Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) reports that Richard DeLisi, said to be the longest-serving non-violent cannabis prisoner in the U.S., will soon be released.
During DeLisi’s 32 years of incarceration, his parents, wife and son have died. He has five grandchildren he has never met. He has spent 31 birthdays behind bars.
But next month, DeLisi will walk out of Florida’s South Bay Correctional Facility a free man.
DeLisi began his 90-year sentence in 1989 at the age of 40.
He was arrested the previous year and charged with trafficking in cannabis, conspiracy to traffic in cannabis and violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), according to FreeDeLisi.com.
It was the second RICO case for DeLisi, who had previously been convicted of smuggling cannabis in 1975. He was released from prison a little more than a year later, but was in serious financial debt. He owed more than US$50,000 to the state, which had also seized his assets, in addition to lawyer fees.
DeLisi attempted to stray from his former life, feigning off numerous attempts by his old friend, J.J. White, to resume smuggling cannabis. Eventually, though, DeLisi agreed to be part of one last trip.
According to the Miami New Times, DeLisi finally caved over a plate of beef and oyster sauce with his friend. White, a pilot, laid out the plans for smuggling 1,500 pounds (680 kg) of pot into Florida. He even told DeLisi that he and his brother, who had also been convicted in the RICO case, could keep the profits to pay off their debts and get back on their feet.
DeLisi did not know that his friend was also a paid government informant.
In July 1988, Florida officers observed DeLisi and his brother offloading cannabis from a plane into two waiting vehicles. They were later apprehended during a roadside stop.
During the trial, DeLisi’s attorney argued that it was a case of entrapment, but the judge was unconvinced. DeLisi was sentenced to three consecutive 30-year sentences.
During his time in prison, DeLisi, who is dyslexic, learned to read and write, and has behaved as a model prisoner, according to written testimony from prison staff.
“I have taken full advantage of every opportunity afforded me in prison and have been heralded by prison staff members as the ‘ideal inmate,’” DeLisi wrote in a 2008 letter to former Florida governor Charles Crist as part of a clemency application.
As part of that same application, DeLisi’s youngest son, Steven, wrote that he desperately needed in-person love and guidance from this father. Steven, who was two years old when his father was incarcerated, died in 2010 of a prescription pill overdose.
Now 71-years-old, DeLisi’s legal team was informed this week by prison officials at South Bay Correctional Facility that he will be released next month.
“It feels amazingly wonderful to know that I will be home with my family and loved ones very soon,” DeLisi told LPP. “I am grateful to everyone who has been there and helped me along in these long years. If I could go back to 1988, I would tell my former self to put more value in the time I spend with my family. I have learned that money is something that comes and goes, but family is forever. I will take that lesson home with me and I will make the most of every moment I have left on this earth with my wonderful family.”
His release comes after LPP and pro bono attorneys Chiara Juster, Elizabeth Buchanan and Michael Minardi supplemented Richard’s previously filed clemency application earlier this year.
“We participated in decarcerating someone who couldn’t deserve it more,” said Juster, a former Florida prosecutor and lead attorney on the case. “The fact that dear Richard is the longest serving non-violent cannabis offender currently incarcerated in our country is truly a sick indictment of our nation.”
DeLisi’s surviving children, Ashley and Rick, also shared their relief with LPP. “I just want to hug my dad outside of prison,” his daughter said.