The American criminal justice system consists of 2.2 million people behind bars, plus tens of millions of family members, corrections and police officers, parolees, victims of crime, judges, prosecutors and defenders.
WBEZ is partnering with the Marshall Project to tell some of their stories. It’s part of The Marshall Project’s series “We Are Witnesses” exploring the nature of crime, punishment and forgiveness through portraits of Chicagoans who have been touched by the criminal justice system.
Lisa Daniels told her story to The Marshall Project as part of their series “We Are Witnesses.” Portions of her interview are transcribed below. They have been condensed and edited for clarity.
He was extremely funny, he was athletic and he was extremely ambitious. He really began to stray when he turned 18.
The day after Darren was murdered, I read a newspaper article that morning that began with the headline “Man In Park Forest Shot To Death Had Felony And Drug Convictions.” And the thing that struck me was that it wasn't until the second paragraph where they actually refer to my child by his name. They dehumanized him, and they minimized his entire 25 years to that one day of his life.
They did find the person that shot Darren. His name is Michael Reed, and he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. And in the four-year process between Darren's murder and the actual case coming to trial, I had learned of restorative justice, and it just made perfect sense to me to be in support of Darren but also in support of Michael. They were both lost, and they were both making really, really bad choices; they were both trying to figure out a right way to do a wrong thing, and nobody won. Nobody won.
When they called my name to come to the witness stand, I asked that the court to understand the grief that my family and I were experiencing in that there was a loss. But I also understood that nothing that we could do or say in that moment was going to change what had happened. My son was never coming back, and there was still life left in Michael Reed.
So I told the court if this had been the other way around, I would have wanted somebody to see the humanity in my child and not villainize him simply because he made some really, really bad choices. So that's what I took the opportunity to do for Michael. I asked the judge to show leniency in his sentencing and he did. He reduced it by 50% and he considered the four years already served, so he had three years remaining.
[Michael] turned around and looked at me, and he said thank you. He said thank you.
You can see more of the “We Are Witnesses: Chicago” videos at https://www.themarshallproject.org/witnesses. This story was produced for broadcast by WBEZ’s Alyssa Edes. Follow her on Twitter @alyssaedes.