Winner of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Audio Reporting
The U.S is the only country in the world that allows minors to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Approximately 2,500 juveniles have been effectively sentenced to die in prison—considered “irredeemable” by the state for crimes committed when they were just teenagers. One of them was David Luis “Suave” Gonzalez, who entered prison at 17 expecting to leave in a coffin. Suave tells the story of what happens when your whole world is a prison cell, and you suddenly get a second chance at life. It’s the story of one man’s incarceration and redemption and an unusual relationship between a journalist and a source.
1. The Sentence
“The very last word she said was ‘You can become a voice for the voiceless.’ And I was just like, ‘Damn, why am I letting this lady mess up my high?’”
We meet Suave, a man who has been serving a life sentence at a Pennsylvania maximum-security prison since he was a teenager. And we learn about his decades-long relationship as a source with journalist Maria Hinojosa. Suave has come to terms with the fact that he will never leave the confines of Graterford prison. That is until a Supreme Court ruling suddenly grants him a second chance to fight for his freedom.
2. The Hustle
“I was fascinated with the lifestyle. I was fascinated with prison flicks. That's how you get the street credibility. You know, I'm gonna be the baddest dude on the block.”
Maria learns more about Suave’s early life in the South Bronx and the crime Suave was convicted of as a teenager in the Badlands of Philadelphia. We explore the tactics of ruthless prosecutors that led to Pennsylvania becoming the state that sentenced the most minors in the country to life in prison without parole. Meanwhile, Suave anxiously awaits the decision from a judge that could grant him the opportunity to experience adult life on the outside.
3. The Old Head
“We had a secret, unspoken bond. We’re all dying in here. And I felt like I was breaking that bond. I feel like I'm leaving my brothers behind.”
Suave moves to a transitional housing unit at Graterford and begins to prepare for his release. But as he readies for life on the outside, his excitement gives way to a “never-ending list of fears” about life outside of prison. Suave also reckons with some complicated emotions—both the unparalleled joys of his upcoming release and the guilt of leaving behind the men he’s considered his brothers for nearly three decades. Maria ponders how her relationship with Suave will change now that they have a chance to explore their connection beyond a journalist-source relationship, as she travels to Graterford on his release day to bring him home.
4. The Release
“I never dreamed that it would be this good. Even the worst day that I have is good. I'm going up… and I know everything that goes up must come down.”
Suave kicks off his first day of freedom by checking things off his bucket list, including a long overdue conversation with his brother and an apology to students at a school in his old neighborhood in the Badlands. We follow Suave in his first year of freedom as he experiences the excitement of many firsts and as he tries to adjust to his new life on the outside…. until an unexpected revelation puts Suave’s future into doubt.
5. The Doubts
“Doesn’t matter if you doing good, if you got a job, it doesn't matter—it could be snatched up in a heartbeat and there's nothing you could do about it.”
Suave returns to prison and goes silent for weeks. Maria tries to figure out why and finds herself torn between her faith in Suave’s innocence and her responsibility to believe his accuser. Suave finds it impossible to adjust to being back in prison. Maria questions the entire parole system of and whether Suave will ever be truly free. Suave finally goes before a judge and again finds himself fighting for his freedom.
6. The Corner
“That little place right here changed my whole life. December 6, 1986. 15 seconds. 15 seconds changed my whole life.”
Suave has been cleared from all accusations and is free once again. He returns with Maria to the corner of 8th and Somerset in the Badlands—the place where his victim’s young life ended and the place that changed the course of Suave’s life. And Suave reveals to Maria a shocking story she’s never heard before about the night of the murder in 1986.
I love any podcast Maggie does but I really enjoyed listening to Maria on this one. These women did a great job helping tell Suave’s story. Suave you are amazing and I wish you the best in your journey to finding normalcy in this world. You will continue to inspire people which is more than most people can say. Thank you to this entire team for putting this story out there. ❤️
Love it, yet so sad
I love how it tells just 1 boy/ man perspective on being a “lifer” to being released 30 plus years later. It has helped me to better understand what young colored boys/ men who are in jail have or are going through. It puts a spotlight on a major problem in the USA. The only reason why its not 5 stars is the amount of profanity, call me sensitive but the F bomb is used way too much.
Best in True Crime!!!
If you listen to true crime, this is A MUST NOT MISS! I binged in one night! Amazing work by all involved.