My name is Alexander Pappas and I wish to comment on the issue of revisiting sentences for juveniles serving de facto life sentences without the possibility of parole. In 1993, I was 16 years old when I was incarcerated and I served 26 years out of 65 years for my crime and I consider myself very lucky. I am now 43 years old, and I was recently released in January 2020 under electronic monitoring supervision. I reside with my extended family in Anchorage. I am surrounded with a great support group mixed with my family and co-workers. I have full time employment, and I have my own art business and consign with two local art galleries in Anchorage. I have been working on improving my life the day that I was placed into custody. Being a felon is not what I had envisioned for myself or my future but it happened. I can sit and blame it on dysfunctional family life, lack of structure and living an unsupervised adolescent lifestyle, but I made a choice that I will be repaying for the rest of my life - whether it is with time served, or with my own conscience. My story is a bit unique, as there were four youth offenders involved in the case and the crimes that were committed. During that time there was an uptick in youth crimes taking place in Anchorage for whatever reasons, and my case was made an example of with excessive sentences to make a point and send a message to the community. My sentence was decided to be 65 years for my role. Still not a day goes by that I don't have regret or sadness for my actions that I was, and always will be responsible for other people’s pain and loss until the day I die. When I was 16 year old, I was sentenced and convicted as an adult and entered the adult prison system, presumably, for the next 65 years. I will have been relocated to more than six correctional facilities across the country, with minimal family visits due to distance from home, but had a lot of telephone visits to stay in touch with my mother, until she passed away in 2017, and my two sisters, and my grandmother. While incarcerated, I held employment consistently over the years, I pursued and received certifications, received my GED and pursued higher education in business management. I joined a non-profit dog training program that trained rescues to be intelligent family pets and service dogs for special needs, and I remained in this group for over 10 years. I joined a hobby and learned a craft of native wood carving and jewelry engraving by a master carver that was also incarcerated at the time, and I have been doing this ever since. I have never joined a gang, I stayed healthy and physically fit and I looked forward to the future and a chance to start my life again. Most of these programs and opportunities that I have been enrolled in have had familiar faces in them over the years. And some of these faces became like brothers to me. Over the past 26 years, this very small band of individuals have all been supportive of each other, sharing knowledge, gaining insight into each other's personalities, humor, and personal challenges that each might be experiencing to keep spirits up, motivate one another, offer encouragement on bad days and share joy on the good ones. When I learned of my release date, after many years of paperwork, family support, support letters, attorney advice and fees, (and a lot of hope) I found myself feeling sadness for the guys still inside because they deserve a chance too. And to be honest, also because I will probably never be able to speak to them again as it is not permitted. Unfortunately some of them do not have the outside support that is needed to backup who they are or stick up for them. But some do, and this is why I am writing this letter to ask that you seriously consider revisiting sentences for juveniles who are serving 30 years or more. Frequently, to the parole board, we are just file folders with sheets of paper that list our crimes and don’t have a real chance to speak openly or give them any idea of who we are or who we have become over the years. It is almost as if the judgment has already been decided and it is just a formality. That our passions, intentions, and goals are not relevant when you have severe crimes highlighted on the papers they are looking at. It feels like this is how they see you and it is dispicable to them and oftentimes you can feel defeated before you even sit down to interview. We were once boys that have grown into adult men and we all carry our crime(s) differently. Most of us are deeply affected by it and traumatized in our own ways. For me, I may never be able to openly speak about my actions when I was 16 to anyone, that is just not who I am anymore and it is difficult to put who I am today into that storyline of the past. But one thing I know is that I can only control what I can control and I can only move forward. And that is my mission. To move forward, always do the best I can and accept myself because I know exactly who I am today. I am a man that wishes to own his own business and create art because it gives me pride, peace and solace. I am a man who wishes to have a family someday, begin his life as a free person and share it with people that I love and love me back. I want to hike a mountain, buy a Chevy, see a concert, and know what it feels like to fall in love. Imagine spending every single day of your life for 26 years surrounded by hundreds of people from all walks of life, but you develop comradeship with just a few. Everyday you see them, you work with them, you create art with them, and you share stories with them, you go to potlatches with them and meet their families...and then one day you are gone. You get to know these people and I can tell you from my first hand knowledge that there are guys in the prison system that are juvenile offenders and they just flat out do not belong in there anymore. They are in their 40’s now like I am, and the mind frame that we were all in 26 years ago just doesn’t exist any longer. It is a proven fact that there is a gap in the mental understanding in people under the age of 25 that is lacking the comprehension and consequences of impulsive actions they make. This is undisputed. And at the root of all of our beliefs where the truth lies, we have to know that no one will ever understand what it means to give someone that committed a severe crime a second chance unless you love and care about that person. It just doesn’t happen, because the correct thing to do is to defend the victim and their family. By proxy, the offender is the disposable one that no one should defend or care about how they think or feel. But see, the offender has a family too that loves and cares about how they feel. He has sisters and brothers, grandmothers, significant others, and nieces and nephews. And they all know at the root of their truth, that he or she doesn’t belong in the system anymore. They don’t belong because they made all of the right decisions over the years to prove this, they did what was asked of them, and now it is just being asked of you to please recognize these cases, bring people in that have experience with knowing what it looks like to truly be rehabilitated at the core, not just on paper. The question is always what are you going to do with your time? Is he going to focus and lay down the tracks to start building towards the unforeseen future with uncertainty if it’s going to pay off or not? Yes, some do. Will he or she be prepared and ready for when the day comes for that annual evaluation or parole board hearing to prove that what he says has candor and his actions are instilled in him because he truly is this person and wants a chance to prove to everyone that he can succeed? Yes, some do. These are the ones that need to be recognized for that second chance at life on the outside. Yes, there must be a penalty for severe crimes but when a juvenile commits a crime of those degrees, we must develop a system to help these juveniles be rehabilitated and given a fair chance based on their merits and their character over the years that they are serving. There needs to be someone that can be able to develop a rapport with these individuals on the inside over the years so they can see growth and identify their personal development, intention and character. And if parole boards are going to have active members that are the parents of victims of violent crimes, it should be unbiased and include a member that is the parent of a violent offender that is proactive and willing to serve so that it is a level playing field for the juvenile offenders that sit in the chair before the Board. Why have one and not the other? Or why do it at all? Everyone should have someone that supports them in some way, and most of these young offenders rely on their families. While I was and still fortunate to have a family that never gave up, this is my moment of truth, because today I fully understand what the consequences will be if I mess up and the price will be the rest of my life.
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