My name is Jermaine Alonzo Mitchell. I am 50 years old, and, coincidentally, it is the 50th anniversary of the “War on Drugs.” I have been incarcerated in federal custody since Jan. 16, 2004, (basically 17 years and 10 months as of this writing).
I was found guilty of having 69 grams of crack cocaine on 4/13/2007. On 1/4/2008, I was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole because I chose to exercise my constitutional right to a jury trial. At my federal sentencing hearing, the judge said, “Mr. Mitchell will die in prison.” I held my composure until he made that statement. My tears started flowing, not only for me, but for the youngest of my five kids, my five-year-old son, who was present with other family members.
The life sentence that I received in 2008 was reduced to 30 years on May 20, 2020, , based on the First Step Act. When the new judge made that ruling, I was disappointed. I am still disappointed as to why I didn’t fully benefit from the First Step Act like all the others who received unjust and draconian sentences but were given “time served.” This horrible and horrific never-ending nightmare of this 50-year “War on Drugs” has dismantled, disrupted and destroyed many families, especially those that reside in marginalized communities.
My time of incarceration has affected me in a laundry list of ways. I’m held at a medium-security facility. I was housed at a maximum-security penitentiary for the last 13 years, where I was exposed to all kinds of violence, foul behavior, and a hell of a disregard for a prisoner’s human rights. My firm faith in God allowed me to overcome challenges and remain resilient and sane, and not give in to despair.
My family has been through hell and back because of my absence, and they are constantly suffering. I can’t begin to fathom the thoughts that have gone through my kids’ heads in the past 17 years and 10 months that I’ve been away from them. What I miss most is just being with those who love me and enjoying the simple things in life, like a family get-together, or finally being able to move around freely and without any restrictions.
I contracted the coronavirus in January this year, and my smell and taste still have not fully returned. I realize that the world was caught off-guard by COVID. My silver lining was that I was able to do a lot of life-reflecting, read constantly, and learned different ways to better myself and prepare myself for the free world.
As I think of my 50 years of life as a man on this planet, I feel that I had so much to offer. I know that with God’s help, I still have much good I can do in the world. The misguided “War on Drugs” has had many casualties, but my story will be one of perseverance and victory, through the Grace of God.