The Nation, 02/09/24: “‘My life is either going to be a testimony or a warning,’ said Derek Lee.
Lee was speaking on a video chat from behind the walls of SCI Smithfield in central Pennsylvania. Now 35 years old, Lee has been imprisoned since he was 29. If nothing changes, he will grow old and die in prison.
In 2016, a Pennsylvania court sentenced Lee to life without parole for a burglary two years earlier that ended with his accomplice fatally shooting the homeowner. Lee was not involved in the killing, but he was convicted of second-degree or felony murder—an unintentional death that happens when the defendant is committing a felony. In Pennsylvania, that means an automatic sentence of life without parole (LWOP).
That sentence, which advocates call ‘death by incarceration,’ means that, no matter how much time has passed or what a person does to transform their life, they have virtually no chance of leaving prison alive. Nearly 80 percent of those sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania were, like Lee, under 30 when they were sent to prison—53 percent were between ages 18 and 25
Lee has chosen not to accept this fate. He doesn’t want to die in prison, and he doesn’t want others to die in prison either. Now, he is waging a battle to overturn LWOP for himself and, potentially, over a thousand others sentenced to live and die behind bars in Pennsylvania.”