In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack-powder disparity in sentencing from 100:1 to 18:1. Lawmakers acknowledged that crack cocaine is no more addictive than powder and is not more likely to cause violent crime. Also true is that lengthy mandatory minimum prison terms for crack offenses disproportionately harm Black people. It’s time to get rid of the disparity once and for all and make the ratio 1:1. And no one knows this better than the people directly impacted by this injustice. Here are their stories.
My name is Annie Brown. One of the best people in my life is a man named Cornelius Mitchell. He has been there for me and my kids in a really important way. I have known him since we were both 13 years old. In 2012, he was sentenced to almost 20 years for charges including distribution of crack cocaine (under the 18:1 ratio), and our lives turned upside down. Cornelius accepts the consequences of what he did. He is using his time in prison to become better. But none of us can make sense of the sentence he got for possessing crack cocaine, versus the fact that a person who had the same amount of the drug, but in powder form, would have a much lower sentence. And my family looks at the discriminatory origins of this difference, and it’s really heartbreaking. If we want racial justice to happen, let’s start with this disparity, get rid of it, and make it retroactive to help people like Cornelius.
My name is William Curtis and I was given a 327-month sentence for distribution of crack cocaine. I’ve done 20 years and six months in prison, and I am now doing the rest on home confinement because of COVID-19. If the disparity between crack and powder cocaine was equal, I would have been released a long time ago. I would have been able to help raise my children in those most important years of their lives. And even now I am hindered from seeing them or helping them when they need me, because I am on home confinement. I can’t even go help my family if their car should break down.
There should be no difference between crack and powder cocaine. Justice is supposed to be blind, but this disparity between the drugs shows different. I hope we can restore some of the fairness and impartiality to the justice system by taking away the difference between crack and powder cocaine – and by making those changes retroactive that it will apply to all of us who have been impacted by this unjust sentencing disparity.
In 1991, I was sentenced to prison under the crack cocaine sentencing guideline when the ratio was 100:1. I was a single mom with young kids, barely an adult myself, and I desperately needed money. I met a man who pulled me into a drug conspiracy for one month. One month. For my involvement I was sentenced to 30 years. When the ratio changed to 18:1 in 2010, I was released. I’d been in prison 21 years.
I met a lot of women in all that time, many who are still inside because of the unfair ratio that still exists between crack and powder cocaine. I know firsthand how it feels to be serving a sentence and to know that someone who is in for the powder version of the same drug is serving a lesser sentence. It’s an injustice that burns and keep me advocating reform. It’s time to finally get rid of the disparity and make it 1:1.
My name is Christopher Holyfield. On December 15, 2002, I was found guilty of two crack cocaine-related charges. I was sentenced to life imprisonment. The law has since changed but I have not received any relief. I pray that Congress will make the crack and powder cocaine ratio 1:1 retroactive so people like me can return to our families after decades in prison. The guilt that I carry for leaving my family at times overwhelms me. Raising my five children through a telephone has been extremely difficult, and I thank god my children have turned out alright, not following in my example. My father passed away during my prison term and I pray to god daily that I get the chance to see my mother again.
At the time of my arrest I was 23 years old. I am now 52. I want to express my remorse and regret but to also try to convey after 20 years in prison how much a person can change. The change in my attitude and behavior came through maturity and began long before there was any potential for my release. The damage I caused to my community by selling drugs and being absent from my family was enough to make me realize that I had to change. Going home to work hard is actually something I look forward to. If I had been dealing powder cocaine instead of crack I would not be serving life. If given a second chance at life I would not squander it. Please change the disparity.
Learn more about FAMM’s efforts to end the disparity and how you can get involved: famm.org/endthedisparity