Success on the Inside: Chad Marks - FAMM

Success on the Inside: Chad Marks

At age 24, Chad Marks was sentenced to a 40-year federal mandatory minimum sentence. The prosecution offered him a plea deal that could have resulted in a 10-year term if Chad would admit his guilt. Instead, he went to trial, was convicted, and sentenced to the four-decade term. His sentence is now a little over halfway complete. Here Chad discusses how he has remained positive and a force for good, even under his brutal sentence. UPDATE: Chad was released in June of 2020.


February 4, 2003, forever changed my life. That is when at the age of 24, I was arrested and charged for my involvement in a drug conspiracy. In the end I was sentenced to a 40-year federal mandatory minimum. Ten years for a crack cocaine drug conspiracy, five years for possessing a weapon, and another 25 years for possession of a .22 rifle.

I was sent to a maximum security prison, U.S.P. Big Sandy, where violence and negativity were at all-time highs. For me there was a choice I had to make. I could give up, and in doing so take a road of negativity, or I could choose a much different path. I saw then that all paths in life, for good or bad, begin with one small step. For so long in my life, I chose the wrong path. At that very moment, I knew I had to change my direction, because when we choose our path we choose or destination. My new choice had to be one of positivity and educating myself.

I began to spend my days in the law library so that I could assist my attorney on my appeal. In time I learned the law. It took a lot of hard work and dedication. Before long other prisoners sought me out to help them with their own appeals, post-conviction motions, administrative issues, and other legal concerns. I decided to help people who came to me for help — but I would not help them for free. They had to show a sincere desire that they wanted to be law-abiding citizens if and when they were released from prison. This was important to me because I felt that while I might never get out of prison these other men would. I felt I had a bigger debt to pay to society for the irrational and irresponsible decisions that I made to pollute my community with selfish decisions to sell drugs. My debt I felt in part was to help become a part of the solution, because for so long I had been part of the problem. I wanted these men to return to their communities as real men, real fathers, and real leaders, and if I could help them I would.

In return for my legal help these men who did not have a GED had to enroll in school, and those who had violence on their records had to enroll in the Alternative to Violence Project Seminar, to which I was a facilitator. Before long I was winning cases, and in one case a man was reunited with his family 18 years and four months earlier than he ever expected. But my wins where not the ones that came in courts; my wins came when these men began to educate themselves, and learned to appreciate freedom. Before long I felt I could do more if I was teaching them how to read and write. I started what I labeled a fast-track GED program and all of my students earned their GEDs through that 90-day program. One student did it in 89 days. Along these lines, I have also completed more than 90 rehabilitative programs myself.

While doing this I also sought a higher education for myself. My timing was off and I couldn’t enroll in the college program at my prison. But this did not stop me—instead I enrolled in a college correspondence course and earned an associate’s degree. Once that was completed, I began to tutor other inmates that were in the college program at the prison.

While still tutoring I also facilitated a leadership class in the evenings that was rooted in character education. Students learned about being real men, real fathers, and real leaders to help stop the vicious cycle of watching our children come into the criminal justice system. I’ve found joy in this because I knew that we were changing things by changing ourselves. My transformation was not simply about me; it was about becoming the change that I sought to see in others.

I am now 40 years old, and I have 19 years left on my sentence. While my criminal justice experience has been excessive, it is something I call my long walk to freedom and my long walk to success. My hope is that I will be given an opportunity to reclaim my life because there is much more for me to do in order for my success story to be complete. My goal is to help save children from life imprisonment and or premature death in the streets. In order for that to happen I will need an order from the president for clemency, and many people are helping me with that and have been instrumental in that goal. My federal sentencing judge has also gotten behind my clemency request by writing a letter of recommendation to President Trump.

Simply put, my success is not just about me but about all the people working together to be better law-abiding citizens, fathers, husbands, and real leaders.

By Chad Marks

Do you think Chad deserves a second chance? There are many, many prisoners like Chad working hard at their own rehabilitation inside and helping others — with decades left on their sentences. If you’d like to support Chad in his efforts and work with us for reform, become a FAMM Advocate today.

Chad Marks
Chad Marks

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Issue: Sentencing