THIS morning, Dai'Lahntae Jemison woke up in a prison cell, as he will tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and for more than 1,500 tomorrows, until he reaches the age of 21. What he does with those tomorrows is up to him, and how he uses them will go a long way toward determining the course of the rest of his life.
Chances are, this 16-year-old is scared, doesn't know what to expect, and is trying to be brave, to act tough, as he wonders if he can survive those 1,500 tomorrows as well as whatever the future holds when he's finally released.
On the positive side, at least he woke up this morning. Robert Brundage, the man young Jemison killed while stealing the 66-year-old community activist's bicycle a little more than three months ago, will never wake up. Mr. Brundage has no tomorrows.
At his sentencing this week, the youth said he never intended to harm the older man. Yet the fact is that he hit Mr. Brundage with such violence that he broke his jaw, knocking him to the ground with such force that he lay in a coma for more than two weeks, then died of his injuries. That is a debt that must be paid, despite the offender's youth.
But there is hope, expressed by the dead man's brother, Dick Brundage, that the teenager will use his time in prison to dedicate himself to building a better future.
That, Dick Brundage said, would serve as proof that he really was sorry for the harm he caused.
Choosing a new path won't be easy. Most of the young people in Ohio's juvenile prisons do not change their lives in any significant way. Half end up back in prison within three years of their release. Ohio's juvenile prisons in recent years have been described as violent places providing ineffective rehabilitation services.
Many of the negative influences that tempted the Jemison youth in his neighborhood will surround him in prison as well. He will have to decide, consciously and every day, to make the right choices. That's difficult for teenagers, especially teenage boys, who often appear hard-wired to act impulsively. But it can be done, must be done, if young Jemison truly wants to walk a better road in life.
If he can do that - stay focused on his goals, overcome frustration, avoid temptation, and lay a foundation to build upon when he is released - he will not only have saved his own life but erected a fitting monument to the man whose life he took.
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