Lydette Assefa ’09 is an attorney and clinical fellow with the Children & Family Justice Center at the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. She was an English and history double major at Goshen College.
“I represent incarcerated people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were children. These crimes are often brutal and heinous — single or double murders and sexual assault. Though some clients are innocent, most are not. For many, an impetuous and puerile decision as a teenager or preteen condemns them to die in prison. While still children, they are yanked from their families, labeled ‘murderers,’ and caged for their natural lives to become society’s pariahs.
Yet my faith and commitment to compassionate peacemaking call me to acknowledge their humanity and to affirm the transformative power of grace and redemption. The Bible is replete with stories of God’s grace to people who commit despicable acts — Moses murdered an Egyptian, King David raped Bathsheba and ordered her husband killed, and Saul before he became Apostle Paul oversaw the killings of Christians. But their stories did not end there. Instead, they became prominent prophets and apostles to further the work of the kingdom.
Like Moses, David and Paul, my clients deserve a chance for rehabilitation, redemption and a life outside of prison. As an advocate, I write briefs and coordinate policy reform to ensure that these young people receive a reduced sentence that acknowledges their humanity, their impulsivity and immaturity as children when they committed the crime, and the promise of growth and change.”