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Living Life in Prison Without Parole for Nonviolent Drug Offenses: Euka Wadlington & His Fight for Freedom

Euka Wadlington

“When you have a life sentence, it does not promote rehabilitation,” according to Euka Wadlington, a forty-eight year-old African-American who is serving two life sentences in federal prison in Greenville, Illinois. “By design, you are locked up in a cage until you die.”

As he explains being in prison for life without the possibility of parole, “You have no good time to work towards, you can’t work certain jobs in the institution, you can’t enroll in certain classes that works towards reentry, and you could never go to a federal camp. So, being stripped of these few things, you are naked.”

For the past couple of months, I have been exchanging emails with Wadlington. He also has been calling me from prison to talk about his case and his effort to convince President Barack Obama to commute his sentence so he does not have to die in prison.

How did Wadlington end up being sentenced to prison for life without parole?

*

A 2013 report from the ACLU on life without parole sentences called “A Living Death” [PDF] highlighted Wadlington’s case. He was arrested in Chicago in 1998 after a “failed drug sting in which a confidential informant attempted to induce him to sell cocaine to an undercover agent.”

According to Wadlington, a government informant, who was an admitted cocaine and meth dealer cooperating with the government to avoid incarceration, tried to get him to participate in a money-making scam in order to discharge a longstanding debt. (The informant had loaned Wadlington $3000 in 1994 to help him open a car wash).

The ACLU report contained more details:

…For months Wadlington refused, and he says he finally agreed to meet with Flame in late 1998 to help him carry out a money-making scam in order to discharge a longstanding debt (Flame had loaned Wadlington $3,000 in 1994 to help him open a car wash). The government informant claimed he had arranged to introduce Wadlington to an undercover agent posing as an Iowa drug dealer, to whom Wadlington was to sell one kilo of cocaine at the planned meeting. Wadlington was arrested at the meeting location, but he had no drugs or weapons on his person or in his vehicle and less than three dollars in his pocket.

Wadlington told me, “There was nobody in my indictment who was caught with drugs that could say, ‘The drugs I was caught with came from Euka Wadlington.'” Those who testified against him were either in trouble with law enforcement or “seeking time reductions for their cooperation with the government. “In other words, I was used as the scapegoat.”

As the ACLU report noted, the prosecutor and government witnesses claimed at his trial in the Southern District of Iowa that Wadlington had been the leader of a drug organization that was “selling powder and crack cocaine in Clinton, Iowa.” They suggested “Tide detergent boxes” were used to conceal the cocaine and transport, cook and distribute the drugs. Almost all of the testimony at trial came from witnesses, who were offered “immunity or leniency for their own drug sentences, including one of Wadlington’s co-defendants who pleaded guilty.”

“Wadlington was not connected to the crime via any physical evidence; he was never caught with any drugs, either on his person or in his vehicle, home, or business. No drugs were ever seized during raids of the nightclub he managed. Police surveillance of Wadlington’s nightclub never revealed any indication of drug activity. No cell phone, pager records, or fingerprints connected Wadlington to drug activity, and the prosecutor offered no evidence of unexplained wealth,” according to the ACLU.

*

“Now, I’m not arguing my innocence. I’m arguing that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” Wadlington adds.

Wadlington served fifteen years in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. Shouldn’t this be enough punishment?

He sends me a part of a memorandum, which Attorney General Eric Holder sent to United States Attorneys and the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division on August 12, 2013, and calls attention to the part about “unduly harsh sentences.”

…It is with full consideration of these factors that we no refine our charging policy regarding mandatory minimums for certain nonviolent, low-level drug offenders. We must ensure that our most severe mandatory minimum penalties are reserved for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers. In some cases, mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancement statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities that do not reflect our Principles of Federal Prosecution. Long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation…

But does the punishment fit the person that Wadlington has become in prison?

Despite the institutional barriers that exist for those sentenced to life without parole, Wadlington pursued an education and took various courses so that he could become a teacher and help inmates get a General Education Diploma (GED).

Wadlington refers me to his website, which recounts how he “co-created an inmate re-entry course, Criminal Lifestyle Intervention, which helps students gain the skills and emotional intelligence they will need when they re-enter society by pushing them to think critically about the choices they made that led them” to prison.

“You can’t imagine how great of a feeling I have to know that I helped someone cross a barrier—whether it is getting a GED, working on college degrees, or trying to better themselves as a person in general,” Wadlington shares. “You could compare that to the relief of a breath of fresh air or a quenching glass of cold water on a hot sunny day.

“My reward is knowing that I’m making a difference, that I’m giving back to the greater good, and knowing that the words ‘I care’ exist in me.”

Wadlington is also an “avid chess player,” who has organized a chess club within the prison.

Dr. Kent Dunnington, who is a philosophy professor at Greenville College and a prison ministry leader, has characterized Wadlington as a “natural teacher,” who “moves around the classroom energetically, encouraging his peers, instructing them, mediating between them, making them laugh and “treating them each as significant equals.”

“Fifteen years ago, one of my biggest mistakes was my way of thinking. Now, I have a different mindset,” Wadlington states.

In other words, he is an inmate who seems to have managed to fully rehabilitate himself while in prison.

