As a community, we want to hold those responsible for acts of violence to account—but what if these acts are committed by our own adolescence? The knee-jerk reaction is to seek justice and punish those responsible for the violence, but are we reacting too fast? Do we let the emotion and pain of the moment determine the fate of too many lives? Today there are thousands of young men and women spending decades, and sometimes their whole lives, in prison, for being present at the scene of a crime, though not actually committing the crime. I respectfully tell the reader that in no way am I attempting to minimize or justify the conscious choice one makes involving themselves in an act of violence. I’m just asking with an open mind: Is there another way? I myself was held accountable in a double murder that rocked my community on the southwest side of Chicago in 1995. 22 years later, I’m still in prison for choosing to walk with a group of kids, with my mind full of immaturity and ignorance. I understand there are many who will say that I made my bed and I must lay in it. And they may be right. I just want to tell you from my perspective that I know I’m worth saving and I know others are too. I can only ask that we grow as a society and we continue to challenge our belief systems. Everyone has goodness within. It’s up to us—the community—to cultivate this goodness, not just throw away our children for decades at the first sign of trouble. I encourage you and your community to challenge, question, and examine the accountability paradox.
William Bigeckhas been incarcerated since ten days after his 18th birthday and is currently serving a 50-year sentence in Illinois. While in prison, he's earned his G.E.D. and Associate's Degree, and has been featured in the Chicago Tribune (Kids Killing Kids/2010) for his outreach and public speaking work.