Free to Succeed: Marlon Chamberlain - FAMM

Free to Succeed: Marlon Chamberlain

“My faith allowed me to heal while I was incarcerated. Healing means being completely free internally from all the myths and stereotypes. Early release allowed me to rebuild my family, and myself, and help my community to heal.”


In 2003, at age 23, with small children to raise, Marlon was sentenced to twenty years in prison, convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.

But Marlon was granted relief in 2014, because lawmakers passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which helped to correct the disparities of sentences between crack and powder cocaine. Marlon is free today, serving and rebuilding his community, reconnecting with his family, and continuing his positive personal journey. Our world is better with Marlon in it.

Despite the bleak outlook all those years ago, Marlon entered prison with tremendous spirit, determined to turn his time there into a positive experience. “I went in the system saying that I had to recondition myself from living a criminal lifestyle. I realized I had to create a new me. I went into prison with the mindset that I wanted to learn — and I developed a passion for learning. The more I learned, the more free I felt.”

Contrary to how pop culture depicts prison life, Marlon also credits the support he received from fellow people in prison for his transformation. “The men I was with on the inside comforted me, encouraged me, and prayed with me so I was able to manage and deal with everything that had happened and what I had to do.”

“People need to have the resources so they have the time and space to reflect on their experience and grow. Only then can people truly move on.”

Marlon’s sentence reduction has allowed him to share his light with the world. He is focused on healing: healing his own trauma, rebuilding his relationship with his family, and bringing recuperative energy to his community. “Healing is one of those foundational processes that that has to happen before anything else can happen,” he says.

Marlon’s public resume since his release is astounding. His brainchild, “built out of the basement of my house,” he explains, is the nonprofit Fully Free Campaign, now allied with the Heartland Alliance, which helps formerly incarcerated individuals to transition to life outside prison. Marlon has been the recipient of numerous public awards, including the Purdy Award from the Community Renewal Society and the CARRE Visionary Award from the Safer Foundation.

Despite his public success, Marlon is most centered on rebuilding the relationship with his family. “My biggest achievement has nothing to do with work. I missed years of my children’s lives when I was incarcerated. Being there for them as a father is the most important thing for me.” Marlon draws upon his memories of his grandmother who, “if she knew a family didn’t have food, she was bringing food there.”

On an individual, family, or community level, Marlon seeks structures that allow “spaces for people to heal, whether it be therapy or restorative justice circles. People need to have the resources so they have the time and space to reflect on their experience and grow. Only then can people truly move on.”

As a public policy advocate, a caring community member, a devoted and loving father, and an individual committed to personal growth, Marlon makes our world a better, saner, and easier place to live. Our world is better because Marlon exists. There are many, many people like Marlon, still behind bars, who deserve the second chance that compassionate release, clemency, and sentencing reform can bring.

Marlon’s story is just one of several FAMM is highlighting of people who’ve gotten a second chance and are making their communities safer and stronger. Read more here.

Marlon’s insight into freedom and his second chance is powerful. Listen to this compelling speaker:

Marlon Chamberlain

Issue: Sentencing