Prisoner Granted Clemency By Obama Grateful For Second Chance

By McCarton Ackerman 09/10/15

Rudolph Norris plans on making the most out of his recent release from prison.

President Barack Obama

One of the dozens of incarcerated individuals granted clemency this year by President Obama is speaking publicly for the first time, and he’s determined to make the most of his second chance.

Rudolph Norris, 58, was released on July 28 after having served 22 years of a 30-year federal sentence for dealing crack cocaine. He learned that Obama had granted him clemency on March 31, but was required to wait three months before being released.

In 1992, police officers found 291 bags of crack cocaine in his vehicle that totaled 29 grams. Despite the fact that his 1993 pre-sentencing report stated that “There was no victim in this offense,” his particular crime and lengthy rap sheet that included seven arrests for crimes ranging from marijuana possession to robbery, called for the harsh sentence.

But during his time in prison, Norris took a 4,000-hour course as an electronics inspector, held numerous jobs and only had three minor disciplinary violations, leading him to eventually be transferred to the minimum-security prison in Morganstown, W.V.

“As I navigate my way back to society and begin a productive life, one of the first and foremost thoughts on my mind will be my solemn commitment to prove to you that your faith in me was not at all misplaced,” he wrote to Obama in April.

However, Norris is now dealing with the challenges that most former prisoners who spent decades behind bars now face. His only form of identification upon release was his Morganstown inmate card and he had never used now-basic technology like the Internet and cell phones. More importantly, his lengthy stay behind bars will be a huge hurdle in finding both employment and housing.

“He’s going to be fighting for his life,” said Courtney Stewart, the founder of the Reentry Network for Returning Citizens, a volunteer organization based in Washington. “It’s going to be hard as hell, but he has to be willing to do whatever it takes. It’s not going to be up to him what that is. He won’t decide how long he’s going to have to do it. He’ll have to have some faith.”

Initial job searches for prisoners that Stewart works with typically take nine months to two years, but Norris is so committed to playing by the rules that he even turned down a day labor landscaping job that paid in cash because he wants to pay taxes. His brother-in-law is trying to land him work as a shuttle bus driver at the hotel he is employed in, while another friend is looking into gardening work.

But for now, Norris is simply happy to have the chance to prove he’s a changed man and will do whatever it takes.

“I’ll take the lowest honest job out there—I just want to get started,” he said. “Society doesn’t owe me anything. I owe society for dealing drugs.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.