Stories like Weldon Angelos are why we do what we do, Americans serving unjust time, serving what can be a life sentence because people were “just doing their job” over a plant that has killed no one.
There are so many wrongs to Weldon’s case, things like why did the Federal government feel the need to go after a small time marijuana dealer or the fact that a gun on the scene made him more criminal, even though it was never drawn or used with criminal intention. Just like cash only does not make cannabis a crime, a gun found on the premises does not either. Weldon Angelos served 13 years of a 55 year long sentenced due to mandatory minimums. Incarcerated at 24, a young music producer and father he’s lost out on two different lives, only one can he jump back into the other, being a father is time that can never be regained – the punishment does not fit the crime, and this is what Weldon chooses to fight for, justice.
I have included a newsreel of Weldon’s story; I recommend watching it, just remember it does have a happy ending or this would have been a different article.
Since his release, Weldon has been working with several prison groups and has been speaking at such events as SXSW. Most recently, Weldon has an IndieGoGo project entitled Unlikely Allies, the title stemming from the fact that not only did the prosecuting judge come out against this mandatory minimum sentence but it was also the prosecuting attorney who helped overturn Weldon’s sentence.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Weldon some questions;
WN: You served 13 years out of a 55-year-long sentence, besides family what is the next most important thing to you about being out?
WA: Being able to share my story and advocate for change. I don’t want my suffering to be in vain, and if I can, I want to prevent this from happening to others.
WN: What are the plans for the movie and the movement you want to start?
WA: I have joined forces with Koch Industries, Snoop Dogg, and Kevin Garnett on a feature documentary about the justice system through the lens of my case. Many other celebrities and advocates from different political perspectives are joining this movement, which is how you make change in this country. If we want to fix the justice system, we have to work with both sides, and that’s what we are doing.
WN: Why do you think those that prosecuted you had a change of heart?
WA: Public pressure, and I think that over the years they realized that 55 years was way too much and that 13 years was sufficient punishment (way more than sufficient in my opinion). I was prosecuted during the aggressive Bush administration, and I think Obama’s Justice Department made a lot of positive changes that I ultimately benefited from.
WN: What are your thoughts on events that have taken place since your incarceration?
WA: While I was in prison, I was frustrated because society was evolving towards smarter solutions regarding drugs–and especially marijuana–and yet I was still sitting in there serving 55 years. States were legalizing marijuana, and the federal government was allowing exactly what I was serving 55 years for to take place in multiple jurisdictions. But I was pleased to see the number of states finally putting an end to prohibition and being smarter on scarce resources. We (marijuana offenders) were also perplexed because while the federal government was giving marijuana retailers a green light to operate, there was no ameliorative relief available for us. My buddy who is serving 22 years for operating a medical marijuana dispensary in Modesto, California was (and still is) confused about why he must finish that sentence.
WN: Besides your sister and her efforts, what other things brought you hope behind bars?
WA: My judge’s view of my sentence and his courageous efforts to get it reduced made me feel that one day someone, whether the President, a court, or even Congress would fix it. And all the amazing support I received from Senators, activists, celebrities, the media, and ordinary people kept my spirits up and hopeful. The change in the legal landscape of marijuana made me believe that there could be no justification for keeping me in there.
WN: Did you meet a lot of marijuana offenders like yourself while behind bars?
WA: I met many, including some who were operating state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries and sentenced to decades in prison. If someone is serving more time than a rapist or a murderer for purely marijuana offenses, something is seriously wrong with our system, our values, and especially our representatives.
WN: I personally believe some people are in denial about correcting the drug war because people like you have been a victim of America, a place where we are taught to believe in justice. Which to many means you deserve some sort of compensation for pain and suffering or also known as reparations. What would you say to them?
WA: My life was destroyed by a sentence that the judge himself thought was cruel and unjust, a sentence nearly every Senator on the Judiciary Committee thought was unjust, and a sentence that the man who prosecuted me now agrees was unjust. I was 23 years old and had a promising career in the music industry, working with legends like Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur’s recording group. I am now 37 with no work experience because I spent the last 13 years in a federal prison. I can’t jump back into an industry that has transformed so much and be successful. I have to start my whole life and career over at almost 40. Yes, reparations are due. People should see some sort of compensation when they’ve been over-sentenced or wrongly convicted.
WN: Besides the movie, what’s next for Weldon Angelos?
WA: In addition to the film, I am writing a book about my experiences in the music industry and my journey through the criminal justice system. I also plan on advocating for comprehensive justice reform. Other than that I am just enjoying freedom and spending as much time with my loved ones as possible.
Thank you, Weldon, for your time, we here at Weed News wish you the best of luck with all your future endeavors.