Raynan Pearson will help his older brother Curtis Brooks drive a car, send email and utilize various features on an iPhone.
Brooks had been away from society since 1995, having been sent to a Colorado prison at the age of 15 to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a murder conviction.
But on Monday, the two brothers were all smiles as Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), state Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-District 24) of Landover and other community leaders held a welcome-home ceremony for Brooks at St. Margaret’s Catholic Church in Capitol Heights.
Brooks, now 39, was officially released from prison July 1 after receiving clemency in December from then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, currently a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful.
“I would say it’s kind of different showing my older brother how to be in the world versus the other way around,” said Pearson, 34. “He’s smart as a whip. Him getting acclimated back to the world has been an easy transition for him. All you got to do is show him something once or twice [and] he got it.”
Van Hollen said Brooks’ ordeal is “a story about triumph and hope over despair.”
“It’s an example of the power of love and the power of persistence to make sure that justice is done,” he said.
Brooks moved from Maryland to Colorado in 1994 to live with his mother, who had entered a drug treatment program. As she dealt with her personal issues, she kicked Brooks out the house within a year after he moved in.
In 1995, Brooks was with other teenagers who robbed a vehicle and fatally shot the owner, Christopher Ramos, 24, in Aurora, Colorado. Though Brooks was not the gunman, Colorado law allowed for those present during a murder to receive the same charge as the person responsible.
Seventeen years later, the Supreme Court ruled the sentencing guidelines of life without parole for juveniles as “unconstitutional” and “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Benson, who worked as a principal at John Bayne Elementary in Capitol Heights when Brooks attended the school, joined community leaders in January 2013 to help get him released.
After six years, various hearings and thousands of traveled miles, Benson and others’ “labor of love” enabled Brooks to return home in Prince George’s County.
Specifically, the Greater 202 Coalition, a group of residents who reside in central Prince George’s led by Benson, collected more than 2,000 signatures pushing Hickenlooper and a Colorado judge for Brooks’ release. Benson even testified before the Colorado legislature.
Meanwhile, Brooks learned to read, write, or verbally communicate in some form of Spanish, Japanese, Vietnamese and the Native American language of Lakota, as his family and community members sent money for him to obtain college credit. He only needs 12 more hours to receive a college degree.
“Everybody came to the table,” said Abdul-Raheem Abdullah, a political consultant for Benson who also traveled to Colorado and visited Brooks. “There are things we needed to do for Curtis from time to time and I thank you all for standing up.”
Benson, who often showcases motherly affection and humor, held up a blue and white T-shirt she said Brooks wore as a youth that read, “Inside this shirt is a John Bayne Bear.”
“That looks like a sock [he could wear],” Brooks said with a smile.
Although a free man, Brooks still feels some guilt of being with teenagers who killed a man.
“I don’t know if forgiveness will be in the cards in my lifetime,” he said.
In the meantime, he plans to advocate and help change sentencing laws for youth in Colorado and work alongside Benson to improve legislation in Maryland.
“The system doesn’t put in place a mechanism for judges to truly understand and know the individual that they are making a ruling on,” he said. “You have guys going in as kids [who], as in my case, don’t know how to adapt to a prison environment. I’d like to see some kind of tweaks [and] explore some ideas for the justice system to be able to truly take into account who these kids are, [not] just looking at them as names and numbers or as inmate IDs, [but] as people.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.