Matilyn Sarosi Will Receive Liberty Bell Award Sept. 17 in Grand Rapids


"And a child shall lead them." That's what Matilyn Sarosi's teachers and classmates at Fr. Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor must have thought when she stood up tall to fight for what she believed was a terrible injustice.

Sarosi heard about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Miller v. Alabama which held that sentencing juveniles to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling made sense to her. But then she heard something that didn't.

She heard that retroactive application of this principal might not apply to the 363 Michigan prisoners who were sentenced as juveniles to life without parole prior to the ruling. She wondered how it could be okay for one group, but not for another. And, as any teenager might point out, she thought, "Don't they know we're kids? How can the state punish us for the rest of our lives for stupid decisions we've made as children?"

That's when she embarked on an incredible journey. Her aunt, a lawyer, suggested an amicus brief, and that's all Sarosi needed to hear. She spent the next five months absorbing everything she could absorb about the issue. She read all the briefs in Miller, researched juvenile justice issues, and spoke with lawyers. She spent nights and weekends drafting outlines of the brief, writing the brief itself, and then rewriting.

There were times when she thought about giving up, wondering what her friends and classmates would think. Aren't these bad people? Why would you want to help them? But she knew she was doing the right thing, and her instinct told her others would follow her lead. And they did.

She first presented it to Fr. Richard Lobert, who embraced the idea. The pair then went to the theology teachers and the administration, who also signed on. Finally, they went to the students.

Sarosi presented her research to more than 15 theology classes. At the end of each presentation, she circulated a clipboard asking interested students to join the fight. Students signed on in droves. By the end of that week, she had collected 452 signatures, which represented 85 percent of the school's student body. Sarosi then put the finishing touches on the brief and gave it to Grand Rapids lawyer John Muth, who agreed to file it.

The case was argued and, in July, the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that juvenile lifers would not get rehearings. Sarosi and her army of supporters were no doubt disappointed. However, as with any great leader, Sarosi certainly believes the fight has just begun.

Story by Lynn Ingram


Matilyn Sarosi

Click the caption below Matilyn Sarosi's photo to download a high resolution version. Read about all SBM Award winners. More information about the Annual Meeting can be found in the SBM Annual Meeting Media Kit.