07/18/2014 03:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I'm Serving Life Without Parole for a Non-Violent Drug Charge

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My name is Euka Wadlington and I am serving my 15th year of a double life sentence in prison, but I am a non-violent drug offender.

I am a 48-year-old father of five children, including two grandchildren, and I am from the southside of Chicago. From childhood to adolescence, I worked at a hardware store (repairing broken windows, changing locks, and fixing bicycles), as a DJ (house parties, high schools, social clubs, and halls), and I delivered sandwiches part time for a deli.

But one bag of drugs led to the next, and before I realized the depths of what I was engaging in. It was a foolish endeavor which led me into the trappings of the lifestyle. During this time, I was ignorant to what drugs do to people or communities.

Eventually, I was picked up two minor drug charges, which led to my first incarceration. Both charges ran concurrently and I served close to a year in prison. Before I went to prison, my common law wife had my first child. I was released to a work release center, successfully completed the program and re-entered society. I returned home with intentions of getting my life together with my family.

About a year later, we had another child and I was offered the opportunity to run a small nightclub in Clinton, Iowa. As the months ensued, more of Clinton's residents frequented the club and partied together. Although I was not fully involved in other people's drug transactions, I realize and accept that I was responsible for influencing drug activities there. In my mind back then, I was doing nothing wrong because I made little or nothing as a profit. But in the eyes of the law and reality, I am just as guilty as the person who was making the actual drug transaction. Therefore, I broke the law.

Once I left the club scene in Clinton, I returned to Chicago with borrowed money from a friend named "Mark" to lease a car wash. But the owner found a buyer so it didn't work out, so at that point I obtained my commercial driver's license landed a job driving trucks. But due to a bad accident in the company's truck and being traumatized by the results, I never returned back to work.

In the fall of 1996, my wife had another child, and I started falling behind in bills. I returned to Clinton, Iowa and talked to the club's owner again about new ideas of managing the club. As I leased it out for parties, I repaired most of the damage to the club. In the early months of 1997, the club was raided for drug and guns by Clinton County Police. No drugs or guns were found on or around the property of the club. About a month later, I was pulled over by Clinton Police for a routine traffic stop, and I was accused of being the "big-fish" (drug kingpin), and was given a harsh warning to leave their town -- no citation was issued. I left Clinton and went back to Chicago -- now unemployed. I fell into deep financial pressures with enormous pride mixed with shame which caused me and my family to become homeless. I moved my family into an abandoned apartment on the east side of Chicago.

Refusing to reenlist in the drug-selling lifestyle, I started working construction and other odd jobs to feed my family. Unfortunately, one night after driving home from work feeling mentally fatigued, I fell asleep in the car with the radio blaring. Neighbors called the police and they responded. I was awakened by the Chicago Police. They searched the vehicle and found a handgun underneath the driver's seat. I was arrested and sent to the Cook County Jail. I ended up with two years probation for the gun case. I went back to the construction company and worked overtime to maintain coming bills.

In 1998, the government enlisted the services of my friend Mark to reestablish contact with me for the purpose of inducing me to sell as kilogram of cocaine to a DEA agent who was posing as an Iowa drug dealer. My first response was "I'm not on that page." For months I was being pressured and reminded of an old debt I owed him. Eventually I agreed to make the deal. My intention was to scam the guy for the money, disappear a few days, then send Mark half the money for a returned favor. As a result, I met Mark and the agent at a hotel where I was arrested. No drugs or guns were found at the time of my arrest. I declined the offer to cooperate and/or setup other drug dealers. Later that year I was indicted by the federal grand jury.

A year later, I was sentenced under the then-mandatory "sentencing guidelines" to two concurrent life sentences without parole. I was confined in maximum-security institution for my first decade in prison then moved to a medium security prison. I have been working in the Education Department helping other inmates obtain their GED and/or better themselves as upstanding citizens through multiple classes, including Lifestyle Intervention.

Since my incarceration, I have come to understand the negative impact of illegal drugs on society and I deeply regret my participation in the drug trade. From this experience, I have grown and come to accept my responsibility for the negative effect that my actions had on my community and perhaps even the youth that came after me. My impact did not dawn on me until I started seeing younger men entering prison who thought like the younger me. These young men did not realize that the road of opportunism they were traveling upon leads to only two conclusions: prison or death.

I am trying through my various classes to express this to them. I do not do this for acclaim or reward, but because I wished when I was first incarcerated, someone would have sat me down and explained the terrible pitfalls of continuing down this road. I have much remorse for the wrongdoings and poor choices made in my life. I profoundly apologize for my behavior.

I have pursued every educational opportunity available to me that did not interfere with my job assisting other inmates who are pursuing their GED and/or preparing for their future beyond prison.

Despite the lack of any reasonable hope of release, I am demonstrating my commitment to becoming a better productive member of society in whatever way I can.

I wish I could someday care for my ailing mother and stepfather, support my teenage and young adult children, and work to help ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into their communities, and influence those around me to not make a bad choice by joining a gang, robbing, stealing or killing. This way, I could not only help enhance public safety and save a child from going to prison, I could influence a potential college graduate and reduce potential damage to society. Those poor choices of mine represented the dangers of selfish thinking. Those are the choices that I will never make again. Instead, I've chosen to represent change, respect, and redemption. I have chosen to show people, myself included, that rehabilitation is possible. Because of my life sentences, I can only hope to have the opportunity to share my experience, newfound wisdom, and unique perspective with others who could benefit from it on the outside.

When the judge sentenced me to life for each charge -- two life sentences for non-violent offenses, I felt my sentence was totally unfair. There should have been multiple factors beside drug quantities to determine the severity of my sentence. However, I sincerely hope that the time I have served with no reprimands (15 years plus) shows that I am ready to commit to a life of serving the betterment of society.

Euka and his daughter