Second chance 

While perusing the booths selling shea butter, "original man" suits, bean pies and bow ties at the Nation of Islam gathering being held at Cobo Center last week, News Hits found a booth pushing a petition instead of a product.

Members of the "Second Chance for Convicted Juveniles" group, which is seeking a Michigan law that would prevent kids 17 and younger from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, were holding down a booth at the event. One of the activists there was Tracy Williams, who was interviewed in a story we did about this issue last year ("Juvenile Injustice," Dec. 13, 2006). Williams is a friend of Damion Todd, who was sent away for life after being convicted of murder at the age of 17.

After that MT story appeared, we received some phone calls and e-mails from people asking if we'd be supporting a second chance for teen killers if one of our family members had been among their victims.

It's an impossible question for someone who hasn't experienced such a loss to answer. At Cobo Center, though, we talked to a woman who could provide an informed answer. Her name is Mashawn Ming.

Hers is one of those small-world stories.

Ming and Williams have been friends for about eight years. Williams knew that Ming's cousin, Anthony Dixon, had been gunned down in Detroit 16 years ago. Dixon was just 17. The person who killed him, Lacon Wilson, was only 14 years old when he committed the murder.

Because Wilson had expressed no remorse for the murder when convicted and sentenced to prison for life, Dixon's family struggled to deal with what Ming describes as a raw and open wound that never healed.

Then, late last year, Williams, by chance, connected some dots and learned that Todd and Wilson knew each other, and were serving time together at Detroit's Mound Road Correctional facility. Todd has been mentoring Wilson, she says, and when the opportunity arose, she got both Wilson and Ming on the phone together.

For Ming, it was a transformative conversation.

She came to realize that the 14-year-old who expressed no remorse for taking an innocent life was "young and ignorant." Talking to the man that boy had become after spending more than half his life in prison, and finally hearing the words "I'm sorry," was what Ming now describes as a "blessing from God."

"It released a lot of wounds that we were still holding on- to," she says.

As a result, she's become a convert, and was there at Cobo Hall last Friday helping Williams gather petition signatures in support of a package of second-chance legislation introduced in the Michigan House by state Rep. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor).

We're not saying Ming is representative of everyone who has seen a family member senselessly killed. What we are saying to those who asked the question is that having a loved one killed does not automatically make someone an advocate of ceaseless punishment.

Those interested in helping get Brater's bills passed can contact the Second Chance group at

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or

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