Donel Clark was working at Dallas grocery store, supporting his wife and three young sons, when he took a more lucrative job as a “cook” in a friend’s kitchen, where the main ingredient was raw cocaine and the final product was crack. In 1994, when Clark was 29, a judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison for his participation in the business. Although the prosecutor later denounced the sentence as unduly harsh, the federal mandatory minimum drug laws left the judge no choice but to impose it.
Twenty years later, with 10 years of his sentence still ahead of him, Clark has reason to believe he may soon return home to his family. Last spring, in an unprecedented attempt to address the devastating effects of the severe drug laws of that era, the Obama administration announced a plan to free many of the thousands of federal prisoners serving time for nonviolent, low-level offenses. Clark, now 50, is one of thousands who have filed for clemency since then. With his spotless prison record, he meets the administration’s criteria. Here’s an account of his life in prison, in his words:
I had never been to prison, but I knew people from the street who told stories of how to conduct yourself inside, or else people would see you as weak and prey upon you.