In a maximum-security prison in Beeville, Texas, 37-year-old Edwin Debrow often dreams about running in the grass—like he was able to do before 1991, the year he turned 12 and shot and killed a cabbie named Curtis Edwards.
Skip Hollandsworth dives into Debrow’s story for Texas Monthly, noting the 40-year sentence that won’t release Debrow until 2031, when he’ll be 52 (he’s been denied parole ever since he became eligible in 1999), and placing him at the center of a debate about children who commit violent crimes.
“Is the public better served by putting them in adult prisons and keeping them off the streets for years and years?” Hollandsworth asks. “Or does the experience of incarceration only make them more disturbed and even more dangerous?” Texas has particularly heavy penalties for kid criminals: About 2,000 inmates currently in the state’s prisons committed crimes before they were 17, with Debrow boasting the third-longest incarceration time of the bunch.
Debrow was raised by a single mom with six siblings, surrounded by poverty, drugs, and violence, and though his teachers saw potential, Debrow joined a gang when he was 10. The night that changed his life came in September 1991, when an adult friend of his mother’s asked Debrow to help him pull off a robbery.
The two hailed a cab, and that’s when Debrow shot Edwards. Hollandsworth follows Debrow through his stays in juvenile facilities (where he was once deemed “a born criminal who ‘can’t be fixed'”) to his stint in the adult prison system. His reputation for violence continued until the day he decided “I was ready to make a change.” He dove into books, got his GED, stayed away from prison gangs—and started planning for his appeal, which he lost. He still looks forward to the day of his release. “Why can’t people understand I’m not that 12-year-old boy anymore? Why can’t I be given a second chance?” he asks.