06/13/2014 02:34 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2014

At Age 27 I Was Sentenced to Life in Prison for a Nonviolent Drug Crime

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I'm currently going into serving my 18th year of a life sentence for a non-violent drug crime, which is equivalent to a death sentence. But if I were to be sentenced today under new drug laws, I wouldn't be sentenced to die in prison.

At the time of sentencing I was only 27 years old. I was found guilty by a jury for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and I was sentenced to life for this conspiracy charge in 1998. My judge said that his hands were tied and that he was bound by the statute and had no choice but to sentence me to life in prison. I remember it like yesterday. As soon as he announced my sentence, all I could hear was my mother screaming "NOOOOO!!" as she cried heavily. I couldn't believe that I had just been sentenced to die in prison for a non-violent drug crime which was a highly circumstantial case and which entailed my word against my un-indicted co-conspirator who never served a day in prison for the crime. I also had a jury with none of my "peers" at all. Yes, I had an all white jury -- I'm not saying that this made all the difference at the time, but how my trial would have turned out with a jury of my peers, we'll never know.

I'm a 43-year-old proud father of two -- one son and one daughter -- who are both currently serving their country in the United States Air Force. I was born and raised in Alton, Illinois. I had five siblings, two sisters and three brothers. We were all raised up in the roughest, most drug-infested and violent projects in Alton, Illinois, called "Dooley Drive," which has been torn down today and is no longer standing. Coming up as a child in Dooley Drive projects is not a part of my history that I'm proud of. My mother was a great mother who set great examples in her actions, but being the oldest male in the house at the time, the responsibilities that were placed on me at such a young age made my education secondary to survival, so I placed the responsibility of helping my mother raise my three nieces on my own shoulders. My mother was a single mom who was on welfare and who worked as a bartender at nights in another high crime area in Alton known as "Mexico." She did this to help make ends meet, to provide for me and my siblings. Due to the fact that my home was absent a father or a TRUE father figure, my mother was my only source of inspiration or motivation and our sole provider.

Then, I took on the environmental norms for providing for me and my family, which was to deal in drugs. I first started selling weed, and believe it or not, I was a great businessman with a small time weed operation. I sold three-dollar joints that grew into 10-dollar bags, and over the next few months, my business expanded and I graduated by selling cocaine. Shorty after, the convictions came.

Imagine 27 years old with a life sentence, and for the first time in prison, you're sent to a maximum security prison. When I arrived at United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute (USP Terre Haute), I began my road to reentry the first day I entered prison -- believe it or not. The reason I have a clean institution record is because I started going to the law library, and there, I met like-minded men trying to learn the law and fight their cases. They recommended to me to use my time wisely and to take advantage of all the classes and skills available to me. I learned then that time was my greatest commodity and that it solely rested on me whether I wasted my time in prison or used it productively. This is when I enrolled in GED courses. I obtained my GED within a few months after signing up. I'm a very spiritual and religious person, so at this time I begin attending my religious services at the chapel.

I began to volunteer my services to tutor young men in my prison. I felt that I owed it to the youth to give of myself as a sacrifice to them -- to prove to them that out of the worst conditions, the wise will find the means of good. I love to be an example that we can make the best out of a bad situation. I often challenge the mind set of the men that I tutor and mentor so they will know that the only person that has the power to change their conditions is them. That no one can save them but them. That we're creators and makers of our own destiny and fate. So, my role as an instructor, tutor, and mentor as well as a spiritual guide is to get them to thinking for themselves, and then they will have the power to redeem themselves. I believe that thought truly is the cause of everything we do. The way you think determines the person you will become. I want to give back to the brothers what I wish someone would have taken the time out to give me. I feel this is not just my social duty but my calling, and life's mission now. So that's why I've tutored over a 150 or more men, and helped them obtain their GEDs, learn how to read, write, etc. During my incarceration, I have maintained steady employment and job skills as well as a good work ethic. I have held employment consistently in my 17 years.

I have begun to realize how my lifestyle choices and decision making growing up has affected the lives of others, especially the lives of my children and my mother. I have become a father who is the product of broken promises to my own children suffering from first hand experience -- I have seen how it could affect a child's life not having their father present in their life. I promised my son one day that I would never leave him... and that I would always be there for him. I don't believe he was old enough to remember my broken promise to him. But broken promise, it became.

I now can completely see the man in the mirror, and I deeply regret the lifestyle choices I made growing up, and the negative influences I projected with the destructive lifestyle examples I set back then. I want to apologize to all the young men who my bad lifestyle choices and actions affected directly or indirectly. I can't begin to apologize enough for my actions and participation in the illegal drug trade. Now, I plan to live the rest of my life, whether in jail or as a free man, making a speedy reparation to the utmost of my powers for my unjust actions and deeds. A true man is responsible and accountable for his own actions and behavior. So, as a true man who has amended his ways and purified his mindset once again, I'm sincerely sorry for my actions. But I'm a living example that people can change and now instead of being a man that allows his environment to influence him.

I know that the man I've become today deserves to be in the bands of society, to live as a productive citizen and faithful member of society. My road to reentry has already begun. I will continue to dedicate my life to the service of others. I will continue to mentor my fellow man to make sure that I teach them righteously, to make sure that they have the tools to go back out in society and be productive citizens.

My sentence is definitely arbitrary and unfair, because I had no drug amount listed in my indictment. And the Supreme Court ruled that drug type and amount were elements of the offense and must be listed in your indictment and decided by a jury, not a judge or pre-sentence investigator, as happened in my case. So without a drug amount listed in my indictment, if sentenced today I would face a maximum sentence of 20 years, and would not have been sentenced to a living death sentence.