Mr. President, please help us get home!
By Rufus Rochell
Mr. President, sir, there are a great many men and women presently held in federal prisons sentenced in the 1980’s, such as myself. Many of us received draconian sentences mostly involving so-called “Ghost Drugs.” Most of these sentences have been given to Black people, long sentences, without a chance for parole. This has had a great destructive force on Black families and Black communities.
Mr. President, looking at my situation, Rufus Rochelle, #08628-017, this coming May will mark my 27th year in federal prison, day for day. My indictment charged me with conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute 50 (fifty) grams of crack cocaine, and a charge of obstruction of justice.
The United States District Court of the Northern District (Gainesville Division), sentenced me to two 35 year terms of imprisonment, to run con-currently, and one five-year sentence to run consecutively, for a total of 40 years imprisonment.
I was indicted and arrested on the charges above, those involving 50 grams of crack cocaine. Yet the court, meaning the judge, the prosecutor and probation office, changed the relatively small amount of 50 grams of crack cocaine to 24 kilos of crack cocaine, or approximately 24,000 grams!
Importantly, the jury was selected by attorneys for the defense and by attorneys for the prosecution. The verdict the jury reached was “Guilty” on both counts, specifically 50 grams or more on Count One and 50 grams or less on Count Two. The jury had NO finding whatsoever of 24 kilos of crack cocaine. None. The indictment, arrest and jury finding in my case all center on the 50 grams amount.
We remember that during the 1980’s persons charged with crack cocaine were punished in federal courts on a 100 to 1 ratio. That is, a crime involving one gram of crack cocaine received a penalty equal to 100 grams of powder cocaine. Whether sentenced by a 100 to 1 ratio or sentenced by imaginary or contrived amounts, such as 24 kilos, many of us are now not eligible to receive recent sentence reductions for crack cocaine charges. Sentences that are pushed into the 30-year and 40-year range are called “Slow Death Sentences.” Instead of receiving an actual death sentence, if a 30- or 40-year-old receives a 40 year sentence, is that not “life,” minus the often times long delayed execution?
Another example for consideration is first-time offender Richard Williams, #09231-017, now serving a life sentence on a charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine base. Mr. Williams has now been in prison 26 years, again, on a charge stemming from “ghost drugs.” A true travesty of justice is how bogus and unsubstantiated enhancements were applied, pushing Mr. Williams into the highest sentencing category, as if he had acted as a global drug cartel.
Mr. Williams entered prison in his 20’s. In high school he was nicknamed “Mr. Football,” scoring 19 touchdowns in his senior year. Mr. Williams held a 4.0 grade point average and had numerous scholarship offers. But the rest is history. He made a mistake, went down the wrong path. Like so many others, he should have been given a second chance. Instead, Mr. Williams received a life sentence without a chance for parole.
At the time of his arrest, Mr. Williams did not own a home, he did not have a bank account, and he drove a used car he was making payments on each month. Mr. Williams could not afford to hire a lawyer to represent him during his trial. Yet he is charged and sentenced as though he was a worldwide drug baron. How much involvement could Mr. Williams have had in a drug trade living an economic lower class life?
We should all be ashamed of ourselves, and pray for Mr. Williams, a man in his 50’s now, confined to a wheelchair, relying on other inmates to push him around. Given a chronic illness, Mr. Williams must now rely on funds coming mainly from his elderly parents, both of whom rely on Medicare and are also confined to walkers and wheelchairs.
Mr. President, there are so many more cases like the two you have just read of in this letter. We men and women plead with you to allow us to be with our families again. We realize that once you leave the White House our entire hope for freedom is completely shadowed. Mr. President, God knows many of us have been caged behind bars for far too long.