Former Juvenile Lifer Antonio Espree Joins Incoming Class at Arizona State University

Espree interviewed on Michigan Radio's Stateside
It was only a fantasy, an impossible dream. But this fall the dream came true for former juvenile lifer Antonio Espree when he joined some 11,500 new students in the incoming class at Arizona State University. Mr. Espree was recently interviewed by Cynthia Canty on Michigan Radio’s Stateside. In the interview, Espree describes the circumstances surrounding his arrest at age 16, his path toward maturity while in prison, and his aspirations for the future, beginning with his enrollment in ASU’s School of Social Transformation seeking a degree in Justice Studies.

Espree grew up in a dysfunctional family and a violent environment. By age 15, he was on the streets and involved in drug trafficking. At age 16, Espree shot and killed a bystander during a drug-related shoot-out. He was convicted of first-degree murder and given a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

At the time of his sentencing, Espree could not process his understanding or emotions: “Understanding at 16 years of age and being faced with a natural life without parole sentence and being charged with first degree murder I did not comprehend all that was taking place,” Espree says, “Nor could I have feelings of emotions about what was going on…. As a 16 year old it was impossible to do.”  But that began to change “after I would say the first five years of being defiant,” says Espree, “because when you young, you are defiant, when you immature, you are defiant….. There is a process called maturity that has to take place.” And as that process began to take place, Espree turned to books and classes – and an impossible dream of someday attending a university.

That dream became possible when, after Espree had spent almost 30 years in prison, the United States Supreme Court issued opinions declaring mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders unconstitutional and Espree became eligible for resentencing to a term of years. At first, the victim’s family opposed resentencing Espree to less than life without parole. But Espree’s attorney arranged a meeting between Espree and the family. Twenty minutes into that meeting, the victim’s daughter told Espree that she forgave him. “You talk about one of the greatest feelings in the world,” Espree says, “That’s better than a release from prison because the victim is saying, ‘I’m no longer a victim, I’m no longer being victimized,’ so the burden and the weight has been lifted.” Espree was resentenced to a term of years, and this past spring, he was released on parole.

Now an ASU student, Espree’s goal is to become the CEO of a non-profit organization that works with at-risk youth, challenged youth, and ex-offenders returning to the community. “I would like to be able to offer a particular skill set to be able to help them navigate through some of the hurdles, situations, or circumstances or barriers which they are confronted with day to day and to be able to be that resource,” says Espree, “You know a lot of ex-offenders that return back to society do not have family support or cannot connect properly with resources that are already established within a state or a state may not have resources.” We wish Antonio Espree the very best as he pursues his once-impossible dream of redemption and contribution.

Stateside’s Cynthia Canty interviewed Espree on November 9, 2017. You can hear the entire interview here.