America's Longest-Serving Nonviolent Pot Prisoner Freed

Richard DeLisi was behind bars for 31 years
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 10, 2020 6:58 AM CST
America's Longest-Serving Nonviolent Pot Prisoner Freed
In this image provided by the Last Prisoner Project, Richard DeLisi, second from left, is surrounded by his granddaughter Sade, left, son Rick, his daughter-in-law Vida, two granddaughters Aya and Vida, after he was released from prison, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, in Palm Beach County, Fla.   (The Last Prisoner Project via AP)

After more than 30 years in prison for a nonviolent cannabis offense. Richard DeLisi will be spending Christmas with his family. The 71-year-old Florida inmate, believed to be the country's longest-serving inmate for a nonviolent pot crime, was released this week from Florida's South Bay Correctional Facility, CNN reports. A rep for the Florida Department of Corrections said the early release was not "related to any action by an outside party." He had been serving a 90-year sentence handed down in 1989, when he was convicted of moving more than 100 pounds of marijuana from Colombia to Florida. The Last Prisoner Project, which pushes for the release of people imprisoned on cannabis charges, says he met two of his five grandchildren for the first time after his release Tuesday. During his decades in prison, DeLisi's parents, wife, and 23-year-old son died.

The typical sentence for marijuana trafficking at the time was 12 to 17 years, and DeLisi says he believes he received a longer sentence because the judge assumed that because he was an Italian from New York, he must be a gangster. He tells the AP that he mentored younger inmates in prison and now that he is a free man, he plans to fight to change the system. "Prison changed me. I never really knew who God was and now I know and it changed the way I talk to people and treat people," he says. "For me, being there so long, I was able to take gang members from gangs to gentleman." Before his release, son Rick DeLisi, who was 11 when his father was jailed, told NBC that "it has been a lifetime of heartache and loss, but we look forward to making the memories that a family should be able to make." (Read more marijuana stories.)

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