April 10, 2024

“Life After Life” Speakers Illustrate the Power of Redemption

David Luis “Suave” GonzalezNearly a dozen individuals whose lives in prison transformed them into agents of positive community change will speak at “Life After Life: Stories of Redemption and Wrongful Conviction” at West Chester University on Wednesday, April 10. Part of the Criminal Justice Department’s speaker series, the program will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Sciences & Engineering Center and The Commons (SECC), Room 101B/C (first floor). It is free and open to the public.

Brian O’Neill, associate professor of criminal justice, says these presenters show others “the power of redemption and how much these individuals have to offer. They refute stereotypes about those sentenced to life.”

Some were sentenced to life as juveniles, explains O’Neill, while other made parole via a Supreme Court decision that found that mandatory life for juveniles was unconstitutional. Now, these people are advocates for providing educational opportunities for the incarcerated as well as for the abolishment of life without parole, also known as death by incarceration.

One of the speakers is David Luis “Suave” Gonzalez, an artist, TedX speaker, podcast host, and support coach for the “I Am More” Reentry Engagement program for formerly incarcerated students at the Community College of Philadelphia. A juvenile lifer, he went to prison at 17 years old, but still earned his GED, an associate’s degree, and eventually his bachelor’s degree while behind bars. While serving time, Gonzalez met and began exchanging letters with journalist Maria Hinojosa, who produces WHYY’s Latino USA program. Gonzalez calls her a mentor and friend. The phone calls they exchanged over the years were included in the podcast series “Suave” from Hinojosa’s company, Futuro Studios, and Public Radio Exchange/PRX, that won a 2022 Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting.

Another presenter is Avis Lee, who served 40 years and now works for Let’s Get Free, which helps incarcerated women and lobbying efforts to change the law. She is a certified Braille translator, currently working as a peer assistant in the Therapeutic Community program of Philadelphia-based LifeLines Project of Decarcerate PA. She is a member of Let’s Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, and the coauthor of the play Chin to the Sky. She also serves on Decarcerate PA’s advisory board.

O’Neill says the speakers include a person who was wrongfully convicted, plus individuals who work in restorative justice programs, a professor, a Zoom guest, and three performance artists from the podcast by Avis Lee.

O’Neill, who has taught at WCU since 1998, wrote, narrated, and produced El Padre y Los Homies, a radio documentary about Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles. He has taught a number of Inside/Out courses to incarcerated individuals at Montgomery County (PA) Correctional Facility and at State Correctional Institution Chester (PA), and is conducting research for a book on commutation of individuals who were originally sentenced to life in prison.


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