WILMINGTON, Del. — It’s just a few blocks from the house Earl Rice Jr. left behind as a teenager to the places he remembers. But after more than four decades in prison, he has ground to cover.
Skirting Franklin Street’s neatly trimmed lawns in long strides, and praising the glories of the afternoon heat, Rice reaches the park where he and his brothers used to go sledding. Across 18th, kids, laughing and shouting, bound down school steps.
Rice slows, taking it all in.
“For 43 years I’m behind a wall or some kind of a fence with guard towers and then you come out here,” he says. “I can imagine what Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong and them felt like going to the moon, because that’s what it seems like. I’m on a different planet!”
Rice, jailed at 17 for a purse-snatching that took a woman’s life, is 61 now. He is one of dozens of inmates — sentenced to life in prison without parole for crimes committed as juveniles — who have been released since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such mandatory sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Courts must recognize teens’ incomplete brain development and their potential to change, the justices found.
Rice walked out of a Pennsylvania prison in September to find his fiancee at the gate, a father waiting to take him in, and a daughter who now calls each day to say, “Good morning, Daddy.”
Others, though, have confronted less welcoming realities.
When John Hall was released from a Michigan prison in February after nearly 50 years behind bars, he had $1.37 in his pocket.
At 67, Hall carried his life’s possessions in a few boxes: a small TV and a photo album filled with faded newspaper clippings and pictures of himself in white satin boxing trunks, from…