Life in Prison for LSD

By Seth Ferranti 07/24/15

He didn’t carry a gun. He wasn’t a violent dude. He just sold acid. And now Tim Tyler has served 23 years of a life sentence.

Tim Tyler
via Author

President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 people last week but Tim Tyler wasn’t one of them, unfortunately. As President Obama visited FCI El Reno in Oklahoma pushing prison reform, Tim Tyler played handball at FCI Jesup in Georgia going on 24 years of straight confinement. President Obama let out a bunch of men serving life sentences with crack cocaine charges, and rightly so, but maybe he can find it in his wisdom to let out Tim Tyler who is serving life for a small amount of LSD as part of our government’s three-strike laws. Tim Tyler was no saint but he deserves to get his sentence commuted as much as anyone. This is his story.

Tim Tyler was a Deadhead. He was into the whole culture and scene, following the band around in the late '80s and early '90s. Living the life as a counterculture outlaw, off the grid, as they say. A romantic notion left over from the '60s. A remnant of tune out, take a hit and drop out. But even though he embraced the outlaw culture of The Grateful Dead, he wasn’t a criminal, so to speak.

He didn’t carry a gun. He wasn’t a violent dude. He just sold acid. 

Tim was a peace-loving hippie who spread the gospel of LSD and Jerry Garcia. But as he was embarking on his long strange trip, the federal government was busy enacting the mandatory minimums and federal sentencing guidelines as a part of their oppressive War on Drugs. As Tim galavanted around the country making sure people were tripping out like Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, the DEA and drug war soldiers were targeting LSD dealers just as aggressively and adamantly as they did crack dealers from the inner-city—where cops were getting shot, crack babies were being born and mothers, sisters and daughters were prostituting themselves out for a hit of crack cocaine.

The Deadheads might have thought they were above it all, with their lofty ideals and devil-may-care attitudes, but the government had other plans. Undercover narcotic cops went on tour and conducted buys. They engrained themselves in the community, dong business with the unsuspecting hippies and making arrests. Tim got caught up in it all and now he is doing life in prison for LSD. Another non-violent offender that has been in jail for far too long. His case consisted of only a couple thousand hits of LSD, but he is doing life. We spoke with him to see how he is holding up and what he thinks about his likelihood of getting out of prison now that President Obama is commuting the sentences of non-violent lifers.

“I never even considered being free until about 18 months ago. I still cannot feel it.” Tim tells The Fix from his prison cell at FCI Jesup in Georgia. The reality is, with marijuana being legalized and the national consciousness shifting away from the "lock them up and throw away the key" mentality, Tim stands a good chance of being pardoned in some form or fashion, if only as a political statement on the injustice of the federal sentencing guidelines that were enacted by Congress in the late '80s and have incarcerated tens of thousands of non-violent drug offenders.

“Tim has served more than enough time in prison. He's been incarcerated for 23 years now, on a life-without-parole sentence for selling LSD,” TIm’s sister, Carrie tells us. “If he were sentenced for the same crime today, he would have received less time. If the Clinton Administration hadn't reduced the time to appeal, Tim's appeal would not have been rejected due to the time limit. Bill Clinton reduced the time for appeal to one year. Tim missed that date by one month.” His case was time-barred from being heard, even if it had merits.

“I had a friend who did a 2255 in USP Atlanta in 1995. He did it for free for me,” Tim tells The Fix. “I sent it in and a copy to my dad who was in FCI Marianna at the time. He showed it to a guy there and that guy convinced my dad to hire him for $5,000 and let him do a better one. I put in a motion to withdraw without prejudice. The guy took too long to redo it and they passed the 1996 anti-terrorism bill. So they denied the new one based on [me being] out of time. Then they refused to further give me a certificate of appealability. So I never had one heard.” And almost 20 years later, he still sits buried in the belly of the beast. But there are more complications to Tim’s case.

“Adjudication was withheld on one of his prior charges, which was used to enhance his sentence from 17 years to life,” Carrie informs us. “A person should not do more than two to three years in prison for most anything unless they are a direct threat to the general public safety. People stop learning a lesson after that amount of time. Prison does more harm than good in most circumstances. A person becomes withdrawn, frightened, depressed and institutionalized, and they give up on any kind of future after that amount of time. They start wearing the label of inmate and 'felon' and criminal. They are just a number. They are demoralized and beaten emotionally.” There are many compelling reasons to release Tim but getting a raw deal is first and foremost.

“I had actually pled nolo contender to that charge,” Tim tells The Fix. "The judge felt bad for me to even plead guilty. But she also did not tell me that by pleading guilty I was giving up certain rights, like it can be used against you in the future. So they basically screwed me over the whole way. Without career criminal, I would have received 20 years for this current charge. I have been in 23 now.” A punishment that flies in the face of what our country is supposed to stand for. But there has been a concerted effort to get Tim out of prison. 

“My sister has tried to change the whole country's drug laws to get me out,” Tim says. “She has been responsible for getting me all of the press coverage, including getting Rand Paul to talk about me in the Washington Post 15 months ago. Plus, he has talked about me within the past two weeks at school conferences. CNN and Rolling Stone (have covered the story), all because of my sisters relentless work and caring about me. Instead of just helping me, she decided it would be better to help the whole system out. Julie Stewart from FAMM became a friend to my sister. She told someone about me and since then she has told plenty of people about me. The ACLU placed me and five other prisoners in magazines all around the country including Jet, Ebony, Mother Jones and more. The article said, 'All these people are doing life for a non-violent crime.' The support for his release has been tremendous and if Tim got out right now, he knows what he would do.

“I would work with my sister and build her online business selling herbs that heal people,” he tells The Fix. “She has had it for close to 10 years and paid taxes on it. She would hire me and I would consider vending organic food on the side on weekends. As the song, 'Wharf Rat' goes, 'Half of my life I spent doing time for some other fucker's crime.' I can relate to that in a way. I have been in half my life: 23 to 46. I also would not buy or sell anything illegal again. I considered what I was doing to be sharing sacrament. Now they have something established as a sacrament called ayahuasca that is from the Earth. The Earth knows sacred better than I do, so I will just listen to what it has to say.” Tim might get his chance soon enough with the changing climate in our country and Obama’s announcement on clemency.

But in his sister’s eyes, it has all been a waste. “Tim having to spend all these years in prison. I think the whole drug war is absurd,” she says. “I think all drugs should be decriminalized. For the past few decades, we, as a nation have been throwing people away. Throwing away good, honest kids that could have bright futures had they not made a mistake or two, or three. Since when are people disposable? What happened to us that we could let this happen for so long? The president should let out all non-violent drug offenders who have served three years or more. Half of the prison population is in there for drug offenses. They should all be let out.”

Not all will be let out, but maybe a few will. Tim stands a good chance to get out. His sister agrees. “I think Tim has a reasonable chance to get clemency,” she tells The Fix. “He fits the criterion requirements by the Obama Administration and Justice Department. I can only pray about it.” But praying is not all she has done. She has fought his whole sentence to get him out. 

“I prayed quite a bit. Others just came into my life to help Tim seemingly out of nowhere. A lot of people got on board to help Tim,” she says. “He has a lot of fans he doesn't even know about. Good people who want to see fair justice have stepped up to help us get attention to his case. But, there is only one person who can issue Tim clemency, and that is President Obama.” Now it is time for him to sign the paperwork to commute Tim’s sentence. The president made it public about what he is going to do, now make it official and let Tim Tyler out.

Seth Ferranti has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He most recently wrote about crystal meth becoming the new crack. He also writes for Vice. He has a book out—The Supreme Team.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.