WASHINGTON – Derrick A. Curry was in the visiting room of the federal prison camp in Cumberland with his father and stepmother Saturday when the warden came in and he knew his prayers had been answered.
The former Northwestern High School basketball star had spent about eight years of a 19-year sentence behind bars on crack cocaine convictions when President Clinton commuted his sentence in a last-minute flurry of pardons and commutations.
Curry said he had been hoping for a pardon or commutation, and had “prayed on it and felt good about it.” The warden gave him the news about 11 a.m. Saturday and he was on his way home to Upper Marlboro by 3:30 p.m., he said.
Curry was the only Maryland resident whose sentence was commuted on the outgoing president’s last day in office. Three others were pardoned.
Curry was a 19-year-old student at Prince George’s County Community College when he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base and aiding and abetting, according to Justice Department documents.
He was convicted and, in 1993, sentenced to 235 months in prison. Curry, who is 31 now, would have been 40 if his sentence had not been commuted.
While in prison, his case was taken up by groups opposed to mandatory minimum sentences, which they contend penalize low-level drug dealers and their associates with harsh sentences. The groups also cite the discrepancy between sentences for crack and powder cocaine, which they say penalize inner-city and minority residents, who are more likely to be convicted of crack-related offenses.
Derrick’s father, Arthur, pressed his son’s case in appearances on Capitol Hill and on news shows like CBS’s “This Morning.” Derrick’s stepmother, Sandra, also credited the activism of groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
“We are extremely fortunate,” Sandra Curry said. “I feel very, very lucky.
“We’re willing to thank everybody,” she said.
Julie Stewart started Families Against Mandatory Minimums in 1991 after her brother was sentenced to five years for growing marijuana.
“FAMM was very instrumental in that he (Curry) got a lot of media attention,” Stewart said.
The group submitted 11 individual cases to Clinton for pardons or commutations and the names of another 487 individuals for consideration.
But Curry was the one who sent in his name to a pardon attorney and to the White House, said Stewart, who has been involved in the case since 1993.
After only about six years in the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Curry was transferred to the nearby minimum-security prison camp. Curry said it is unusual for someone with more than 10 years left on his sentence to get a transfer.
Prison officials did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Curry was still trying to “get back in the swing of things” on his fourth day out of prison Wednesday. He’s interested in playing basketball and spending time with his family.
“What I really want to do is work with kids and youth. . .work with them and keep them from making the same mistakes I did,” he said.
FAMM’s Stewart said the number of drug-related offenders released by Clinton makes a statement.
“It shows there is something wrong with our own sentencing system that we have to use clemency process to administer justice,” she said. — CNS reporter Arheun Kim contributed to this story.