Hello my name is Benard and I would like to share a little bit about myself.
I am now 32 years old. I was born and raised on the West side of Chicago. I was brought up by both my grandparents. In 2001, at the age of 16 years old, I was charged with first degree murder. A murder that resulted from my own impetuous behavior, which I take responsibility for.
In 2004, after a jury trial, I was convicted of this crime and sentenced to 100 years in prison. I was then transferred to Menard Correctional center where I remained until 2016, when I was transferred to Stateville Correctional Center.
During my 12 years at Menard, it took time for me to adjust to this adult environment, given I was only 19 years old at that time – still in disbelief that I had 100 years to do in prison.
In 2005-6 , given that Menard had no rehabilitative programs, I self-enrolled in a correspondence program called Criminon Illinois. This was a way to happiness program that helped me better to have insight into my own behavior and way of thinking. I realized how my behavior so affected those I loved. I finally began to mature as a young man.
From the time I was transferred to Menard, I stayed in the law library trying to learn all I could about the law. In 2009, I enrolled myself into a career institute and obtained my paralegal diploma.
In 2011-12 I became a motivational speaker for at-risk youth in a program called “Incarcerated Voices”. There I was able to share my life experiences in hopes that I could prevent at least one child from making the same mistakes I did as a child. I needed to give back to my community – a community I took so much from as a child.
As I thought that I was about to be done with my appeals and left to do a 100-year sentence, the federal seventh circuit appeal court ruled that I had a de facto life sentence in McKinley v. Butler, and remanded my case back to the district court while I was ordered to seek resentencing in the state court in light of Miller v. Alabama.
In February 2017, my trial judge ruled that he failed to take into consideration my youth at the time of sentencing and therefore allowed me to file my successive post-conviction petition. In November 2017, the State’s Attorney agreed that I was entitled to a resentencing hearing. I am now in the process of being resentenced.
I had no idea that a Miller case would be decided in 2012 that would eventually lead to me giving back a 100-year sentence. With that being said, since my time in the Illinois Department of Corrections, I continue to better myself in an environment that initially lacked any type of rehabilitative programs or help. If not for me being 16 years old at the time I was charged, I would still have a de facto life sentence, ignoring all my rehabilitation that I have achieved over my years in prison.
In 2016, I became a proud member of the National Lawyers Guild. I have become heavily invested in fighting for human rights within prisons, society, and abroad – a dedication I look forward to continuing upon my release from prison.
I share this story because there are many more stories, if not the same, better than mine, within these prison walls who also deserve a chance at coming home based upon their maturity and rehabilitation. The creation of a sound parole board in Illinois for everyone no matter what age or when you caught your case, should be created.
Thank you for coming and I hope you enjoy this debate.