit. Prison was a part of my community’s culture. It wasn’t like a great tragedy. It was just another neighborhood, another ghetto. I pretty much thought I was an adult because I was living out an adult life. I was a different kid at the time. In my mind, I did not care if I lived or died. I was not emotionally connected.
After spending four months in the Ingham County Jail, I moved to Milwaukee to get away from it all while I was on probation. In Milwaukee, I was wrongfully convicted for another crime, and because of my past adult offense in Michigan, I received an enhanced sentence.
There is no waiver process for 17-year-olds charged as adults in Michigan, so my adult charge in Michigan made me a repeat offender. I was charged much more harshly in Wisconsin, all for a crime I did not commit.
I spent 15 years in prison, and in that time I woke up. I had to rethink my decisions, and I realized I was completely lost emotionally and mentally. I was about to go to prison for the rest of my life, and I had not even begun my life. The first thing I started to do was change who I was.
How do you think 17-year-olds are affected by adult convictions?
I was locked up with multiple 17-year-olds in Ingham. They were not like me. Mentally, they were not able to process being away from their families. I have seen a lot of psychological break downs. These teens start to get into it with the officers because they cannot relate and communicate. They ultimately find themselves in conflict and being assaulted because they cannot channel their emotional energy.
Most kids going to prison with adults have their lives put in physical danger. But I had already lived a violent life. I was not scared. There were older men in the jail who quickly flocked to me to show me the ropes. There were plenty of people who were looking to take advantage of me. I got in multiple fights. I fought several grown adults in jail after they attempted to take advantage of my youth.
How are you working with teens now?
I work for a nonprofit organization that operates in schools. I am actually the only felon who has been approved to work in a school. In November, I will be teaching an elective class four times a week on the school-to-prison pipeline.
I work with kids who live in tough environments. I work with kids who get shot at school. In order to provide a platform to escape that, we have to change that environment. I was missing true, genuine mentors when I was young. I did not have anyone to look up to. I am trying to fill that gap for other young people.
Why do you believe the law needs to stop treating 17-year-olds as adults?
We should never be treating children as adults, period. We now understand brain development, so we know that students do not develop their full brain capacities until their mid-20s. Young people need their teen years filled with opportunity. They need time to grow into adulthood.
For more information about the Raise the Age campaign, visit www.raisetheagemi.org.
— Hakim C.