By Darnell Epps
I can speak for both myself and my older brother, Darryl, when I say that March 8, 2000, was the most regrettable day of our lives. On that day, I accompanied Darryl to an encounter with a gang member who, days earlier, had sexually assaulted Darryl’s wife. We were both armed. Rather than report the assault, we set out for a confrontation. Within seconds, the situation escalated and Darryl fired several shots in a struggle for the gun, wounding the gang member and himself. Darryl and I survived. The gang member did not.
Months later, we stood shackled and handcuffed inside a muggy Brooklyn courtroom. I was 20 and Darryl was 21. We had every reason to think we’d spend the rest of our lives in jail. But Justice Gustin L. Reichbach did something unexpected, something that probably saved both our lives: He did not impose the maximum prison sentence of 40 years to life — the equivalent of life without parole — and instead sentenced each of us to serve 17½ years to life.
We were taken to Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, to serve our time. That Darryl and I were in the same prison gave us both real advantages. Friends and family could visit us in one place, helping us maintain a connection with the outside world. We were able to reflect together on where we had gone wrong and to commit ourselves to turning our lives around. Seeing each other every day provided a constant reminder of the worst choice we’d ever made.