George Martorano: Life After Lock Up

George Martorano Ted Talks

Written By Mindi Hunt

George Martorano has a life story movies are made from. He was not only one of the longest serving, non-violent, first-time offenders to be incarcerated in America; he was the first non-violent, first time offender to receive a federal sentence of life without parole.  George admits involvement in a drug smuggling operation but believes the outrageous sentence imposed, and the inhumane five years of solitary confinement he endured, was a consequence of not providing the FBI with the information they wanted on the Philadelphia mob with which his father was suspected to be involved with.  George maintains information was never divulged to him, nor was he involved in his father’s business dealings.  Following the advice of a corrupt attorney, George plead guilty with the expectation of serving around 3-5 years in light of the federal sentencing board recommendation.  The judge had other ideas and sentenced George to life without parole for drug-related crimes.

During his time in prison, George endured and witnessed violence and suffering that has often hardened the heart of many in his situation.  Prison is a place of sadness, loneliness, and despair.  George could not wallow in that mindset.  On the contrary, George sought out ways he could help his fellow prisoners to avoid violence and better themselves, despite the limitations of the prison system.  He participated in the NAACP, taught yoga, started a creative writing course and authored 31 books. Furthermore, he pioneered a prison course called Release Preparation,  just to name a few of his accomplishments.

“I was the only inmate since the BOP was established in 1936 to write a self-help book and have that book be keyed-in into the BOP educational and psychology departments. Over the years, I certificated over 8,000 federal inmates with changed lifestyles. I taught a public speaking class to assist inmates who were released with just the clothes on their back. Through proper manner of speech, posture and dress, prisoners may succeed and not return to more incarceration.”

Again, George had zero reasons for hope to be one day on the outside of prison walls.  He says, “I remained loyal to the nightmare of my own choice.”  Nevertheless, he never gave up, and he passionately helped other inmates, some of whom were murders, be successful upon their release. In fact, after years of studying law books, coupled with appeals and motions, George finally received his miracle he worked so hard for. In an effort to overturn inflated prison sentences, President Obama’s prison reform plan gave George his freedom. His extreme sentence combined with his exemplary prison record made him a perfect candidate for release.  He left prison in 2015 after serving over 32 years.

George P.O.W

George was not willing to squander the opportunity afforded to him.  At first, he had to catch up on the many ways the world changed since he went to the big house. Imagine the first time shopping at the grocery store after 32 years, or trying to use a cell phone for the first time.  The noise and increased pace of the modern world would take getting used to. He slept outside for many months not allowing the walls of a stick built home to confine him like the cement walls and steel bars of the penitentiary.  He never stopped writing and learned quickly how to navigate the world of social media as a place to post written word and videos to inspire his followers.  As he had done before, George not only adapted quickly he thrived, in part due to teaching others to overcome adversity too.

Now, George is a motivational speaker for a variety of audiences. He is also a cannabis advocate and speaker at Seattle at Hempfest.  He mentors students at two local grade schools and The Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. George is also an intervention-specialist for individuals that have depleted all other resources for emotional, mental and physical help. Through his work, he has heard countless stories resulting in his acute awareness that violence has become a noxious weed infecting American families.

“What I now see in America today especially the inner-cities is an enormous amount of all types of violence from guns. You see, in prison violence is also daily. Whereas the extreme prison violence is forgotten in a matter of hours. It is my belief that American society has come to such.”

Through his advocacy for cannabis law reform and the end to the violence plaguing American families, it became apparent to him that cannabis could help end violence in an authentic and practical application.  Thus began his vision, “Cannabis for Guns.”  George believes a program that allows citizens to exchange their legal or illegal gun for a small amount legal cannabis could be instrumental in reducing violence.  The normalization of adult cannabis use through programs like this is a possible side effect the cannabis industry has been striving for. This program could unite people from what seem to be two sides of a coin.  Imagine a world where the police reward people with pot and (at least in this instant) not prison!

This idea of compensating people with cannabis as an incentive is not a new approach.  In March of 2016, a Colorado Cannabis club offered a free joint for every bag of trash collected by volunteers in a city park and was considered successful.  George acknowledges this idea requires collaboration between the cannabis industries and governmental authorities and is logistically different than trash clean up at a park.  However, he is optimistic such a program can be achieved, especially in states where recreational cannabis is legal.

george talking to kids

If you would like to help George build the Cannabis for Guns program or would like him to speak at your event, please contact him at or


Miguel a.k.a Miggy420
About Miguel a.k.a Miggy420 273 Articles
My name is Miguel but I go by Miggy420 on the interwebs. My mission is to end prohibition through education, entertainment, and spreading awareness of those facing injustice, we are stronger as a whole when we're all informed.I don't have a degree but my resume includes 8 years of blogging, 10 years in the military, and presently working in the tech industry.