Tracy Cowan

Despite a clean record and no evidence proving that she sold drugs, Tracy was sentenced to 20 to 40 years for her ex-boyfriend’s dealing operation. She was arrested before the passage of sentencing reforms in Michigan that would have reduced her sentence.

Tracy Cowan, during a visit with her son and grandson.

Tracy Cowan, during a visit with her son and grandson.

Tracy was raised in the Detroit area.  She enjoyed a happy childhood and discovered her passion for education and childcare early on. By age of 40, Tracy had started a family, earned a Bachelor’s degree in business, and had a successful career in childcare with plans to open a business of her own.  She was also a community leader, volunteering with many organizations to improve life in her neighborhood. Tracy, a single mother, was raising her three children, along with foster children and her grandchildren.

She was also looking after a former boyfriend’s son and had given the ex-boyfriend house keys and an unused bedroom so he could visit his child.  In return, he would give her grocery money. Tracy was aware that her ex had connections to the drug business, but she never imagined he would let anyone bring drugs inside her residence. 

In September 2002, Detroit police arranged for a confidential informant (CI) to purchase cocaine from a local drug dealer. The CI and the dealer drove to two residences and a gas station before ending up at the dealer’s house, where he sold the CI $220 worth of cocaine. One of the houses they stopped at was the Cowan residence.  Tracy was not home at the time the dealer entered the house. 

Later that day, officers searched Tracy’s house and found 1,581.3 grams of cocaine, 460.2 grams of marijuana, drug paraphernalia and two firearms.  The drugs were found in the unused cellar and the guns were in a locked bedroom closet.  Tracy readily admitted possessing the guns for protection after two home burglaries, but denied any knowledge of the drugs.  Though her fingerprints were not found on any of the drugs or drug paraphernalia, Tracy was held accountable for everything. 

She went to trial and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years for over 650 grams of cocaine. She also received six months to four years for the marijuana charge and two years for the gun charges.  The drug dealer that was the target of the investigation fled and was only recently apprehended. State charges against one of Tracy’s co-defendants were dismissed; the other was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison. Despite a clean record and no evidence proving that she sold drugs, Tracy received a veritable life sentence. 

Michigan instituted major sentencing reforms in 1998 and 2003 to change the mandatory minimum drug laws that former Governor William Milliken called “the greatest mistake of my career.” Unfortunately, Tracy is not eligible to benefit from the reforms because of the date she was arrested. She is one of the last first-time, non-violent drug offenders who is still imprisoned under the old sentencing scheme.

Since her incarceration, Tracy has served as a law library and re-entry clerk, vice president of the National Lifers of America organization, chairperson of the Restorative Committee, and is an active member of her church. She excels in her University of Michigan courses, volunteers as a GED tutor and works with prisoners who have special education needs. She hopes to continue to dedicate her time to supporting her family and community when she is released. In 2011, Tracy filed a commutation petition with the state parole board, which voted that it proceed. Unfortunately, Tracy was eventually denied a commutation. She will apply again this year.

The Facts: Tracy Cowan
State:  Michigan 
Sentence:  20 to 40 years
Offense:  Delivery/manufacture over 650 grams cocaine; two counts possessing a firearm during a felony, delivery/manufacture marijuana 
Priors:  None 
Year sentenced:  2003  
Age at sentencing:  41 
Projected release date:  Dec. 18, 2025