Sentenced to life in prison as a teen, John Pace spent 31 years behind bars before a Supreme Court decision brought him home. Now, he works to assist others who are coming out of prison and adjusting to life on the outside.
Related to: Youth Justice, Sentencing Reform
John Pace committed attempted robbery in 1985 and his victim died from related injuries ten days later. At 17 years old, Pace was convicted of second-degree murder, which requires a mandatory life without parole sentence in Pennsylvania. A Supreme Court decision in 2016 allowed for Pace to be resentenced and granted parole a year later.
“Seeing the pain of your loved ones, particularly in my case, my mother,” Pace said. “Seeing these kinds of things, I think those were the kinds of things that really resonated with me and said I want to do something different.”
Maintaining an emotional and physical connection to family makes a difference. A Canadian study of 86 people convicted of homicide who subsequently recidivated identified the loss of community and family support as a result of their incarceration as the primary explanation for reoffending.
Pace was originally denied programming because of his life sentence; some administrations see it as a waste of money to provide programming to those who will never be released. Eventually he participated in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program which brings together incarcerated and traditional university students. He eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University.
Pace’s participation in the Inside-Out program afforded him the opportunity to secure a job with the program upon his release, eliminating the barrier to employment that many returning citizens face. Pace says he’s blessed to have the opportunities that he has had upon his release, but still faces challenges. He is under lifetime parole supervision with strict guidelines.
“You’d like to think that you’re free, but you’re really not and I think you’re reminded of that,” Pace said about parole.
Today, Pace works as a reentry coordinator with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project with former Juvenile Lifers coming out of prison and young people facing serious charges and the potential of significant time in prison. “I like to speak to young people, particularly young people who come from marginalized communities, that probably don’t think there’s a way out of this,” said Pace. “Being able to provide my perspective to them, I think I provide them hope that there are ways that you don’t have to go through the same experience I went through in order to get it.”