Former crack dealer James Patterson Jr. is one of the 1,715 prisoners whose sentences were commuted by former President Barack Obama.
Patterson received a nearly 22-year sentence in 2002 for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, reports The Charlotte Observer.
He began selling crack to finance his own addiction to the drug. He was making an estimated $22,500 per week when he was busted and charged with possession with intent to distribute 20.5 grams of crack, with a street value of about $900.
But because he had three prior non-violent drug convictions, he was considered a "career offender," which made him subject to a maximum sentence of 27 years. In February 2002, he was sentenced to 21 years and eight months in prison.
Obama's motivation for commuting so many sentences was explained by his White House counsel, Neil Eggleston, who was quoted by The Associated Press. "He saw the injustice of the sentences that were imposed in many situations, and he has a strong view that people deserve a second chance."
The president was particularly motivated to grant clemency to those who had turned their lives around while imprisoned, noted Eggleston.
"The ones who really stuck home for the president and me are the ones who got their GED, they worked, they took courses in anger management, they took courses in getting over drug abuse issues, they remained in contract with their families," he said.
Patterson reportedly fit the requirements well. In prison, he learned how to read and write, received promotions while working at his prison job, completed adult continuing education classes from business management to piano theory, attended victim impact programs, sang gospel in prison choirs, and earned his GED.
Finally, in December 2016, he was freed by Obama after spending more than 14 years in federal prison. "You have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around," Obama wrote to him. "Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity."
The 50-year-old ex-con understands the risks he faces as a free man. "Sometimes that thinking really comes back, ya know," he said. "And you got the devil on that side. And I gotta say, 'Nah Lord, You brought me too far. I ain’t going that direction.'"
As he summarizes: "We’re human beings that made a mistake. And people can change. I’m living proof of that."