Watch a Former Federal Inmate Respond to Trump's Demagoguery on Commutations
Weldon Angelos was released early from a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-time drug offense. Trump said "bad dudes" like him shouldn't be freed.
For a counterpoint to Donald Trump's loud rhetoric on draconian sentencing laws, there are few people with the perspective of Weldon Angelos, who appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday.
Angelos served nearly 13 years of a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for a nonviolent, first-time drug offense before being released early in June, and since then he's become one of the busiest advocates for rolling back federal sentencing guidelines. Angelos appeared on Morning Joe with Mark Holden, the general counsel of Koch Industries and one of Angelos' biggest supporters while he was in prison, to talk about his time in prison and release.
"It was a nightmare," Angelos told Scarborough. "The whole time was just torturous knowing that I could spend the rest of my life in prison for something that would have netted me maybe six months in the state system."
Angelos' nightmare appears to be Trump's "law and order" dream. At a campaign rally last Thursday, Trump bashed President Obama's recent order to commute the sentences of more than 200 federal inmates, most of them serving time for nonviolent drug offenses.
"Some of these people are bad dudes," Trump said, "And these are people who are out, they're walking the streets. Sleep tight, folks."
Trump has used a recent spike in violent crime in several major U.S. cities to bash the criminal justice reform efforts being pushed by a fragile bipartisan alliance of groups like Koch Industries, the liberal Center for American Progress, the Obama administration, and FreedomWorks, a libertarian-leaning advocacy groups that works with members of Congress on the issue.
Watch the video below:
Angelos' sentence wasn't commuted by the president, but Trump would likely lump him into the "bad dude" category anyway. Angelos was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover officer three times. Because he was carrying a gun during one of those sales, although he never brandished or showed it, the judge in his case was forced to sentence him to a mandatory 55 years in federal prison.
Angelos' release was championed by the judge who was forced to sentence him and Republican Sen. Mike Lee, among others. Last year, the group Generation Opportunity produced a short documentary about his case.
He was finally freed from prison in June under an unusual agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office not to oppose his release. Angelos said he surprised his sons—five and six years old when he stepped into prison, now young adults—when he returned home.
"We just cried for a few minutes, and then laughed, and then ever since then we've just been enjoying life," Angelos said.
In 2014, I profiled several former inmates who had received presidential commutations—one of the most exclusive and luckiest clubs on earth. Here's some of the other "bad dudes" Trump doesn't want back on the street:
"We left so many people behind, and we have guilt like you can't imagine," De-Ann Coffman said.
But Coffman, along with the 13 others who won the federal prison lottery, have mostly looked ahead to the business of putting their lives back together. Coffman, whose 85-year sentence for drug conspiracy was commuted by Clinton, now owns an RV company in Texas that employs 38 people.
Peter Ninemire—24.5 years for growing marijuana, commuted after 11 years by Clinton—is a licensed addiction and mental health counselor in Kansas.
Serena Nunn, sentenced at age 19 to 16 years in prison for drug conspiracy, is an attorney who works with public defenders. The list goes on.
"The whole system is out of whack," Holden told Scarborough. "At the end of the day, the criminal justice system is just another failed big government program that picks winners and losers, destroys lives, destroys families. Weldon was in some senses lucky. He had a a lot people pulling for him. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are in prison still."
Disclosure: David Koch is on the board of the Reason Foundation, which publishes Reason.com