Support A Second Chance for Kelly Dara

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Government has a vested interest in justice, but not in vengeance. Far too many of our youth have been sentenced harshly in response to crimes committed when they were just teens. Kelly Dara is one of these. She was just seventeen when she and her then boyfriend decided to run away to North Carolina from Virginia Beach. They intended to steal a car and leave, and so they chose a boy Kelly knew from High School who had a car. She called the boy over to her home with the intent to steal his automobile, but things rarely go as planned, and that young man died as a result of the confrontation between Kelly's boyfriend and the victim. A day later, both would find themselves in custody in North Carolina.

For her part in the crime, Kelly was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. She will spend the rest of her life in prison. That was twenty years ago. Her first hope to get out of prison comes in 22 more years and even then, she may not be released. Our system of justice exists to punish the offender for the transgressions of our law, but we do not discard the individual as a matter of course because we also expect prison to reform the prisoner. Such sentences go beyond the severity of the crime and enter the realm of vengeance in regard to teen offenders.

This is because such sentences view our children as disposable, despite the massive potential for change inherent in them. This potential has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court when they declared mandatory life without parole sentences to be a violation of the eighth amendment for juveniles in Miller v. Alabama. This is because a child's mind is far different from that of an adult. Modern science proves this beyond doubt. So it turns out that when our forebears set the age of majority at 21, they knew what they were doing. The salient point is this: people change over time. How much more does a child change over time? This is why I believe that all life without parole sentences handed out to juvenile offenders should also be included as a violation of the eighth amendment forbidding cruel and unusual punishment.

Twenty years ago, I was a different man than the one who writes this today. But that difference is dwarfed by the difference from who I was at seventeen or eighteen to the man that I am today. Kelly Dara is no different. She works, she attends college, she has taken advantage of numerous self help programs while she has been incarcerated, and she has never lost hope for a brighter future despite her circumstances. She accepts that what she did was wrong and accepts responsibility for her part, but she has changed while in prison and has grown since she was a girl of seventeen. The truth is that the girl who was convicted twenty years ago, does not exist today. She has matured and grown in that time and is now a woman.

Is she never to be given a chance to prove that she has matured and reformed? For if that is the case, then what is the point of our system of justice? Do we as a society endorse a justice system that views our children as disposable or do we affirm a belief in redemption and forgiveness? I contend that the first goes to vengeance, the second to justice.

I never knew the seventeen year old Kelly Dara, but I know the woman that she is today. She is kind, considerate, hard working, and an accomplished student. All that she asks is forgiveness and a chance to prove that she has truly changed. I believe in her, and I ask you to sign this petition to encourage the Governor of Virginia to grant her that chance by allowing her to apply for parole.

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