It’s the small things like making dinner together that Curtis Brooks treasures with his wife. It’s something that he wouldn’t have imagined for himself, because at the age of 15, he was sentenced to life without parole.

“I used to have dreams, that I got a call that said, 'Hey, you’re getting released.' So I always held to that belief, that death in prison wasn't my destined end,” Brooks said.

In 1995, a 15-year-old Brooks was homeless in Colorado, where he was approached by three teens who asked for his help to steal a car. The robbery went south when one of the other boys shot and killed 24-year-old Christopher Ramos.

What You Need To Know

  • The Sentencing Project found that at the start of 2020, there were over 1,400 juveniles serving life without parole

  • The U.S. is the only nation that sentences people to life without parole for crimes committed before turning 18

  • Juvenile life without parole is prohibited in 27 states and the District of Columbia

“My life could’ve taken a hugely different direction if I had a presence in my life,” said Brooks. “I grew up truly without my parents. My mother was addicted to crack and my father really didn't care. I want to be the person that I wish that I had.”

Now, Brooks serves as a mentor in the community. From detention centers and high schools to the Boy & Girls Club in Albany, he continues to share his story.

Though Brooks was not the teen who pulled the trigger 27 years ago, he carries the grief. He hopes his life story can be a lesson learned for others.

“I had a choice, I could have made the right choice, and if I had done the right thing, that man would still be alive to this day. So in many ways, I look at it as if I killed him,” Brooks said.

After 24 years, Brooks was granted clemency, a second chance. But many teens across the country are still facing a life behind bars.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles was unconstitutional. However, that still allowed for discretionary sentences, in which a judge can weigh mitigating factors like potential for rehabilitation.

The Sentencing Project found that at the start of 2020, there were more than 1,400 juveniles still serving life without parole.

“I have a saying. A lot of people grow older, only certain people grow up,” said Brooks.

Being able to speak with teens allows Brooks to reflect. He would tell his younger self this lesson.

“You’re good enough. That’s what I want any kid who hears me to understand,” said Brooks. "I sacrificed myself to try to please others because I didn’t think that I was good enough.“