David Padilla knew that he deserved to be punished for the drug dealing of his youth. But he didn’t see how it would benefit the community—or his wife Lisette and their four children—for him to die in prison.
After his third drug-related offense resulted in a life sentence, Padilla set out to become a model resident of the federal prison system. Almost two decades into his sentence, after earning an associate’s degree and never committing a single regulatory infraction, he was granted clemency by President Obama.
After he was released from prison in December 2015, Padilla spent several months in a halfway house and then rejoined his family. Having already lost so much time, he didn’t waste another day setting out to make the most of his second chance at life.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be home after spending 19 years, one month, 10 days in federal prison,” said Padilla, in an NPR report. “This doesn’t happen to people like us.”
On the outside for the first time this millennium, Padilla has marveled at the changes in technology and culture—and in his own family. He is re-learning how to relate to his wife and children outside the antiseptic environment of the prison visiting room.
Padilla has found a night-shift job that pays $11 an hour, and during the day he is helping to remodel the family home in Philadelphia. He also makes it a point to give back to the community he once harmed; he helps out with a youth mentoring program called MIMIC (Men in Motion in the Community), started by a friend, Efrain Rosa, with whom he served time.
“You know, my three charges were drugs, and drugs trickles down all the way to the community,” he says. “This is my way of giving back, telling the kids there’s options, there’s other ways.”
Padilla is just one of many people whose drug-related crimes landed them sentences that were disproportional to the harm they caused—people who have remained in prison, at great expense to taxpayers, even after they have reformed their ways.
But there’s hope beyond the remote chance of clemency. Many lawmakers at the state and national levels are making course corrections to ensure that sentencing laws are proportional and just, balancing the need for accountability with the recognition of the human potential for redemption and redemption. Through its justice reform work, Prison Fellowship is helping to make sure that new sentencing legislation reflect the God-given potential and dignity of people like David Padilla. Get involved in this important work by visiting https://www.prisonfellowship.org/about/advocacy/.