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Dontie's Story-An American Tragedy

Dontie Mitchell, as you may have read in prior posts, was sentenced at seventeen. Dontie has now spent over half his life in prison. He is courageously fighting for his freedom to pursue the opportunites that were robbed from him as a teenager. Yes, I am flipping the script. Dontie was sentenced for robbery, but Dontie was the first one robbed.

Dontie is fighting for the opportunity he was never given, not by his parents, his community, or our society. Rather than providing real opportunities for success by investing in his education, our society has, to date, invested over three million dollars in his incarceration. Our society has invested in holding a young man in substandard, violent and depraved conditions rather than providing education and work opportunities.

Dontie was removed from his mother’s care at the age of eleven and spent his teen years being shuttered between foster homes and groups homes. As a young man, Dontie sought his education and hoped for a career. But when, at the age of sixteen, he was evicted from the shelter he was staying in, his homelessness resulted in his losing his job, and in desperation he resorted to robbing people.

Dontie is fighting for every young person who was sentenced as a teenager, and is still serving. Dontie is fighting for his release so he can devote his life to preventing what happened to him from happening to other children. Yes, children.

It is a sad and hard reality that many adults, parents, professionals, lawyers, and judges, continue to treat teenagers like adults, and have adult expectations of them, despite the overwhelming evidence that as adolescents in the process of learning who they are and transitioning to independence, they need adult guidance, support and understanding as much as ever. And they need real opportunities to succeed.

Dontie writes, “I don’t receive much mail. I get maybe one or two visits a year, if I’m lucky. I have only two people I can call on the phone. I don’t receive packages or much money. My family situation is not stable. But I’m not bitter. I try not to complain. Instead, I pour my energy into trying to help those around me. That’s because all my life I’ve had people neglect and abandon me, beginning with my father and mother. My life has been filled one disappointment after another, sometimes leading me to make bad choices when I was younger. My struggles compel me to help others in their because I know how it is to feel like nobody cares.”

Donties story is an American tragedy. There are tens of thousands of Donties being held right now in prisons across this country at the cost of billions of tax dollars that could be allocated towards education and job creation. Multiply the three million dollars the state has paid to date to incarcerate Dontie times the tens of thousands of other people who will spend much of their lives in prison, and it’s easy to see how we get to the current approximate price tag of $80 BILLION annually we spend on incarceration.

What would happen if we infused disadvantaged communities with the type of money we are pouring into prisons? Would prisons then be obsolete?

Sadly, there are so many horror stories of incarceration in this country. Dontie is one. Each person matters. Each life is worth fighting for.

If you are interested in forming a support committee for Dontie contact his lawyer, Eric W. Dyer at 518-429-4246 or

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