Filmmaker Gabriel London On Why Inmate Mark DeFriest's Sentence Is A Case For Prison Reform

03/25/2015 02:38 pm ET | Updated Mar 25, 2015

Florida's "prison Houdini" Mark DeFriest will finally see freedom decades after his non-violent offense spiraled into a lifetime sentence.

DeFriest's unbelievable story, which is documented in Gabriel London's "The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest," began when his father died in 1979 and left him a set of tools in his will. Because DeFriest took the tools before they were officially probated to him, he was sentenced to 4 years in prison, despite being declared mentally ill by five out of six court-appointed psychiatrists.

Over the next 34 years, his sentence was extended multiple times for various infractions, including 13 escape attempts, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. DeFriest's chance for parole was delayed so many times that, up until a few months ago, he was scheduled to have a 2085 release date.

"It's one of those things where something so minor turned into this lifetime behind bars," London told HuffPost Live host Ricky Camilleri.

London said DeFriest's experience is a case for reconsidering the treatment of non-violent mentally ill prisoners.

"When you look back and you see the trail, his record that [DeFriest] had, we're not talking about somebody who was violent," he said. "We're not talking about somebody who was attacking guards or other inmates. We're talking about somebody who wasn't responding to his correct name on count, who was saying, 'I'm James Bond, 007'"

Inmates like DeFriest are routinely "punished for their symptoms," London added, pointing to a "management problem" within the prison system.

"If the prison system can't separate out who needs to be there for punishment and who needs to be there receiving care, then we have a huge problem. And that's where we are right now," he said.

In December, a Florida parole board moved his release date to March 2015, reducing his sentence by more than 70 years.

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation about Mark DeFriest's story here.

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