In 1992, when I was 26, I was convicted for distributing crack cocaine in Fort Worth, Texas. For this nonviolent offense, I was sentenced to life without parole. I turn 50 this year and have lived for almost a quarter-century in the Federal Correctional Institution El Reno in Oklahoma, where President Obama was stopping on Thursday – the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.
He deserves praise for showing a lot of interest in criminal justice reform, and for commuting the sentences of 46 inmates on Monday, which was very much needed. But there are hundreds of other nonviolent offenders just like them, and just like me, who are serving sentences that are no longer considered fair. If I were to be granted clemency, it would be like a breath of a new life after years of incarceration. I have seen so much while here in El Reno, especially the comings and goings of a lot of inmates. I tell them that one day I will be like them — going home a free man. The most important thing to me about freedom is caring for my parents. Their health is going downhill. My mother has stage 4 breast cancer, and my father has just learned that he has prostate cancer. I am my parents’ only son, and I long to rejoin my three sisters to help care for them. Also, I haven’t been able to see my daughters grow into young ladies, and I haven’t had the benefit of assisting my sisters as a brother should – let alone just living life as a free person.
With all of this going on, the day-to-day of prison is taking an even greater toll on me. But I continue to pray that one day soon I’ll look back on this and thank God for the will to keep on.
I wake up every day and pray in a cell that’s white and grey with little room to move around in between me and my cellmate. On Monday through Thursday, my days begin at 4:30am as I prepare to work in the commissary as a clerk from 6am until 3:30pm. After work, I keep myself in good health by exercising from 6–7pm, and pretty much after that my day is almost over. On Saturday I head to the law library to read case law, as I have a diploma in paralegal studies.
Clemency is something that I long for – not just for me, but for a lot of inmates who have served well over 20-plus years for crimes involving crack cocaine. Most of us convicted back in the early 1990s are still serving very long prison sentences because the law punished crack offenses more harshly than cocaine powder offenses. If I had been convicted for a crime involving cocaine powder, instead of serving a life sentence, I would be out of prison today. I hope President Obama continues this effort, because there are many more people who should get clemency.