Kyle Daniel Bey
Growing up, Kyle Daniel-Bey felt like an outsider. He and his two younger sisters were the only Black children in their elementary school in Vermont. Later, when their family returned to Detroit, he was picked on again because he was from the country.
Tired of not fitting in, Kyle did what many other young people around him did — he turned to a street gang for a sense of belonging. Instead of acceptance, he found violence, tragedy and ruined lives. Convicted of a killing that took place when he was 17 years old, Kyle was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life without any chance of going home, making him one of Michigan’s juvenile lifers.
Then, fate intervened.
A series of U.S. Supreme Court cases rethought juvenile life parole sentences for people under 18, opening the door for Kyle to be resentenced. Today, he is working as an iron worker and looking at getting into real estate. He’s also a father and grandfather, but most importantly, he says, “I’m a good dude, and there’s nothing wrong with being a good dude.”
Kyle’s family moved to Vermont when he was an infant because his father got a job there. Growing up as one of few non-white people in a state where 95.6 percent of the population is white was a challenge. Some kids at school taunted him and his sisters for looking different, and things got so bad that Kyle began taking knives to school to protect them. The situation was intolerable, so his family moved back to Detroit.
Living in a neighborhood hit hard by the crack epidemic, Kyle was then targeted because he grew up in a rural setting and for being serious about school. The loneliness got so bad that he became suicidal.
“I was a nerd who didn’t value being a nerd,” he said. “I was tired of fighting, tired of feeling like a loner, and tired of feeling like no one understood me.”
Kyle thought he finally found camaraderie in a street gang and he left school. When he was 17, he shot a man from a rival gang during a confrontation. His court case dragged on for years and resulted in being sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.
One of the hardest parts of receiving such a hard sentence was leaving behind a young daughter. He wouldn’t see her again until he was getting ready to go home and she was 30 years old.
Kyle spent his time incarcerated taking all the vocational and educational classes he could get into. In this way, his prison experience was similar to those of many other juvenile lifers’ experiences, Kyle said.
“Yes, we all came in and acted a fool. Some of us took longer than others, but we all settled down, we all developed. We all turned into — not model prisoners, because we weren’t trying to be model prisoners — we were trying to be good people. And good people, no matter where they find themselves, try to do good things.”
Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court began to understand that it is a mistake to send children to die in prison. In a series of decisions, it banned mandatory life without parole for juveniles, then made that decision retroactive, creating a path for people like Kyle to come home. He finally did in September 2018.
Since then, he’s earned an associate degree from Wayne County Community College and works as an Ironworker. He’s bought his first house and reconnected with his daughter and grandchild. His plans for the future include helping people coming home from prison find safe and affordable housing.
He also wants to change the way people see people like himself: people once sentenced to die in prison while they were still children.
“We need to make the distinction on the people we’re punishing between the people we’re afraid of and the people we’re mad at. Children are different,” Kyle said. “You don’t hold children to an adult standard when most adults can’t hold themselves to that standard.”