Howard Center for Investigative Journalism
COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — Parole is not one-sided. For every juvenile lifer deemed ready to re-enter society, there are the members of the victim’s family who must accept that their loved one’s killer is now free, whether they have forgiven or not.
Walter Lomax can see parole from both sides. During his 38 years of wrongful incarceration on a murder charge he lost both his younger brother and a grandson to murder in Baltimore.
"I am in a unique position because I have the benefit of having lost someone, but also have met so many people who’ve committed those crimes," Lomax said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized different standards for juveniles in light of their immaturity, vulnerability and changeability.
What I was able to do is observe some of the people who were incarcerated who weren’t the same people that they were when they committed the crime.
— Walter Lomax, Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative
"What I was able to do is observe some of the people who were incarcerated who weren’t the same people that they were when they committed the crime," he said.
Now, Lomax works to help others gain a similar perspective. He has met with the mothers of murder victims and has cultivated many friendships with them. But what one mother did is what he thinks could help many others.
Ginger Dukes Beal wanted to understand why the killer did what he did. "She had no idea why the individuals had murdered her son, but she took a leap of faith and tried to find out as much as she could about the individuals," said Lomax.
In the end, Beal and one of her son’s killers met face to face. Slowly the two formed a relationship, a pathway to understanding. She told a prisoner advocacy group that her son’s killer "showed me so much compassion and remorse, I could do nothing but forgive him." She now speaks to lifers at the prison.
"It allowed her to begin to start healing," Lomax said. "She began to see lifers as human beings as opposed to monsters who’ve committed a hideous crime."
Lomax believes that, like that mother, victims' families can come to see the perpetrators as victims themselves. He describes them as victims of the environment they grew up in, environments which often promoted their violent behavior.
Many in Lomax’s family are still unable to forgive the killers of his brother and grandson. The wounds are too raw. Lomax said he holds no bitterness or anger because he had the ability to see the killers as human beings. He tries to pass that perspective on to the victims’ families.
Lomax is the founder and executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, a criminal justice advocacy organization. His organization is trying to change the way minors who commit serious crimes in Maryland are treated. It’s a plaintiff in the ACLU suit challenging the state’s failure to offer parole to juvenile lifers.
READ MORE: The Glendening Effect
READ MORE: Meet The Juvenile Lifers
About This Project
This work is a collaboration among the University of Maryland's Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and Capital News Service and the PBS NewsHour.
Web design and development: Camila Velloso
Reporting and writing: Athiyah Azeem, Victoria Daniels, Hannah Gaskill, Dominique Janifer, Lynsey Jeffery, Jamie Kerner, Lauren Perry, Sara Salimi, Delon Thornton, Emily Top and Camila Velloso
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Audience engagement: Alex Pyles
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Support for this project comes from generous grants from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.