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Criminal Justice Reformer Manuel Delivers Jacobs Residency Lecture

By Justin Oh ’25

Ian Manuel, advocate for criminal justice reform, poet, author and speaker, was the featured speaker at the Jacobs Residency Lecture in the Burgin Center for the Arts’ Simon Theatre in April. During his stay at Mercersburg, Manuel had dinner with students interested in poetry and also hosted a Q&A as well as a poetry workshop.

Ian Manuel participates in a Q&A with students.

Ian Manuel participates in a Q&A with students.

Growing up in a difficult and dangerous Tampa neighborhood in the 1990s, Manuel was coerced into committing robberies from a young age. When he was 13, Manuel was involved in a botched burglary that resulted in him shooting and injuring a woman. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The United States is the only country in the world where minors can be sentenced to life without parole. Manuel spent 26 years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. 

During his time in prison, Manuel became an avid poet and used his poetry as a form of empowerment. He also befriended his victim, and afterward she petitioned on his behalf, he was finally released in 2016 with the aid of the Equal Justice Initiative led by Bryan Stevenson. 
Manuel comes to Mercersburg with a unique and empowering story. His book, My Time Will Come, was reviewed as a “stunner” by Publishers Weekly and was noted as “both heart-wrenching and uplifting.” He has spoken for the American Civil Liberties Union, National Public Radio, and has been covered by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Forbes. He fights for abolishing unfair and unequal sentencing faced by Black Americans and ponders what justice and redemption truly mean in the U.S. criminal justice system.

When asked about his time at Mercersburg, Manuel believes that Mercersburg students have great energy and a positive attitude that is “second to none.” He hopes that students will be inspired to improve themselves and find redemption through his story.

The Jacobs Residency Lecture is endowed in memory of John Alfred Morefield, the father of John Morefield ’52 and Fred Morefield ’53, in recognition of Wilmarth I. Jacobs, the school’s former assistant headmaster and director of admission (1915 to 1962), who personified a strong quality of nonelitism.