Category Archives: Jonathan Rajewski

98 Yusef Qualls-El

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Born Detroit, 1979 / Lives in Macomb Regional Correctional Facility, New Haven, Michigan

In 1996, when Yusef Qualls-El was sixteen years old, a Wayne County judge sentenced him to mandatory life without the possibility of parole in the Michigan prison system. Though his original sentence has since been ruled unconstitutional—a violation of the Eighth Amendment—he remains incarcerated, one of hundreds of juvenile lifers awaiting re-sentencing in Michigan. As Qualls-El puts it, “they threw away the key.”

Qualls-El was born in Detroit in 1979 and moved from neighborhood to neighborhood with his family before ending up on the city’s east side. He grew up watching morning syndications of Merrie Melodies cartoons and learned how to draw them; Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, and Yosemite Sam were all part of his self-blossomed art education. Drawing cars, often flying ones, was a recurrent pastime; their unfettered mobility represented “ultimate freedom” for him. A few years later, Qualls-El would be sentenced to mandatory life without parole for being involved—as a driver, not the shooter—in a homicide that would change the entire course of his life.

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