A man worthy of a second chance

Almeer Nance is in his 26th year of a life sentence for a crime he participated in at the age of 16

November 28, 2022 6:01 am

Almeer Nance (Photo: Al Jazeera)

When I learned about the Tennessee Supreme Court decision in the Tyshon Booker case, I felt a range of emotion– joy, hope, optimism and anxiety.

I’ve spent the past 26 years of my life beneath the heavy burden of a 51 year plus prison sentence. This Supreme Court decision could have a huge influence on my life.

Tennessee sentences juveniles convicted of felony murder to the longest mandatory sentence in the country.

I would know, I was 16 years old when I took part in a robbery that ended a young man’s life in Knoxville.

Even though I wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, I’ve spent a quarter century thinking about the family who lost their loved one.

The Tennessee Supreme Court decided on Friday that sentencing teenagers to a life behind bars violates the 8th  Amendment of the US Constitution.

It’s cruel and unusual not to consider age when holding them accountable for taking part in a homicide.

I believe at the core of this issue is the fact that teenagers are very different people than who we are in our 40’s. I know that I am a different person now — focusing on my education, taking trade classes and victims impact counseling.

I’ve spent all of my 20’s and all of my 30’s in prison. I should be eligible to show that I can be a contributing member of society. I can make this world, this state, my community a better place.  I can be there for my family members who need me. My mom has been drug free for 20 years now; she is proof that people can change. Hopefully our state of Tennessee will now provide that opportunity for almost 200 of us stuck in this scenario.

I have been fortunate enough to get involved with an organization called the Community Defense of East Tennessee. I have been able to get support for my legal challenges and to lift up the stories of all the juvenile lifers in Tennessee who are suffering these long sentences. There was no reluctance, doubt, fear, or hesitation, only acceptance and a willingness to help.

I’ve continuously and intentionally taken every step I could to better myself as a person in spite of my long sentence. I have been taken college classes and last month I crossed the stage to receive my degree.

I shared my story for a documentary about 51 year sentences for juveniles earlier this year with Al Jazeera English.

I’ve always known in my heart, mind, and spirit, that I was more than the tragic events that landed me in this situation.

I owe it to not only to myself, but my family, my community, my city, and also to the memory of the young man who lost his life in the senseless crime I participated in.

Wherever I go in this existence, I’ll forever carry that debt with me. I’ll do all in my power to make good on it.

Even at times when hope seemed not to exist, something would happen to remind me that darkness cannot exist without light. I know that I am a man reformed who is worthy of a second chance.

I’m not exactly sure what this ruling will mean for me and others like myself in the immediate future. I do however know that I remain hopeful, I have been preparing for this moment for a long time.

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