Reflecting on the Long Prison Sentence I Serve

By · Friday, November 14th, 2008

I made the bad decision to sell cocaine when I was in my early 20s. That decision led me into criminal charges, indictments, convictions, and a 45-year prison sentence. Despite having no history of violence or prior imprisonment, my sentencing judge and the U.S. prosecutors wanted me to serve a significant portion of my life in prison. I had to deal with that reality, yet I always knew that I created my own problems.

Others with whom I was associated in drug trafficking received sentences that were only a fraction of the length of mine. Some of those people cooperated with the government in exchange for more lenient sentences, and others lacked the level of culpability I had as one of the leaders of the scheme. I do not blame or begrudge any of my co-defendants. As far as I have always been concerned, I created my own problems.

I do not agree that long prison sentences are appropriate for offenders who have no history of violence. My crimes involved only consenting adults, yet I serve a sentence that is longer than many predatory offenders. Yet the length of time that other people serve has no relationship to what is going on in my life. I created my own problems.

Now I am nearly 45 years old and I have more than 21 years of prison behind me; I still expect to serve more than three more years. The time I have served inside has not crippled my spirit. In fact, many people who know me would say that I have sailed through the sentence unscathed. That has been my intention, to serve my sentence with dignity and integrity. I strive to make every day count, to contribute to the lives of others, to add value to the world.

Naturally, I want to leave prison. During the many years that I have served I have been blessed with multiple opportunities. I earned an undergraduate degree from Mercer University and a graduate degree from Hofstra University. I published several books that have helped me build a wide network of support. Most importantly, I have built a thriving marriage with an exceptionally beautiful and talented woman. These blessings have given me much to feel proud of, and they encourage me for the life I want to lead upon release.

As a long-term prisoner, I have had to fight the urge to feel sorry for myself. By embracing the sentence, I could focus on how I wanted to respond to the problems that I created. Otherwise I would feel like a whiner, a cry baby in prison. I serve time with a lot of people who whine about how they do not belong in prison. To me, that seems like the wrong approach. I do not want to be remembered for the problems I created, but rather I strive to be recognized for the way that I have responded to the problems I created. Somehow, that approach empowers me, makes me feel less like a victim of the system and more like I control my destiny. It has been an adjustment pattern that works for me.

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