Erik Jensen, juvenile lifer, hangs onto hope "now more than ever"

Erik Jensen was seventeen when he got mixed up in the deadly domestic drama of Nate Ybanez, his best buddy. Ybanez is now serving a life sentence for the 1998 murder of his mother, Julie; Jensen is also serving life without parole for helping him -- although whether he was involved in the actual killing or just tried to aid his friend in covering up the crime has long been a matter of debate. Either way, both men are hoping that their chances of ever seeing the world outside prison walls may soon be a little less bleak.

As explained in this week's cover story, "The Old Boys," a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision found that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional. What that means for 51 Colorado inmates serving such sentences in Colorado is still being thrashed out; it isn't clear if all the sentences will simply be commuted to forty-years-to-life (the current maximum for juveniles under state law) or whether each offender must be re-sentenced separately, with the possibility of some receiving drastic reductions in time.

Jensen is hoping for a major modification of his sentence that could make him eligible for parole soon. In a recent Facebook posting to friends and supporters, he announces that his attorneys will be filing a motion next week seeking a re-sentencing hearing. "I'm confident, but I've been that way before," he writes. "The difference this time is judges are actually being forced to do the right thing by the Supreme Court."

Jensen is "approaching my 32nd birthday and inching ever closer to the dreaded date where I'll have spent more of my life inside than out," he notes, and that's made him reflective about how he's spent his life and the suffering others have gone through because of him: "Prison makes you face hard truths about yourself, and I've realized that prison is actually probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I was an angry, arrogant teenage boy who had every opportunity to succeed yet could never be satisfied...I find comfort and solace in the fact that the actions that landed me here always were of pure intentions and that the best friend I literally traded my life for has not wasted the sacrifice."

It's a fascinating document, particularly as Jensen muses whether his journey into the lower depths of the corrections system could have some larger significance. "Maybe I came to prison to be the case that decides the fate of so many other kids who made a bad choice," he writes. "Maybe I came to effect change in individuals I encounter. Or maybe I simply came to prison to become the man the outside could never teach me to be."

Continue to read Erik Jensen's letter.

Erik Jensen Letter

More from our Prison Life archive: "Johnathan Jordan letter clears co-defendant in murder -- but will anyone believe it?"

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast