Jailed at 16, never to be released. Never. For being at a murder, not committing it. This is the USA in 2012. But YOU can make your voice heard.

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Political musings, Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Jailing children for life. Hardly the action of a "civilised" country.

Locked up for life at 16, with no possibility of parole. Christi Cheramie is living a nightmare.

When Christi was 16 years old, back in 1994, she couldn’t vote, drink alcohol, serve on a jury, or buy lottery tickets. She was considered a minor – a child. But that didn’t stop the state of Louisiana from giving this 16-year-old a sentence of life without parole.

Uniquely in the civilised world, only in the USA – where children as young as 11 have faced life in prison – are such harsh sentences against juveniles allowed. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits life without parole for offenses committed under the age of 18. This is not about excusing or minimizing the consequences of crimes committed by children, but about recognizing that children are not yet fully responsible for their actions and also have special potential for rehabilitation and change.

Christie Cheramie - rehabilitated, but never to be released.

Christi, who is now 33 years old, has spent more than half of her young life in prison. She’s earned her high school equivalency diploma and an associate’s degree in Agriculture Studies, and teaches classes to her fellow inmates. A prison warden who oversaw Christi considers her a “model inmate” who has grown into a “remarkable young woman” deserving of “a second chance in society.”

But if we all don’t act now to secure her release on license, a mandatory sentence of life without parole means that Christi will die – needlessly, pointlessly – in prison.

A victim of sexual abuse and depression, and caught in the web of an aggressive and controlling older fiancé, Christi found herself unwittingly at the grisly murder scene of her fiancé’s great aunt. She was charged with murder just for being there – even though it was her fiancé who wielded the knife and the chief investigating officer confirmed that was his unshakeable belief.

The victim’s closest family members are sympathetic to Christi’s case. But Christi’s fate is now in the hands of Louisiana’s governor and Board of Pardons.

Amnesty International’s 2011 Write for Rights campaign highlighted Christi’s case, and thousands of letters have already poured into Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s office. Next week, the Board of Pardons will meet to decide whether or not to move forward with Christi’s clemency application – a decision that the governor can influence, incidentally. You can tweet him at @bobbyjindal.

Christi has already changed people’s lives for the better through her work at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, but she will never be able to realize her full potential – and society won’t benefit from her potential contributions – and we all have to keep paying for her incarceration – if she spends the rest of her life behind bars.

It’s time for the U.S. to join the rest of the world and end the cruel and unusual punishment of juvenile life without parole. People convicted of crimes while still children — like Christi Cheramie — should be given a chance at rehabilitation. They shouldn’t be left to rot and grow old in a jail cell.

You can make a difference in Christi’s case. Sign Amnesty’s petition now calling for clemency for Christi Cheramie.

It is worth trying anything to secure her release, but sadly, Louisiana reduces virtually no “life means life” sentences. Even close relatives of Aunt Nan – the lady who was murdered – think Christi should be released.

You can also see an excellent and balanced report, and hear Christi Cheramie’s story in her own words and an intelligent discussion about her case, from CBS, here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6489113n

I would recommend watching the CBS report if for no other reason than to witness the implacable Louisiana prosecutor who thinks Christi should never be released. His motive, clearly and concisely explained, more than once, is, quite simply, is vengeance. Not rehabilitation. Not protection for society. Not deterrence.Vengeance. He calls it “punishment”,  but that is what he means.

No doubt he righteously attends church every Sunday – what is certain, in my mind, is that he and those like him will never see the Kingdom of God.

Oh, and by the way? When Americans bleat that they don’t understand why people in the rest of the world criticise their freedom-loving country, this is why. Partly, at least.

Your legal system often horrifies us. That you allow it to continue to behave like this horrifies us even more.

  1. Richard Ember says:

    horrifies ‘us’? Do you speak for the rest of the world, now?? I don’t think so.

    Anyhow, on this occasion, I have signed your petition.


  2. “Uniquely in the civilised world, only in the USA – where children as young as 11 have faced life in prison – are such harsh sentences against juveniles allowed.”

    Hang on…. Since when is the USA a civilised state? Did I miss something? They are everything (mostly racist) but civilised 🙂 I wouldn’t be too surpised to learn that Christi is not a WASP but from another ethnic background, like from one that doesn’t fit into the agenda of the bunch of racist WASPs in Washington and in every other higher post in government in the US.


    • Actually she is white. And I think your criticism of the USA in general is a little harsh. But certainly in the deep south racism appears to be institutionalised, still, and their legal system leaves a huge amount to be desired in general.


  3. Ruth says:

    Hi there,
    It’s called felony murder. The felony murder rule is that you can be charged for the murder if you were present while the murder was taking place. A surprising number of people are charged and convicted under the felony murder rule. I’m American, and I tend to agree that trying a minor as an adult is often barbaric — not always but often. There have been some awful heinous crimes committed by minors. To put them through the juvenile justice system and have them come out with no criminal record at age 18, isn’t fair to the victims or victims family. There are two sides to the coin. Also, in my opinion, Christi, at 16, probably shouldn’t have been tried as an adult because she didn’t pull the trigger. This article doesn’t say, though, whether Christi participated in the murder. Did she help plan it, did she tie up the victim? Also very likely Christi depended on a public defender as her attorney. That only means that she was low income — doesn’t say anything about her race or ethnicity.


    • Thanks for commenting, Ruth. If you watch the CBS report it lays out the circumstances of the crime very clearly. She is white, did not plan or participate in the murder. The pointof the campaign, though, is that by any measurement she is completely rehabilitated, and has already served 16 years in prison for a murder someone else committed. No one would argue that she should have got off scott free, but to keep her in jail for the rest of her life when she could make a useful contribution to society is simply mad.


  4. Caitlin Yolland says:

    How horrifying. Will definitely sign this petition. Thanks for your writing, I’m your biggest fan!


  5. Tanya says:

    I spent over 2 years in a correctional facility with Christi back in 2000. She was then and I am sure she is now, a very good person. She did in fact deserve to be punished for the crime but at 16, Life without parole is insane. I believe that Christi can contribute to society as a model citizen and I am saddened to hear that her pardon was not granted. Her personalitiy and regrets of her past are evident and I belive that she has paid the price for the crime. I wil keep looking for updates to this story and pray that the courts or any affilitated party can get her released. I just want the world to know that not every one that makes a mistake by committing a crime deserved to be in prison for life. Some people, like myself, can make a mistake, learn from it, and move on to a very enjoyable life.


    • Thank you for your testimony, Tanya, and I am very glad your own life is now back on track. The stay in execution of Willie Manning just four hours from his death last night gives hope that even the most intransigent legal systems can be made to see sense. Let’s hope so for your friend’s sake. Meanwhile, I am sure she would like a letter from you so she knows that all around the world people are still interested in her case. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.


  6. […] More than three and a half years ago, we wrote about the disgraceful case of Christi Cheramie, a 16 …(And we would value knowing.) […]


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