In a recent edition of National Public Radio’s Prison Time Media Project, a victim of the Rockefeller drugs laws shared his tragic story. In the late 1970s, George Prendes was a young Cuban immigrant facing eviction from his apartment. Desperate to pay the bills, Prendes reluctantly agreed to sell a pound of cocaine in Rochester. However, the drug deal turned out to be a sting. Initially, Prendes had no idea how serious the charge was. A few years earlier, a drug charge like his would have resulted in probation or a short period of incarceration. But the newly enacted Rockefeller drug laws mandated strict minimum sentences of 15 years to life for nonviolent drug offenses. Prendes, a first-time offender, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. While incarcerated, Prendes survived by learning the customs of hardened violent criminals. He was released in 1993, but life was hardly as he left it. Prendes had to readjust to life on the outside and learn to make a living. Unfortunately, employers were reluctant to hire someone who served such a hefty prison sentence. He eventually found work as a telemarketer, but he describes the low-paying job as drudgery and he can still barely make his rent.
Recently, the legislature reformed the Rockefeller drug laws. If Prendes had been sentenced after the reform, he could have served as little as one year of imprisonment before being released on parole or for drug counseling.
Since the new drug sentencing guidelines took effect, there has been a 33 percent decrease in drug commitments to prison. Those charged with a first B-drug conviction are no longer subject to mandatory minimum prison sentences. They receive jail time, probation or judicial diversion. Further, the Division of Parole is authorized to release nonviolent drug offenders prior to their maximum expiration date.
Although the harsh Rockefeller laws have been modified, a drug charge can still have a serious impact on your life and livelihood.