Editor's Note: The Supreme Court is considering whether life sentences for teenage criminals who haven't committed a homicide is cruel and unusual punishment. Some of the best legal minds in the country have fiercely debated the issue. The one thing they all seem to agree on: there are no easy answers. CNN's Jason Carroll reports for part two of American Morning's original series, "Growing Up Behind Bars."
By Jason Carroll, CNN
(CNN) - As Dwayne Betts addressed thousands of students at last year's University of Maryland's commencement ceremonies, his thoughts then and now are of how far he has come in his life, how five years before that moment, he was locked up in prison.
“When I was 16-years-old, on December 7th, 1996, I carjacked a man in a parking lot in Springfield, Virginia … at gunpoint,” says Betts.
At the time, Betts says he was a high school honor student who had fallen in with the wrong crowd.
“I think the truth is sort a strange mix of opportunity. … You don't turn 16 and have a gun in your hand. So I think it was a lot of baby steps.”
It was a major step. Although no one was physically hurt during his crime, Betts was prosecuted as an adult. Carjacking in Virginia carries a maximum sentence of life.
“There's no way to quantify what a life sentence does to a person," he says. "If I had to wake up every morning to a life sentence, I don't even want to imagine what I would have become.”
Betts, at 16, received the minimum sentence, serving nearly nine years in Virginia's adult prison system, living alongside the state's most violent criminals.
(CNN) – Today we're looking at an unprecedented legal case in New Castle, Pennsylvania.
A 12-year-old boy could end up being the youngest person in the U.S. sentenced to life in prison without parole. He's accused of killing his father's pregnant fiancee.
Only CNN's "American Morning" is talking with both the victim's family and the young boy's family. Our Jason Carroll reports for part one of our series, "Growing Up Behind Bars."