Richard DeLisi was believed to be the longest-serving convict doing time for a marijuana-related crime. He was released Tuesday from the South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach Florida after having served 31 years by the Florida Department of Corrections as was confirmed to CNN.
DeLisi has been in prison since 1989 for racketeering, trafficking in cannabis, and conspiracy. Shockingly, the non-violent offender had only served just over one-third of his 90-year sentence at the time of his release.
The longtime prisoner’s sentence came due to his being caught attempting to smuggle more than 100 pounds of marijuana into Florida from the country of Columbia. That arrest led to 32 years behind bars, according to the Last Prisoner Project, which is a nonprofit that advocates for the release of prisoners who are convicted on marijuana charges.
While the organization was working to push for DeLisi’s release, according to the Florida Department of Corrections press secretary Kayla McLaughlin that the decision to move up DeLisi’s release date was not “related to any action by an outside party.”
CNN reported that “DeLisi’s release date was initially moved up from summer 2022 to May 2021 after an error was discovered on his record, McLaughlin said, which restored 390 days of provisional release credits he was owed upon the start of his sentence in 1989.
“Good behavior also earned him ‘gain time,’ or a reduction in his sentence. DeLisi had previously forfeited 120 days of “gain time” due to disciplinary infractions. But because DeLisi’s last disciplinary report was from July 2005 and because he was 120 days from his new release date of May 2021, he was eligible to have his ‘gain time’ restored, which moved up his release date, McLaughlin said.”
Worthy of note is the fact that DeLisi’s release came shortly after the House of Representatives voted to decriminalize marijuana use nationally.
The bill passed largely along party lines, according to CNN with 222 Democrats, five Republicans, and Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian, voted in support while 158 Republicans and six Democrats voted against it.
According to the network, the Republicans who voted for the bill are Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is the bill’s co-sponsor, as well as Reps. Brian Mast of Florida, Tom McClintock of California, Denver Riggleman of Virginia, and Don Young of Alaska. The Democrats against were Reps. Cheri Bustos and Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
The Associated Press reported that while DeLisi was serving his sentence his wife, 23-year-old son, and both his parents passed away.
“I’m a blessed human being, a survivor,” DeLisi said in a phone interview with the AP on Wednesday. The former inmate was 40 years old when he was convicted and given a substantially longer sentence than most with similar charges. According to the AP, the average sentence for the offense he was convicted of is 12-17 years and he believes that the judge mistakenly believed him to be part of organized crime.
However, DeLisi said that he’s not angry, only hopeful:
“Prison changed me. I never really knew who God was and now I know and it changed the way I talk to people and treat people,” said DeLisi. The father and grandfather became a mentor to younger inmates while behind bars. “For me, being there so long, I was able to take gang members from gangs to gentleman.”
DeLisi was also illiterate, even as a middle-aged adult, when he entered prison as a “40-year-old hipster with the thick Italian.” He taught himself to read and write while behind bars, however, and he now wants “to make the best of every bit of my time” and plans to advocate for other prisoners.
“The system needs to change and I’m going to try my best to be an activist.”