Alphonso James was arrested for murder in 1985 when he was 17 years old. He says he didn't do it, and there are serious, serious questions about the case.
There is no question, though, that James was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
He actually spent 31 years there. He was sentenced in February 1986, when he was a very young man; he was paroled in February 2017, no longer so young and still insisting he did not kill anyone.
Today he is engaged to be married, he is working, and he is contributing to the community. He is especially involved in working to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to successfully return to the community.
So who deserves second chances? Alphonso James, sentenced to life, made it out of prison, at least part way. Because he is on parole, he remains under the tight control of the state.
Others sentenced to life as children, now in their thirties are forties, are still behind bars. Some may never get out, no matter what they do or how much they have changed since their arrests.
Innocent or not.
1. A Quick Look at Life Before
Alphonso James grew up poor in Milwaukee's central city.
"My mother was on welfare," he said. "I’m the oldest of five. We always lived in homes or houses that looked like they should have been boarded up or abandoned. We struggled for food. I remember having two pair of pants growing up. Two pair of shoes, one set was for church and the other set was for school."
A trusted baby-sitter molested James when he was a child, James said.
"You kept those type of things within your household," he said. "And so I think for a long time, I had that pent-up frustration and it came out in a physical type of way."
Alphonso James learned to fight. He like to fight. He got into lots of fights.
He was unhappy at Walker Middle School, on the city's South Side, where he was bused for desegregation purposes. There were racial tensions, he said.
"I was like, 'I gotta get outta here,' so I got into a fight with one of the kids," James said.
He got booted from the school, tried an alternative program, quit that and, by about 15, was a dropout.
"I think I was a confused kid," he said. "I was a kid that also got frustrated easy. I always felt nobody really paid attention to me, not unless I acted out."
He discovered girls. His girlfriend became pregnant. James believed himself a grown-up.
Then one day he got in a fight with a friend over break dancing.
"I beat him break dancing..He pulled a knife on me and I somehow took the knife and I stabbed him in the side …a minor wound," James said.
When police rolled up to his house a few months later, James thought they were interested in that stabbing.
Next: Investigation and arrest
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