"Charles, you are making progress. That's good. That's what we all want to see." It's an important message from Judge George Economy, because if Charles Lewis Jr. ever wants to get out of prison, Economy's the one man he needs to convince.
"Though he is at the elementary stages of his reform and rehabilitation he is making progress and there have been changes in Charles Lewis," said Economy.
Lewis was found guilty of felony murder for his involvement in killing a 19-year old. It happened during an attempted drug robbery back in 2010. His father, Charles Lewis Sr., allegedly pulled the trigger, killing Shayla Johnson.
At the time of sentencing Lewis showed no remorse, something the victim's mother, Lori Black, lamented. "He said that he had no feelings about what had happened and that he did not care or think about me whatsoever."
But those who work closely with him say they have seen improvements during the last year. His social worker says he's starting to accept responsibility for what happened.
Psychologist John Harburg said Lewis told him he wants to be a better man. "I have to say that in his actions in his cooperation with treatment he is making good on that intention."
Lewis has long expressed the importance of school. At Maxey, he's taking a full academic course load and earning a "b" average. His overall gpa is 3.2.
DHS case worker Victor Bozzo said Lewis "wanted everybody to know that he wasn't a bad person and that he has changed since he has been to Maxey. And that is something he wouldn't have shared several months ago."
But some, like the victim's mother, doubt his change is sincere. "I don't want to completely put it to the side and say he doesn't mean it, but i just find it a little hard to believe that in sixth months you've completely turned yourself around." Black doesn't think a real change could happen that quickly. She hopes Lewis remains in prison as an adult.
"He asked his father to get him a gun so he could participate in this crime. 4 people have been under the misunderstanding that his father took him along to commit this horrible crime, it was more of the other way around," said Ingham County prosecuting attorney Stuart Dunnings III.
Lewis' defense attorney Keith Watson says he just doesn't agree. "If what you are telling me is that somebody has painted Charles as a leader in this case. I think that's ridiculous. That's laughable. He's by far the youngest of anybody that was involved in this."
At Maxey, Lewis has secured a job and plans to use the money to pay restitution to his victim's family. It's progress that Judge Economy wants to see, but the growth inside Maxey hasn't been without setbacks and mistakes.
While at Maxey, Lewis has been involved in gang activity. He was showing signs, was found with prohibited items, and refused to eat foods that were against the gang's code of ethics.
When it came time for his one year review, Lewis wrote Judge Economy a letter. The judge said he doesn't get too many "thank-you's" from people he's put in detention.
In the letter Lewis writes: "I understand that being negative does not get you anywhere in life but dead or in jail. I do not want to live that lifestyle anymore. Knowing I was a part of taking Shayla Johnson's life hurts me daily... I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was... My goals are to become a young man who is positive, productive and successful."
Lewis will next prove he is accomplishing that goal when he sees the judge on October 8.
"If he has a feeling about somebody else's life or a feeling, that means that there's hope for him maybe," said Lori Black.
But some doubt he will ever be "successful."
Prosecutor Dunnings said, "At this point in time if you asked me would I feel comfortable about the safety of our community if he was released back in the community, it would be a resounding definite adamant no."
Over the last six years, the juvenile justice system has helped 355 youth. Of those, 85 percent have not served prison time since their release.