Today, Rickey set foot off Angola grounds for the first time in 41 years, a free man for the first time in his adult life.
His release was, until very recently, a prospect Rickey could only dream about. At age 17, Rickey was arrested for a murder and ultimately convicted of the crime. The mandatory sentence at the time, even for a minor, was life without the possibility of parole; no matter what Rickey achieved in prison, he was condemned to die there.
Yet Rickey made a decision early on to become a better man and dedicate himself to serving others. With time and effort, he matured from a rash teenager into one of the most trusted, respected, and giving members of the Angola community.
Affectionately known as “Reverend Joe,” Rickey became a minister and served as a spiritual advisor to other incarcerated men for several decades. He tutored his peers in literacy, public speaking, and parenting skills. He became a Class A Trusty – the highest, most trusted classification one can receive – a full 30 years ago. In fact, Rickey was so well-respected that he was recommended for pardon not once, but twice.
In a series of recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life without parole sentences for children are unconstitutional in all but the rarest cases. The rulings meant that 300 people in Louisiana, including Rickey, were suddenly entitled to have their sentences reviewed.
This year, thanks in part to the advocacy of the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition, the state passed a bill that should make many of these people eligible for parole after serving 25 years. Rickey was one of the first to go before the parole board, where he was represented by LCCR attorneys Jill Pasquarella and Hannah Van De Car, and be granted release under the new law.
Despite this progress, state law still allows for life without parole sentences for children in certain cases, and some of Rickey’s peers will likely be resentenced to this fate.
But Rickey is living proof that redemption is possible, and that every child should have the opportunity to make their case before the parole board when the time is right. At LCCR, we will continue to fight for this opportunity. Tonight, though, we will rest easier knowing that at least one man has been given the second chance he has earned. Welcome home, Rickey!