By Charleston J. White
Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN) member
Fort Worth, Texas

Having the opportunity to attend the CFSY National Convening this year was a life-changing event for me.

I was convicted of murder when I was 14. I was adjudicated as a child and there was the expectation that I could and would be rehabilitated. I was held at the Giddings State School until just before my 21st birthday. Today, I am just a semester shy of earning my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Prior to attending the Convening, I believed the individuals of my nonprofit organization, Helping Young People Excel or HYPE, and I were unique because of our journey through the criminal justice system at such an early age. We are the first generation of kids in Texas to be adjudicated and sentenced for the crime of murder.

Before I connected with CFSY I had very little knowledge about life without parole for children. Prior to attending the Convening, I had never met an individual who had been sentenced to life in prison, nor had I met a person who has been freed after serving time on a life sentence.  This experience alone has renewed my faith in humanity.

The former incarcerated individuals that I met left a lifetime impression on me, with their genuine transformation of change. The humility and dedication they exhibit inspires me to do even more.

The information I received during the sessions focused on the “my child test,” how a bill works, restorative justice, and using my story to create change have helped me since I returned home. The knowledge and information I gained about the Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida U.S. Supreme Court decisions has empowered me to advocate within my state.

The highlight of this trip was meeting the members of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), becoming a member of ICAN, and meeting the family members who lost loved ones to murder. I departed the Convening feeling like an improved leader, with better objectives, with an improved plan, and the tactical implementation to get results.

CFSY has shown me the power of progress through commitment and dedication. The extraordinary people of CFSY and ICAN showed me that value is a concept that refers to actions more than anything else. The actions of CFSY brought together people from over the country who stood in solidarity to bring about a change in this country. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity. I am humbled by having the opportunity to meet families of murdered individuals. I feel blessed to be a part of ICAN. Hope to see you next year!