At 23 years old, Weldon Angelos had found himself behind bars facing a 55-year sentence as a first time, nonviolent offender.
He was resigned to his fate that he would not be released until he was at least 79 years old. His three children, Anthony, Jesse, and Meranda, would be in their late 50s with adult kids of their own. He knew that his actions deserved punishment but his nonviolent sentence, dictated by several combined mandatory minimums, felt “more like a death sentence.”
Now, Angelos has been released after serving 13 years and is speaking out against mandatory minimums and explaining the realities of what happens when these laws end up extending sentences to “cruel, unjust, and irrational” lengths. That exact phrase, “cruel, unjust, and irrational” is exactly what the judge described the sentence as when he handed it down but could do nothing further due to the strict, non-negotiable mandatory minimums.
In his article published by TIME magazine, Weldon explains how many others in prison fall victim to several of these minimums in combination and face the unwarranted punishment of life in prison, rather than a fair and proportional punishment. Many of these individuals comprise the almost 50 percent of inmates that are in prison for drug-related offenses.
Nonviolent offenders who face such long jail sentences commonly find themselves lost and without direction. “When people don’t have hope that they’ll get out, they often wonder why they should stay out of trouble or play by the rules,” Jesse lamented, “If the goal is to help them learn a lesson and reenter a society as better people, then something isn’t working.”
Just as Jesse’s sister and many other groups such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums and Generation Opportunity fought for Jesse to be released at a more reasonable time for his crime, Jesse is now dedicating his work to do the same for those who may not be as fortunate to have families fighting for them.
“Many lost hope because they lose the chance to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life after serving time. I’m grateful I now have that chance.” Jesse praises “But many others deserve it, too.
To learn more about what you can do to advocate for laws requiring proportionate sentencing and more constructive prison culture, visit our advocacy page and see how you can get involved in your community and with your representatives.