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Released this spring, former juvenile lifer talks college, forgiveness, and second chances

Nov 9, 2017

Some 11,500 new students just began classes this fall at Arizona State University.

For one of those students, it's something he once never dreamed would happen.

That's because Antonio Espree is one of Michigan's 363 juvenile lifers. Thirty years ago, when he was 16, Espree was arrested for killing a man. When he was 17, he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

But thanks to a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that declared mandatory life-without-parole sentences for teens under 18 unconstitutional, Antonio Espree was released this past spring, and he is now a student at Arizona State.

Antonio Espree joined Stateside to talk about the twists his life have taken.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

On his goals

"It was only a dream and a fantasy while being incarcerated to be able to attend a major university and be a part of the campus environment along with the other college students,” Espree said. “And I could never really picture it in terms of what it would be like physically. All I did was just dream about that, that time, that moment in which it could come, it could happen, so I lived it through a dream."

Espree is now majoring in Justice Studies through Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation.

"I would like to be a CEO of my own nonprofit organization which works with at-risk youth or challenged youth and ex-offenders returning back to our society,” Espree said. “I would like to be able to offer them a particular skill set to be able to help them navigate through some of the hurdles, situations, or circumstances or barriers which they are confronted with day to day, and to be able to be that resource."

On forgiveness

"It's very easy to tell somebody that you're sorry,” Espree said. “Those can just be words on a surface. But forgiveness is something that you have to learn because you have to truly be able to connect with what you did, you have to identify with why you did it, and you cannot go back to the return of doing it again." 

Espree said it took him five years to even begin wrapping his mind around his sentence of natural life without parole. He said he had to mature before he could even begin the process of forgiveness, which he described as a “journey that you take.”  

Espree’s victim’s daughter was originally opposed to his release until she sat down to speak with him. In that conversation, she said she forgave him.

"That's better than a release from prison because the victim is saying I'm no longer a victim, I'm no longer victimized, so the burden and weight has been lifted,” Espree said.

Ultimately, Espree sees the necessity for understanding and second chances.

"I'm just suggesting that there's no need to live in a society or world where you're willing for it to be an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth,” Espree said. “It should be that we live in a moral society and we want to come together to see how we can bring an end to this. We need to come together to see how we can help these youths mature, develop, and grow, and understand the connection that they should have to community."

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