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Josh Beckius was sentenced to prison at sixteen -- but sixteen years later, he has a second chance

redemption westword cover.jpg
I first encountered Josh Beckius, subject of "Redemption," this week's cover story, as a photograph in the Boulder newspaper. I'd read that some teenagers had been arrested in connection with a two-year-old murder at Basemar Cinema Savers, and here he was, a dark-haired kid posing with a baseball bat, beside an article saying he'd been sentenced to forty years -- at sixteen -- after pleading guilty to serving as a look out. Charlie Pa, the young man who actually killed Dayton James, was sentenced to 48 years.

I've always been appalled by the practice of putting kids away for long periods of time -- in most parts of the world, even the worst teenage criminals are given some chance at rehabilitation -- and the more I looked into the story, the more troubling I found Colorado's system of justice in general and the gentleman's clique that seemed to be running the Boulder courts at the time in particular.

I stayed in touch with Josh after his return to prison; we exchanged perhaps a couple of letters a year. He turned out to have a sensitivity to others that I wouldn't have expected, given his background. Early on, he wondered if I'd prefer not to get letters from him because the prison's return address might be embarrassing. He sent Chanukah rather than Christmas cards -- something few non-Jewish people think to do. And when I approached him about following up on the story I'd written about his situation back in 2000, "This Boy's Life," his primary concern was that it might distress Dayton James's daughters.

The update was sparked by an e-mail I got a few months back from Raymond Mallette, who had hired Josh about a month earlier and is working on a master's in management with a focus on criminal justice (he's since moved on to another job). "Josh is a great guy," he wrote, "and having an interest in the criminal justice system... I find myself needing to express that here is some 'good' the system has done. Josh is a 'yes sir' 'no sir' kind of employee. Today when I handed him his check, he thanked me for giving him a chance. My heart went out to him and I really wish I could do more to help him. I implore you to consider a 'follow-up' article. I'll talk to anyone necessary and see whoever I have to see to work with you on helping Josh find his way into society once again. Talk to me."

It was nice seeing Josh walking toward me in that Boulder coffee shop and odd, too, to be revisiting a story into which I'd put so much effort and research over ten years earlier. I interviewed him more than once, and every time I found myself searching his eyes, trying to figure out who he was, if he'd really matured and reformed, if the transformation people talked about was real. He sometimes seemed slightly amused by my intensity, but his answer was always the same: He was going to do fine. He was going to atone for the wrongs he'd done. But things will get difficult sometimes, I persisted, and he was facing a very difficult economic climate. Better to be in a bad economic climate than where he'd been before, he said.

A lot of teenagers lose their entire lives in this justice system. Some of them are incorrigible. But others were trapped for minor crimes, criminal impulses they would have grown out of, or just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many are still in solitary confinement -- and have been there far longer than the three and half years Josh endured. Each and every one of them has a story that should be told. (For many of these stories, see the Westword links below.)

I have no way of knowing how Josh's life will turn out, but I find myself hoping very strongly that he'll succeed. In a world filled with so much darkness and injustice, a single and persistent light can mean a lot.

For more about juveniles sentenced as adults in Colorado, read Luke Turf's "Headed for Trouble," which follows the Erik Jensen and Nate Ybanez case; as well as Alan Prendergast's story on how Governor Bill Ritter failed to commute the sentence of any juveniles, "Bill Ritters commutations draw praise, bitter rebukes" and his article on the Pendulum Foundation and juvenile sentencing, "Is trying juveniles as adults crule and unusual?" For more on clemency, read Prendergast's "Clemency for these six prisoners could save millions and serve justice -- so why won't Governor Ritter try it?" And for a Frontline piece on kids sentenced to life, click here.


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3 comments
John-Bob Wolmer
John-Bob Wolmer

I was a manager at the Subway next to the Cinema and was on duty the night Charlie Pa and Josh choose of their own freewill to rob the theatre and kill Dayton James. These kids, these morons, got exactly what they deserved and to glorify any part of their lives as you have in this article is a slap in the face to his family and friends. Great! The system worked or it didn't, but to put any focus on these criminals, to use Dayton's name in a secondary position and lift these criminals as examples in any way is just plain wrong. You suck for having written this article. Wonderful! Josh gets a second chance, nothing about that second chance should have any focus whatsoever because Dayton's family and friends don't get a second chance to be with him. Sadly - in some way, I want you Juliet to be a victim of a similar crime so you know what its like and maybe with that perspective you'll stop lifting up criminals and focus on the lives they viciously took. Dayton's life was worth more than this pile of crap you laid out here. You are a loser of the highest magnitude and in many ways of the same character as the killers. I truly hope you and the editor who allowed this garbage to go to print both lose your jobs and get blacklisted in your career community. Neither or you should be allowed to publish any longer.

GetAGrip
GetAGrip

@John-Bob Wolmer Subway was across the parking lot, I worked next door. It's been years and the adult killer is still in prison. This kid you call an idiot is now an adult and should be given a chance based on how he has conducted himself. 

Sadly, after reading how you wish someone to be victimized for having a different opinion than you, we all come away with what a dick you are, a real piece of garbage.

Abcanyons
Abcanyons

Sending children to jail for extended periods of time is a sickening travesty, regardless of what they have done. Parts of their brains have not even finished developing yet! To say someone is not mature enough to drink, vote or drive...but to claim they are mature enough to rot in jail while their brain finishes developing is despicable. John-Bob, despite the fact that you got ridiculously ugly with your comments, you are entitled to your opinion, as is everyone, including the writer of this article.

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