Sylvia Guzman seemed unemotional for most of Sunday's sunrise Easter Mass outside a juvenile hall in Sylmar.
But she wiped away a tear when Francisco "Franky" Carrillo spoke about spending nearly 20 years in jail before his conviction was overturned earlier this year.
"It makes me sad that I cannot see my sons ... but he gives me hope that someday they will be free," said Guzman, whose two sons are being held pending trial on charges including attempted murder.
Guzman said she believed her children are innocent.
The predawn ceremony, which drew about 100 worshipers in a light drizzle, drew curious stares from workers and guards as they filtered in and out of the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall during a shift change. The annual event organized by the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative is meant to give victims of violence a forum to forgive their attackers and families an opportunity to ask for changes in state law that would give young offenders a chance at parole.
A bill under consideration by the state Legislature would allow courts the chance to review the cases of juvenile offenders currently sentenced to life without parole and possibly reduce their sentences to 25 years to life.
"We pray that this becomes law," said Father Michael Kennedy, the initiative's executive director, during his sermon, which he conducted in English and Spanish.
When Kennedy asked worshipers if they had a family member or acquaintance in jail, virtually all said yes. As the sun rose, members of the crowd lighted candles to demonstrate their faith that those incarcerated would have a chance to be rehabilitated.
Carrillo was released in early March after spending almost two decades behind bars after being convicted in 1992 of being the gunman in a fatal shooting in Lynwood. He denied having any involvement, but six teenage boys said they saw him commit the crime.
Five of the witnesses recanted their stories earlier this year, and Carrillo was soon released.
During Sunday's service, Carrillo spoke of his time behind bars and became emotional when recalling the last time he saw his father, who died of stomach cancer in 1999. "To know my dad wouldn't see me...." he said before stopping to compose himself.
At that point, Maria Gudino, who was already crying softly, got up and left because she was overcome with emotion. Her son, Fabian Navarro, 18, was accused of armed robbery and has spent two months in jail, she said.
"It's so sad that we can't be together today," she later said. "He's a good worker who never did any drugs."
Carrillo said, "I don't want to come here with a message of despair" and urged the congregation to have faith and support laws that would give offenders a chance to make things right.
"Bad things happen in life," he said, "but everyone deserves a chance."