Illinois Prison Project Speaks to Haven Eighth Graders
Article written by Haven Middle School 8th graders:
On February 3rd, the Illinois Prison Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding justice for excessively sentenced incarcerated individuals, visited our eighth-grade student body at Haven Middle School. Volunteer Tamala Allen, Programs Intern Ginevra Francesconi, Habitual Offender Program Officer Wali Deutsch, and Marshan Allen presented an informational slideshow regarding their progressive work towards reforming the Illinois prison system. As the slideshow ended, Mr. Allen stood up and addressed us. Over the course of thirty minutes, our views of the criminal justice system would be changed forever, leaving us to feel outrage, injustice, clarity and most importantly, empowerment.
Marshan Allen was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole at only 15 years of age. He was convicted for two counts of a murder he didn’t commit, on the premise of an Illinois law that gave courts the right to sentence youth to life in prison for mere association with the felon. Fortunately, through the brave work of lawyers like Bryan Stevenson (a familiar name in the mass incarceration unit eighth grade has been studying), who work to challenge corrupt legislature, Marshan was granted parole after 25 years behind bars. He may have entered prison as a sophomore in high school, but he was leaving as a middle-aged man. There would be no prom, graduation, or college farewells for Marshan. His “golden years' ' and potential for the future had been wasted behind bars. As it is for most former convicts, returning to society has been a struggle, leaving Marshan continuously punished for a crime the debt had been paid for.
When he finished speaking, it was clear everyone in the crowd was shocked, to say the least. A teen grew up legally imprisoned for a quarter of a century and wasn’t the only one. Every year, millions are incarcerated in the U.S. alone, leaving us with the highest prison population worldwide. Mass incarceration is both an epidemic and a crisis but is only just beginning to be treated as such, thanks in part to the brave work of men like Marshan Allen. To much of the student audience, Marshan’s speech sparked a desire to become involved in the fight for justice. His idealistic hopes for a reformed judicial system left everyone with much to think about.
While not yet able to vote, students Eren Atac and Evelyn Koski say Marshan’s story inspired them to take action in any way they can, whether by signing petitions or writing letters to legislators. Eighth-grade student Alyssa Williams also stated that she “felt connected to [Marshan’s] words. The advice he gave to pick our friends wisely and avoid trouble really stuck with me.” This experience is one no Haven 8th grader will be forgetting anytime soon.
For more information on Marshan Allen’s work: https://www.fairsentencingofyouth.org/ican/marshan-allen/
For more information on The Illinois Prison Project: https://www.illinoisprisonproject.org/