|Drug lifer Jesse Webster|
Unfortunately for Webster, a former drug dealer from Chicago's South-Side, he caught his case back in '96 when the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines were at their harshest. Doubly unfortunate for Webster, his was a federal conviction rather than one under Illinois state law.
The thrust of the article was to illustrate the plight of non-violent drug dealers and their arguably "victimless" crimes. Over the years, I've come across similar media coverage for Michigan's drug lifers [most of whom have been set free by now], and one case from Indiana where a convict was sentenced to life without parole on a marijuana manufacturing and delivery conviction; he was busted with over 100 pounds.
Dan Barry of the NYT profiled Webster, drawing comparisons to his prison buddy, Reynolds Wintersmith, Jr., a former crack cocaine dealer from Rockford, IL. The two spent 16-years at the Ft. Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas.
Like Wintersmith, Jesse Webster wrote to President Obama seeking executive clemency and a commutation of sentence. Unlike Webster, however, Wintersmith's request was granted by Obama along with 8 other petitions for a commutation of sentence along with an additional 13 presidential pardons.
Webster's number has not yet come up. The ACLU estimates there are about 2800 federal prisoners doing life sentences for "non-violent" drug offenses. Of these convicts, the NYT suggests that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of first offenders or convicts with only a juvenile record before catching the "bullet".
These days, the federal sentencing guidelines have softened a bit when it comes to mandatory minimums in drug crimes, particularly after the passage in 2010 of the Fair Sentencing Act. More recently, the DOJ signaled a significant shift away from harsh mandatory minimum sentences and announced an end to the so-called "war on drugs".
This shift, however, has not aided men like Webster who have been caught in the federal drug enforcement machine and are getting the life squeezed out of them one day at a time.