Mark Clements was just 16 years old when Chicago police beat him in an interrogation room at Area Three in 1981. As a result of the beating, he signed a false confession to an arson that killed four people. Due to his age, he was not eligible for the death penalty, so instead, he was sentenced to life without parole.
Mark recently had to make a painful decision. To win his freedom expediently, he agreed to admit guilt in causing the death of one of the victims, Robert Watson, in exchange for a sentence of time served. As Mark explained about why he accepted the deal: “I have a 28-year-old daughter, three grandchildren, and a mother sick with cancer. I wanted to be here to help her. If she was to pass away, I would not want to be in prison.” Mark spoke briefly to Marlene Martin as the New Abolitionist was going to print.
What have you come to learn about the criminal justice system?
Justice was denied for the victims in this crime, and justice remains denied for the victims in this crime. The system cares about covering up its corruption, more so than issuing justice. In my situation, I was 16 years old when I was taken to Area Three Violent Crimes division. I was denied my parents, I was denied a youth officer, I was beaten by a detective to sign a confession to a crime I did not commit for arson and four murders that occurred on the south side of Chicago. Because I was a juvenile, I was not eligible for the death penalty, so instead, I was given four natural life sentences without parole. As a result of being denied parole, I had no way of making my case before the parole board, which would have most likely released me years ago.
What is prison like?
Prison was torture upon torture because I was innocent. I suffered being denied my daughter, being denied my mother and other family members. After 28 years in prison, I learned that prison is a house of hell and a house of horror. Prison is a place of complete torment for those who are incarcerated. It does not rehabilitate because it is an industry that brings money to the government, and not to those who are behind the walls.
What would you like to say to criminal justice activists today?
Had it not been for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the National Alliance Against Political Repression, I would still be in prison. This is an era and time when we need young activists to get involved with the fight — not just to end unfair sentencing, but to expose the evils within the criminal justice system, like police torture, and corrupt judges and prosecutors who go overboard to win convictions when suspects might be innocent. This is a time when young activists are needed to stand on the front line for their family and friends. And for those who might have committed their crimes, many individuals inside prison who I have met are very remorseful.
They should be given a second chance because redemption should apply to everyone, and not just a few. In my opinion, everyone should be afforded an opportunity, regardless of their being innocent or guilty.
What will you do now?
I won’t hold my head down as a result of my plight. I will fight even harder for the brothers who remain behind prison walls who are torture victims. I will tirelessly work for the release of Stanley Howard and for Stanley Wrice — their release is well overdue.
Anita Alvarez, the new State’s Attorney, should do what she promised, which was to administer justice to torture victims. That’s what she promised, but instead, she has fought tirelessly to keep them behind prison walls. I will continue to fight for my brothers who were tortured to be freed from prison. I also want to work to abolish the death penalty, but also to work toward ending unfair sentences to juveniles who are sentenced to natural life without parole. There are 109 who are still serving these sentences in Illinois alone.