Jonathan Norton Statement in Support of SB114
March 31, 2021
To Whom It May Concern,
I was asked to write a letter that spoke on my thoughts of seeing the parole board for another chance to prove myself worthy of early release. I was asked this particularly because I was a juvenile when I committed my offence.
To be perfectly honest, getting out of prison is one of the most frightening things I can think of. I've been locked-up for about 32 years now and this existence is all I know. It, prison, has become very similar to a chronic pain, one that's not going to ever go away. At times it gets aggravated; for me that is usually holidays or birthdays... The worst times are when a loved one is in need and I can do nothing to help. But like most chronic pains, I've learned to live with it. As hard as it may be at times, I know how to make it through the days, months, and years that are prison. It's the unknown of freedom that is terrifying to me.
I was arrested when I was 16 years old. I made a terrible choice that cost an innocent man his life. The only excuse I can offer for my crime is the ignorance that comes with youth. Because I was arrested at such a young age, I know nothing of bills, taxes, rent, or relationships. I have virtually no experience outside of these walls. For me getting out would literally be like moving out on your own for the first time as a teen. Except I will be 56 when I next have a chance at it. Here I don't have much in the way of responsibilities. Most everything is done for prisoners. We're told when and where to eat, sleep, shower, and use the bathroom. And we have no real expenses. In a way, living in prison is easy, but it isn't really living at all, it's just existing. Existing with no purpose.
For that reason, I would not hesitate at a chance at parole. Even under these circumstances I know I've grown into an intelligent and capable human being. But the most profound thing I've gained over the years is an understanding of what really matters in life. I understand how my choices as a teen took so much from so many people, as well as myself. I know this wisdom would be a huge benefit to my survival outside of these wails. And perhaps sharing it would help prevent other kids stay out of places like this.
Unfortunately, the Alaska Justice System is stuck in an archaic mind set when it comes to juvenile offenders. It's frustrating to be grouped with and treated the same as people who made bad decisions as adults. I don't know how often I've heard, "...if they want to do adult crimes, they should get punished like adults...". Just what is an "adult crime"? The fact of the matter is we were children, and children do dumb shit. Its why children can't smoke, can't drink, can't purchase weapons, can't see certain movies or play certain games. Children are not developed enough to make the same life decisions that a responsible adult would.
I feel that if prison is likened to chronic pain then that would make the parole board a group of specialists, I've heard so much about. They could help but won't see me because of some outdated information that they live by. And they're unwilling to even look at what's been learned over the years.
Ironic that the entire world, including Alaska, has changed the way we do things because of this pandemic. We're following this new science and relying on it to beat this thing even if it means going against the grain that we are used to. So why is it so hard for our justice system to follow the science when it comes to juvenile offenders?
Jonathan R. Norton