The Pendulum Foundation’s priority, at least in this Executive Director’s mind, is to lower sentences for current and future juveniles serving life and very long prison sentences. As everybody knows this is a difficult task and we are one of two states that has made any progress in ending life without parole – and that only retroactively. We shall persevere, and have a long range plan to do just that. In the meantime, I know many of those serving life sentences and am very aware that time is passing. They have spent their youth in prison, and a few are now closer to middle age than their teens. Some have spent more than half their lives behind bars. Their faces and their stories haunt me.
We remain impatient and committed.
In the meantime, I believe we’ve had a few successes that are pretty extraordinary. A few years ago we created a college scholarship program for juveniles who are serving 20 years or more. Because of the long sentences, not to mention budget cuts, our young men and women get very few programs. College is expensive and beyond the reach of most. So, thanks to the generosity of a few large donors, we’ve been able to provide $1000 annual scholarships for those who were arrested as juveniles and are serving the most draconian sentences. Not a college education, but the program has ignited a hunger for learning in those who have taken advantage of it. Department of Corrections said it’s the most successful program they’ve ever instituted. We’ve also collaborated with DOC to implement a gang prevention and education program. Upon entering the system many of our young men become involved in gangs. They feel they have no choice; that gangs will protect them from much larger, much older and much wilier predators. But after maturing, and realizing gang membership often makes them more vulnerable to violence, most want to “retire.” Often easier said than done. So we’ve presented DOC with a program that will change the prisoners’ thinking and help them safely exit the gang environment. We also have come up with a series of computer based education programs that will bring the world of art, literature, mathematics, history – an entire liberal arts education – to those inside. Thanks to the generosity of one of our volunteers in the recycling business, The Pendulum Foundation can provide all the necessary computers. Once implemented the programs will help system-wide in all facilities, but in keeping with our mission, these educational opportunities can change and transform the lives of the young men and women we are committed to. I am most excited about one distance learning course being implemented at Limon Correctional Facility, Classics of American Literature. I had the great pleasure of ordering approximately 200 books, including The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, The Wasteland, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Red Badge of Courage, and other timeless works of fiction. Knowing that some of our young men will now have the opportunity to enter the magical lands inside these pages is very exciting. Part of our stated mission is that, whether inside or outside, our young men and women can live lives of meaning and purpose. Education is one of the keys.
Finally, with Department of Corrections’ new reclassification of all prisoners, we are expecting some of our young men and women to be able to move into lower level facilities where they will have more freedom. Right now, they are at Colorado’s most restricted facilities and regardless of how exemplary their behavior, they are often frozen there. We are working to change that. And we will revisit the juvenile clemency board with a new governor, the head of DOC, and a new set of criteria to see whether freedom can be achieved for many of our young men and women without further legislation.
Until next time,
Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director