‘All their hopes and their dreams die in that cell’
“K.C.”1 was only 17 when he was arrested on charges that would ultimately lead to a 10-year prison sentence in Florida.

His grandfather, a former law enforcement officer, doesn’t believe the sentence is about rehabilitation. It’s much more about making an example of youths when they make a mistake in a state that benefits economically from its image as a safe tourist destination.

“They want to show that we’re taking the bad kids off the street, we’re putting them in a facility where there are adults and whatever happens to them, happens to them,” he said. 

But his grandson, like many youths caught in the state’s criminal justice system, isn’t a bad kid broken beyond repair. A clinical psychologist testified at K.C.’s sentencing hearing that the youth was contrite, had shown an increased sense of responsibility and did not have an antisocial attitude or history of predatory behavior. His chances for rehabilitation were excellent – if he avoided serving time in adult prison.

K.C. was also taking other positive steps. He was working two jobs, studying to get his GED and preparing for the birth of his child. Locking K.C. away with adults, the psychologist testified, would put him at high risk for exploitation and abuse. K.C. also had a willingness to be a follower. If he chose to follow the hardened criminals locked up with him, it would only push him toward more criminal activity.

As he awaited sentencing, K.C. was required to wear an electronic device that reported his location to authorities. His family had to foot the monthly $240 bill for the device. K.C. and his family persevered despite the emotional and monetary strain of it all. K.C. was sentenced to 10 years in an adult prison, followed by 10 years of probation for the grand theft auto and firearms charges. His son was only a month old at the time.  

“It was saying basically, ‘We’re going to bury you so far in the system that you’ll never have an opportunity to be anything or anybody,’” K.C.’s grandfather said. “Basically, they gave my grandson a death sentence.”

K.C. has a family supporting him as he serves his sentence, but his grandfather knows there are other young people in prison without the love and support of a family on the outside. The consequences are tragic. 

“Their whole spirit dies,” he said. “All their hopes and their dreams die in that cell.”

1 Name changed to protect his identity.