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Youth asks West Virginia to reform prisons, for children's sake

Youth asks West Virginia to reform prisons, for children's sake

Published: March 7, 2013

Jasmine Murphy, sophmore at Logan High School, speaking up for prison reform 

Photo: AFSC

Editor's note: Not long after Jasmine addressed the legislature, SB 379—the state's prison overcrowding billwas passed. It gives judges the authority to grant early releases to nonviolent offenders, categorizes offenders in terms of risks vs. needs and treating them appropriately, and addresses technical parole violations that shorten time spent back in prison.

“I want to share with you a little bit about my life because I hope that maybe if I speak up, people who make the decisions that affect so many people’s lives will listen.”

This was how Jasmine Murphy, a member of AFSC's youth leadership group in Logan, W. Va., began her address to over 400 people in the Lower Rotunda of the West Virginia State Capitol. She was participating in the "Our Children, Our Future" campaign to fight child poverty in the state. [Read more from West Virginia's WOWK TV.]

Based in the southern coalfields of West Virginia, the leadership group is designed to help young women to pursue their goals and productive futures by working and learning together. Participants talk about issues that have affected their lives and try to find ways to improve the wider community.

At the Capitol, 15-year-old Jasmine talked about her experiences growing up while her father was in prison.

“My whole life I’ve wondered if things could’ve been better for my mom and me if my dad had been with us,” she said. “My memories of him growing up are going to see him in Beckley [W. Va.]. I remember crying when it was time for him to go. I picture waving goodbye one last time and seeing him walking outside, back to his facility.” 

Jasmine spoke passionately about prison reform. It is an issue that affected her personally, but she also wanted to speak to wider problems.

She looked to lawmakers to help stop the pains of children who have to grow up without their parents in their lives. Could an investment in rehab treatment help?

“I thought so much about if he had more opportunity to have a job, get the help he needed, and maybe get an education like I hope to get; things would be different for my family,” she said.

As Jasmine made her plea, she transformed from a young girl without a sense of power or voice, to a young woman ready to speak her truth and make change in the world. 

“My dad went to prison when I was 3 years old. Even though he’s out now, I’m 15 years old now, and he missed a lot of my life,” she said. “He missed games, my birthdays, and he wasn’t there when I first learned how to walk.

“I know a lot of people my age with a story like mine. So I am here today to ask that we not spend so much money on keeping good people like my dad in prison for so many years….We could spend all that money on ways that really help people improve their lives.”