Curtis Bell

“The mandatory minimum in my case was 15-to-life, but only after waiving the fact that I was a minor. They knew there were mitigating circumstances, but it didn’t matter to them. The DA petitioned for - and won - a special hearing to try me as an adult in order to give me the maximum sentence if I went to trial. I did not go to trial and accepted a plea deal of 18 years to life. This was the ultimate coercion.”

Jolene Russ

“My husband Bryon was sentenced to 49 years in prison after being initially offered a five-year plea deal. These sentencing structures are completely contrary to anything that looks like justice. He has now served 21 years and without urgently needed changes, he will be in prison for decades more.”

Darnell Epps

“I was accused of being an accessory to a murder committed by my brother. Even though I had no direct part in the crime, I faced a life sentence. Although my brother received a sentence of 17-½ to life, because I took my case to trial, the prosecution tried to give me the maximum sentence of 40 years. Although the judge was sympathetic, because of mandatory minimums the judge’s hands were tied and I ended up with a 17-½ to life sentence as well. After spending decades in prison, I am now headed to Yale Law School and am part of the fight to change these unjust laws.”

Marvin Mayfield

“I was 21 and had just gotten out of the Air Force. I was walking home from a party in Brooklyn and I was pulled over. Cops slammed me on the hood of the car, beat me up and took me to Central Booking. I was charged with a burglary that I hadn't committed and spent the next few days in bullpens waiting to see a judge. Bail was set but I couldn’t afford it. After 11 months, I took a guilty plea. Two years later, I was arrested on a burglary charge. Because I had previously pled guilty, I was charged as a “predicate,” meaning I had a prior conviction and therefore faced a much higher mandatory minimum. The DA said they were going to push for the maximum if I didn’t take their plea offer, so I took the plea for 2-to-4. At trial, I would have faced 5-to-15. I lost years of my life. Now, I’m a lead organizer with Communities Not Cages fighting for change.”

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