On July 13, 2015, President Obama granted Douglas, who was originally sentenced to life in prison, a commutation (reduction of sentence). He was released on Nov. 10, 2015. The Daily Signal profiled Douglas and documented his first days of freedom.
After graduating high school, Douglas enlisted in the army and served his country for four years before being honorably discharged in July 1990. He dedicated the next stage of his life to a different type of service: working with mentally handicapped individuals. From 1991 to 1994, Douglas was employed at the Whitten Center as a Mental Retardation Specialist, during which time he earned an Associates degree in human services. He enjoyed his job and completed his social work degree in 1995 so he could continue to advance in his field. Unfortunately, Douglas had difficulty securing a position and worked for several months at Avery Dennison Company as a packer earning $6.50 an hour. Douglas was finally hired as a counselor by Laurens County Disability and Special Needs Department in April 1996.
Several months later, Douglas was implicated in a 14-person crack conspiracy. While all of his codefendants pled guilty and cooperated with the government in exchange for reduced sentences, Douglas opted for a trial. Seven codefendants testified that Douglas was one of the leaders of the conspiracy and that he ran a crack house from 1990 to 1994. Douglas was held accountable for at least one kilogram of crack. Douglas’s lawyer, who was distracted and unprepared at trial, was later sentenced to ten years in prison for bribing witnesses in an unrelated case.
Douglas’s fate would be much worse. A first-time nonviolent offender, Douglas was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. No guns were involved in the conspiracy nor were any drugs ever found on Douglas. The crack house Douglas allegedly operated for four years in fact belonged to his aunt, who was struggling with crack addiction. Douglas’s sentence was enhanced after he was charged with obstructing justice for submitting signed affidavits from two of his codefendants stating that he was not involved with the case. Douglas, the alleged kingpin, had no financial assets and was exempted from paying all monetary penalties upon conviction.
Douglas does not claim complete innocence. As a young man in 1991, he admits he occasionally sold crack to addicts in his neighborhood. During this time, Douglas was attending college during the day and working full-time as a Mental Retardation Specialist at night. Admittedly, he exercised poor judgment when he chose to sell drugs for supplemental income. When members of his family later became addicted, Douglas saw firsthand the devastating consequences of the drug. Douglas writes, “Sometimes it has to hit home before one can really see the damage he has caused.” It was this realization that Douglas credits with his decision to reject the easy money that came from selling drugs and to try to help his family overcome their addictions.
Douglas, a man with a record of admirable service to his country and his fellow Americans, has now sat in a prison cell for over a decade. He will spend the rest of his life behind bars for a poor decision he made as a young man desperate to finance his college education.
The Facts: Douglas Lindsay
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of cocaine and cocaine base
Year sentenced: 1996
Age at sentencing: 28
*Douglas benefited from the crack retroactivity amendment, which changed his release date is now March 8, 2023. He received a commutation from President Obama in July of 2015, which changed his release date to Nov. 10, 2015.