Nineteen years ago, Julian Castillo made a decision that still haunts him to this day. He opened fire at a playground in revenge shooting and killed two bystanders, including a 19-year-old mother and one teenage boy. He was 17 years old when he was sent to prison and he’ll be locked up for many more years.
But he’s just one of the many prisoners serving lengthy sentences at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York.
Kenyatta Hughes murdered a cab driver for a free ride. Laron Rogers shot his friend six times because he was angry over a $3 dice game. Lawrence Bartley killed 15-year-old Tremain Hall with one of the 25 bullets fired in a packed theater on Christmas day — another teen lost his left eye.
These inmates have something else in common. They’ve realized they can’t change the past, so they’re trying to change the future by reaching out to kids about the consequences of their deadly decisions before it’s too late.
In 2014, NBC Dateline producer Dan Slepian volunteered at Sing Sing to create “Voices From Within” a video project and education initiative that tells the stories of convicted killers living with the consequences of their actions in an effort to prevent other children from meeting the same tragic fate.
One by one, the inmates entered the empty room and told their story to the camera before them.
It took Castillos 7 to 10 years into his prison sentence to really start to think about his choices and the people he hurt when he realized he couldn’t be there for his little brother and sister. “That’s what made me change a lot. Because I took that away from other people. They didn’t have a choice — I did.”
Not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about that day that he destroyed the lives of so many people — and he’s not the only one.
Tyrone Abraham, also in prison for murder, said: “Looking back at my choices and my decisions, I suffer for that. My children suffer for that. My victims suffer for that. His family suffered for that. Society as a whole suffered for a choice that I made,” He was serving his 20th year in prison at the time of the interview in 2014.
Today, these men are trying to get 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15-year-old’s to stop and think for a second before reaching for a weapon.
Unfortunately, his teenage son did follow his footsteps. “My 17-year-old child, my son, lost his life and I know if I was there he would still be alive today,” Abraham, 40, continued. “And he’s not alive, because I wasn’t there as a father to protect him, to guide him, to teach him.”
“And I wasn’t there because I made a choice. I made a decision and that decision cost him his life.”
For Bartley, it was when he heard the father of his victim take the stand in court when he realized what he’d done.
“His father called this kid his buddy. That was his buddy. I took his buddy away from him,” he broke into tears remembering the day.
Hughes shot a cab driver in the back of the head. The husband and father was working as a cab driver to pay his way through community college. Fighting through tears, Hughes pleaded sat in the empty room and pleaded to whoever may be listening: “There is nothing you can do to make it right. And it’s that fast and it’s over and its done and you don’t even know what you did and by the time you understand its too late.”