Cheers and tears erupted as Christi Cheramie walked out of the prison gates this morning to a waiting crowd of family and friends. Christi, who has spent exactly 25 years behind bars, is free for the first time in her adult life.
“I’ve waited for this moment a long time,” she said. “It’s hard to wrap my mind around, but I’m expecting the best because I have such a great support system of family and those who were released before me.”
Christi is the fourth woman in Louisiana to come home after receiving a life-without-parole sentence as a child. At age 16, Christi pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for being with her abusive older boyfriend when he killed his elderly aunt. Her mandatory sentence was life without the possibility of parole; no matter what she did or who she became as an adult, Christi was condemned to die in prison.
But when parole suddenly became a possibility – thanks to U.S. Supreme Court decisions and local advocacy by LCCR and others – Christi was ready. She had spent more than two decades working to better herself and the lives of those around her. Known as a peace-maker, Christi was selected to represent her peers on the prison’s advisory council to solve problems in the facility. She was also the first lifer to serve as a tutor for the horticulture program, and personally holds more certifications than most professional horticulturists.
Christi’s LCCR lawyers, Hannah Van De Car and Jill Pasquarella, presented these accomplishments and many others to the parole board on Christi’s behalf. They showed who she was when the crime happened and all she had done to change for the better since.
“Christi has transformed from a vulnerable child into a woman who is exceedingly kind, responsible, and generous,” said Jill. “She is exactly who the Supreme Court had in mind when they ruled that the vast majority of children should have an opportunity for a second chance.”
Unfortunately, not everyone like Christi may get that opportunity. Prosecutors are seeking life without parole again for approximately one-third of people who are eligible for resentencing, most of whom will be represented by LCCR through a new contract with the state.
“The world needs to know that people in prison can change. I’ve done it and I’ve witnessed others do it,” said Christi. “The women here have helped me grow up and become who I am today, and most would be a great asset to society. I wish I could take them with me.”
In the future, Christi hopes to help incarcerated women be successful in prison and in preparing for parole, just like her LCCR attorneys prepared her. For now, she’ll be finishing up her Associate’s degree, working at a plant nursery, and simply getting used to living on her own.
But her first order of business?
“I just want to take a nice long bath.”
If you would like to help Christi start her life outside prison, please consider donating to her Amazon wish list!