I Will Die Here, Unless President Obama Helps

I joined a drug ring when I was 17 years old and, for just over a year, sold crack and powder cocaine in Rockford, Ill. I was arrested when I was 19 years old.

I am now 39 years old. I have spent over half of my life in federal prison. I have been gone from a world that witnessed the advent of smartphones, digital cameras, and GPS technology. More personally, I have been gone from my family. I have missed 20 years of graduations, funerals, and carved turkeys for the holidays. For my very first conviction, I paid with the entire balance of my freedom.

And I am destined to die here, unless President Obama commutes my life without parole sentence. Presidential pardons are usually handed out the week of December 22nd. There are thousands who think it's time I went home.

Two decades ago, I stood before a federal judge who reluctantly sentenced me to life in prison. Everyone in the courtroom – the prosecutor, the judge, my lawyer – said the sentence was too harsh. But the federal formula was unwavering: it required exponentially harsher penalties for crack offenses, compared to offenses exclusively involving powder cocaine. My life sentence is the product of an unjust legal formula that has since been abandoned.

I do not deny the devastating effects of drug addiction. I know those effects firsthand. Both of my parents were drugs addicts. When I was 11 years old, I found my mother dead from a heroin overdose. I was sent to live with my grandmother, who herself was a well-known Rockford cocaine dealer. I was raised in a crack and prostitution house where adult family members taught me how to cook, package and sell cocaine. My childhood does not excuse my crime. It only explains the road I have traveled.

My clemency petition raises one fundamental question: is permanent banishment from society the only answer for a teenager who, with no prior convictions, joins a drug ring and spends a little over a year peddling crack and powder cocaine? I believe the answer is no. Rehabilitation is possible. I have a 20-year record of achievement to prove it. Even in the face of a mandatory life sentence, I have spent the last 20 years working to grow from an immature boy to a productive man. I have completed a 4,100 hour teaching apprenticeship to become a U.S. Department of Labor certified Teacher's Aide. I am a certified victim impact counselor. I am a companion for the inmate suicide prevention program. I teach in the Federal Bureau of Prisons reentry program, which prepares inmates for successful community reentry.

The person I have grown into is my way of apologizing to everyone I have ever wronged.

My clemency petition does not ask President Obama to rewrite constitutional law or legislate policy with the presidential pen. Congress and the Supreme Court have recently recognized that unjust mechanisms were a part of the federal sentencing machinery that resulted in my life sentence. Legislatively, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 is a bipartisan rejection of the unwarranted disparity between crack and powder sentences. Judicially, the Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, said that it is unconstitutional to sentence any juvenile – even a juvenile murderer – to a mandatory life sentence.

Regardless of whether I am a juvenile offender by legal definition, the basic principles of Miller certainly apply. I am serving a life sentence for a drug crime that began and ended when I was just a teenager. If the Constitution prohibits a life sentence for juvenile murderers, then why must I die in prison for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense?

With each passing day, the constitutional and penological justifications further erode from the compulsory life sentences for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders like me. Both the federal judge who sentenced me and the prosecutor's office support my commutation. My request to President Obama contained the signatures of thousands of ordinary Americans, over 50 law schools, and numerous public servants and mobilized organizations, all of whom support commutation.

This holiday season, please help me get home. You can take action here to help me and the thousands of other people destined to die behind bars for nonviolent drug and property crimes.

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Anonymous

This man deserves a second chance.

Anonymous

This is a heartfelt story. No previous conviction, a teenager, and coming from a background of poverty. Did we really think he was going to make it out of this with no adult guidance. So we sent him to prison to Die! Obama, he's been in the Federal Correction for 20 years and is serving a life sentence. Most murders, rapists, or molester don't get life. You have the power, with the stroke of your pen to help him. I ask that you take a few minutes, and reevaluate some of these sentences. I am not advocating illegal drug activity. But how does one sentence a 19 year old first-time, non-violent drug offender without parole. Reynolds Wintersmith was arrested and convicted of Conspiracy to possess and distribute crack and powder cocaine. I heard the these phrases Equal Protection, Fundamental Fairness, Miscarriage of a Justice. What does it mean? To whom does it apply? Bring Reynolds Wintersmith home forever for the Holiday!!

Lucas Payne

I know Reynolds, he is a dear friend and big brother figure to me. If there is any justice lets send him home to his family. How can we give him life without parole for a first time drug case, all the while criminals with no intent on reforming run free. Reynolds is intelligent, educated, responsible and ready to enter society. Please President Obama, set this most deserving man free.

Lucas Payne

My good friend Reynolds Wintersmith has been serving a life sentence for a non violent drug crime. He has spent two decades in prison. Everyone involved in his case even the judges recommend that he go free, but he is subject to archaic minimum mandatory sentencing laws. He was the youngest person ever to be given a life sentence for drugs simply for his involvement with a Chicago Street Organization led by Larry Hoover. There is no one I know more deserving of a second chance then Reynolds who I affectionately call "Beezo". Please sign the ACLU petition to grant him clemency. Only President Obama can help us now

RRoberts

I want to make sure that I have the priorities of the ACLU correct. This is an organization that:
1. Forces us to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight the removal of a decades old Cross that is a memorial to soldiers who were killed in the Korean War
2. Wants to free a convicted crack and cocaine dealer from jail because HE says he has reformed!

Are those the priorities of the ACLU. Wow, do I ever feel that my civil liberties are being protected by this group.

Christosphotiou...

https://www.aclu.org/blog/author/reynolds-wintersmith

I emailed Mr. Wintersmith's story today to about 100 people.
My heart goes out to him and I pray that he's pardoned.
His story should be a reminder to us to be cognizant of our justice system.
I am proud of him for his humility and positive demeanor.
He his a victim of a flawed sentencing policy. May he find his way home for Christmas.

Anonymous

The charges were for more than just crack. There's illegal possession of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon, agg battery, resisting peace officer. People just like this guy are the reason Rockford is one of Forbes most dangerous and miserable cities. Not saying you should be stuck serving life, because I don't know exactly what happened. I do think if the story is going to be put in public eye, it should be the entire story.

Anonymous

For previous comment! You stated you don't know the story so how are you making Accusation on what he was charged with, I'm sure you can google his name! Did he sell drugs, sounds like he admitted to that, but to do life is ridicously. Regardless what type of environment he came from. He was a teenager, and has done 20 years, is that not enough. He punishment is harsher than one who has killed, raped, molested... That doesn't sound fair at all, even the judge that sentence him at the time had reservation on giving him the sentence. This definitely needs to be reviewed.

CAnonymous

I'm completely for this guy being out. Put Ethan Couch in his place. That crazy Texan kid is more of a threat than this fellah is.

Anonymous

I absolutely agree with comment #5 and #7. The whole story is not represented here. Who knows what this kid's crimes did to affect the lives of the people he sold to. Did they die of an overdose like his mother did on heroin? Do those customers kill, steal, or mug for money to buy those drugs? How much misery was caused to those families of his customers he helped get hooked on crack???
I do believe a life sentence is way to long for what Reynolds represents in his plea and commend him for his work since then. Only if one other person's life was ruined by his early antics then it is well deserved...

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