*

I immediately notice that Wadlington is not interested in dwelling on whether he is innocent or not, whether the judge did what he should have done in issuing his harsh sentence or whether he unfairly lost his appeal. As Wadlington explains, those judges made their decisions.

“Now, it doesn’t matter how I felt back then. At this point, I’m not arguing innocence or guilt. I’m asking for mercy for the crimes that I’m convicted of [committing].”

Part of why he desires mercy is his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “My mother is my rock which makes me feel worthless and helpless to not be at her aid like she was at mine.”

Wadlington tells me a story he remembers from when he was about twelve years-old.

“I went to live with my father in Mississippi during the summer months,” he recalls. “Within a month, I was outside playing basketball on a dirt-road covered court with other children. I fainted on the court and was rushed to the hospital. I was diagnosed with ‘Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.'” His body was being eaten by “blood sucking ticks.”

His mom quickly traveled from Chicago to Mississippi to be at his side. The doctor said his chances were slim, that it would be wise to start contacting family that wanted to say goodbye.

“For about three weeks, my mother never left my side with the exception to wash-up and change clothes. My condition was so serious that the doctor allowed her to sleep next to me at night. Morning, noon, evening, and night, my mother washed me up and fed me. She never faltered in her endeavors. She believed in me. She believed in me when it appeared the doctor gave up on me.”

With great love, he adds, “That’s only one of the billion small reasons that I’m trying to get home to help my mother. She needs me as much as I need her. The way I’m handling this situation is by playing the hand that life has dealt me. I stand in faith.”

*

The criminal justice system disproportionately impacts working class African-Americans like Wadlington.

From the ACLU report, as of 2012, “about 79 percent of the 3,278 prisoners serving without parole were sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent drug crimes.” Data from the US Sentencing Commission and state Departments of Corrections suggested about 65 percent of prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses are African-American. And, in the federal system, African-Americans were sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crimes at “twenty times the rate of whites.”

Yet, despite whatever the system has done to him, Wadlington is unwilling to remain a casualty in the War on Drugs. He prefers to be an example of redemption and maintains a focus on what he can do for others so they do not wind up incarcerated for life like he did.

He wants to re-enter life, keep on teaching, be with his family, be there for his children, who have all grown up while he has been in prison. He wants to see his children raise their families and build their lives. Most importantly, he would like to be home to take care of his ailing mother because she has always been there for him.

Wadlington hopes that his deeds are enough to convince President Obama or a future president to commute his sentence so he can rejoin society just as he has been teaching others how to do.

CommunityThe Dissenter

Living Life in Prison Without Parole for Nonviolent Drug Offenses: Euka Wadlington & His Fight for Freedom

Euka Wadlington

“When you have a life sentence, it does not promote rehabilitation,” according to Euka Wadlington, a forty-eight year-old African-American who is serving two life sentences in federal prison in Greenville, Illinois. “By design, you are locked up in a cage until you die.”

As he explains being in prison for life without the possibility of parole, “You have no good time to work towards, you can’t work certain jobs in the institution, you can’t enroll in certain classes that works towards reentry, and you could never go to a federal camp. So, being stripped of these few things, you are naked.”

For the past couple of months, I have been exchanging emails with Wadlington. He also has been calling me from prison to talk about his case and his effort to convince President Barack Obama to commute his sentence so he does not have to die in prison.

How did Wadlington end up being sentenced to prison for life without parole?

*

A 2013 report from the ACLU on life without parole sentences called “A Living Death” [PDF] highlighted Wadlington’s case. He was arrested in Chicago in 1998 after a “failed drug sting in which a confidential informant attempted to induce him to sell cocaine to an undercover agent.”

According to Wadlington, a government informant, who was an admitted cocaine and meth dealer cooperating with the government to avoid incarceration, tried to get him to participate in a money-making scam in order to discharge a longstanding debt. (The informant had loaned Wadlington $3000 in 1994 to help him open a car wash).

The ACLU report contained more details:

…For months Wadlington refused, and he says he finally agreed to meet with Flame in late 1998 to help him carry out a money-making scam in order to discharge a longstanding debt (Flame had loaned Wadlington $3,000 in 1994 to help him open a car wash). The government informant claimed he had arranged to introduce Wadlington to an undercover agent posing as an Iowa drug dealer, to whom Wadlington was to sell one kilo of cocaine at the planned meeting. Wadlington was arrested at the meeting location, but he had no drugs or weapons on his person or in his vehicle and less than three dollars in his pocket.

Wadlington told me, “There was nobody in my indictment who was caught with drugs that could say, ‘The drugs I was caught with came from Euka Wadlington.'” Those who testified against him were either in trouble with law enforcement or “seeking time reductions for their cooperation with the government. “In other words, I was used as the scapegoat.”

As the ACLU report noted, the prosecutor and government witnesses claimed at his trial in the Southern District of Iowa that Wadlington had been the leader of a drug organization that was “selling powder and crack cocaine in Clinton, Iowa.” They suggested “Tide detergent boxes” were used to conceal the cocaine and transport, cook and distribute the drugs. Almost all of the testimony at trial came from witnesses, who were offered “immunity or leniency for their own drug sentences, including one of Wadlington’s co-defendants who pleaded guilty.” (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."