Katrina Wilson, director of the Butler/Warren County Reentry Coalition, calls them “just babies” because of their age. By the time they experience freedom again, they will be middle-aged and hardened well beyond their years.
Ross Twp.’s Zachary Welsh, 18, will be nearly 50 when he’s released from prison.
Middletown’s Gonnii White, 17, will be 38 before he’s eligible for parole.
Hamilton’s Michael Grevious II, 25, will serve the rest of his life in prison.
Hamilton’s Kameron Tunstall, 19, will be 40 before he’s eligible for parole.
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In recent years, Butler County jurors have sent messages to these four men: Take a life and you can expect to spend decades, and in some cases the rest of your life, behind bars.
We certainly aren’t here to seek sympathy for those who murder, but at the same time, it’s important to understand the challenges they will face when, and if, they’re ever released from prison.
For instance, White was 16 years old when he shot and killed Joseph Davis, 17, in May 2018 in Middletown. White, now 17, recently was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 21 years, the maximum sentence allowed by Judge Noah Powers II.
White was convicted of murder with specifications for the use of a firearm and participating in a gang, both of which increased his possible sentence by six years.
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What type of person will White be in 2040?
“A lot happens in 20-something years,” Wilson said. “So much changes in that time.”
Here’s what she knows: Anyone released from prison after 20 years will struggle finding affordable housing, quality employment and education or training. When your last address is Cell Block C, your resume finds its way to the bottom of the stack.
Those in prison aren’t the only ones who suffer, Wilson said. She said relatives frequently help raise the inmate’s children. It’s like family members of the incarcerated “go to jail” with them, she said.
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“Life stops for them as well,” she said. “It’s like suffering a loss, but the person is still alive.”
Wilson said when someone is sentenced to prison for murder, it can impact “the whole community.” While one family can visit an inmate in prison, the other family is left grieving the loss of a loved one.
“It’s not two people,” she said. “It’s such a tragic loss to society. You don’t know what the person who pulled the trigger was going to do or what the person on the other end of the gun was going to do. It’s just a tragic loss.”
Even if the prosecution gets a guilty verdict, Wilson said there’s no reason to celebrate.
“No winners,” Wilson said. “Absolutely no winners. Everybody loses.”
She wonders how many more people will be murdered before teens start to understand the impact of their actions. It takes one second to pull the trigger, and sometimes the scars never heal.
“They have no concept of consequences,” she said. “They have no concept of cause/effect. It’s an immediate reaction. These are babies that have not began to live or know what life is about.”
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Then one day, they wake up in their cells and their lives are half over. Twenty years passed and their address never changed.
Wilson wonders what goes through their minds: “‘Oh my God, look at all the carnage. Look at what I have destroyed and left behind.’”
She paused, before adding, “Then it’s too late.”
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