‘Everybody got scared of kids’
Michelle Stephens believes most people simply don’t know what happens when a child is prosecuted as an adult in Florida.

“I wasn’t aware this happens to people,” she said. “I didn’t know they are going to an adult prison and doing adult time.” That changed when her son, Kenny Ray, who was 16 at the time, was prosecuted as an adult for an accidental shooting that nearly killed his friend. Her son accepted a plea deal over the shooting incident – a gun discharging among boys fascinated by the weapon. 

Kenny Ray was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Under sentencing guidelines, he must serve at least 10 of those years.  

“I never thought I’d be saying my son only got 15 years,” his mother said. 

But since her son has become entangled in Florida’s justice system, she has learned of teens serving even more time in adult prisons. She wonders what good comes out of throwing away a young life, especially when the child doesn’t have a strong support system of family, friends and community. 

“They really get lost in the system,” she said. “And all their inmate peers become their family. They join gangs in prison. They’re worse off than they were before they went in prison. You think they were bad before they went in prison, now you’ve just put them with hardened, lifetime criminals.”

She knows that people became afraid of teens becoming criminal super predators, which helped fuel these harsh policies. 

“Everybody just got scared of kids,” she said. The end result has been a system that treats children like career criminals.