How Obama Helped This Florida Felon From Being Condemned To Die In Jail
President Obama’s last day in office was an important one for some 300 or so people, who all now have an opportunity to live outside prison walls. One of those people was Trenton Copeland, who penned a letter to REVOLT in October, detailing how he was sentenced six years ago to die in prison for a non-violent offense:
I am Trenton Copeland. I am 33 years old and serving a life sentence in federal prison for a nonviolent drug offense. With no parole in the federal system, I have been fundamentally condemned to die in prison.
Though it’s a memory I do not enjoy revisiting, I will never forget the day I was sentenced. I was 27 years old and to hear the judge tell me I was being committed to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for the rest of my life was unreal. The life sentence I received for a nonviolent drug offense screamed that I was beyond redemption and unfit to breathe air as a free man ever again. Words cannot even begin to touch the feelings I had. I was only 27. Locked up for the rest of my life? I couldn’t really process it. And I still can’t, to be honest.
The letter detailed how Copeland had turned his sentence into an opportunity to better himself, he accepted full responsibility for his fate, admitting his actions put him behind bars (charged with conspiring to deal cocaine, Copeland received a life sentence because he had two prior convictions for marijuana and cocaine possession). Since being sentenced he had worked to get his GED and had dreams of becoming a youth counselor, helping prevent others from suffering his same fate. He closed by saying without receiving clemency from Obama or major changes to the criminal justice system he would die behind bars.
It’s no secret that Congress has been unresponsive to all of Obama’s pleas to reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders. In eight years, the former President has had to take matters into his own hands and grant commutations at his own discretion.
The Washington Post has picked up where Revolt left off — detailing the turmoil Copeland and his family have experienced in the months since his open letter.
A week after Copeland’s essay published, Obama commuted the sentences of nearly 100 prisoners. Copeland’s name was not on the list.
Good news came to dozens more federal inmates across the United States that month, bringing Obama’s total number of commutations above 1,000 — more than the previous 11 presidents combined.
Copeland didn’t make Obama’s list in October, WaPo reports. But he still had some remaining hope.
On Tuesday, in one particularly dramatic, last-minute clemency action, Obama pardoned 64 people and commuted the sentences of 209 others, including Chelsea Manning, the Army private convicted of stealing secret diplomatic and military documents and giving them to WikiLeaks.
The president also granted a commutation Tuesday to Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican independence activist who was a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, a terrorist organization that killed and wounded people in the 1970s and 1980s with bomb attacks. In addition, Obama pardoned more than five dozen people, including baseball great Willie McCovey and retired Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright.
Copeland was not on Tuesday’s White House list.
The WaPo account of Copeland’s wait is painfully suspenseful, as the last days of Obama’s White House are coming to a close, he begins to fear for the worst. But then…
On the last full day of Obama’s presidency, Annie Fray sat at her desk in a Pensacola marketing office.
At five minutes to noon, her phone rang. It was Copeland’s lawyer. The president had released his last list.
“I shouted so loud my head started hurting,” Fray said.
Then she finished her shift and called her son, who will now be free before he turns 40, with half his life to go.
Crazy right? To be able to put a face to these disastrous drug sentencing laws makes such a huge difference. Sadly, we are doubtful that the incoming administration give’s AF about all the other Trent Copelands still behind bars.
Photo Courtesy Brittany Byrd