PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – “It’s a blessing to be here right now.”
Those words came from Kempis Songster, or “Ghani” as so many people call him.
He is a juvenile lifer who walked out of Graterford Prison Thursday morning, 30 years after he was convicted of first-degree murder.
“It’s just so humbling,” he says.
Ghani’s story goes back to 1987, when he was 15 years old. He ran away from his home in New York with a friend and ended up in Philadelphia.
They both would join a criminal organization.
“And in this organization, we were basically workers selling drugs out of fortified row houses,” he explains.
Then one day, he and his friend got involved in an altercation with another member of the organization.
“It erupted into an explosion of violence,” Ghani says.
One that ended with that man’s death, something Ghani says he “deeply regrets.”
“If I had one wish in the world, it would be to bring him back,” he says, “so that he could enjoy the rest of his life.”
Ghani was sentenced to life in prison. But in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles was unconstitutional.
Another Supreme Court ruling in 2016 said that the 2012 ruling was retroactive, meaning every single juvenile lifer behind bars at the time had to be reevaluated.
Re-sentencing began a little over a year ago. Ghani was re-sentenced to 30 years, and is now a free man.
“I’m looking at this as an opportunity to really live a life of meaning,” he says.
Later in the day Thursday, Ghani’s family joined community members in West Philadelphia for a special welcome home party.
“People aren’t celebrating somebody who has done something wrong,” says Ghani. “They’re celebrating hope, the capacity for human beings to change and do better.”
And change, Ghani says, like he did.
“It’s been a journey ripe with lessons, and I’ve learned what’s really important in life,” he says. “And that’s family, community and love.”
Ghani plans on spending plenty of quality time with family in the coming days, especially his mother.
After that, he says he’s going to get a job and start the next chapter in his life.