WASHINGTON – Derrick A. Curry said he is “still settling in,” getting used to his freedom more than three months after a last-minute commutation by former President Clinton freed him from a 19-year prison sentence.
The former Northwestern High School basketball star said he has been dunking, shooting baskets and working on his game in front of the cameras for ESPN, Sports Illustrated and “George Michael’s Sport Machine.”
His story has been featured in several local newspapers and he is now waiting to learn if he will be playing with the Maryland Mustangs, a U.S. Basketball League expansion team coached by former Boston Celtic Robert Parish, which starts April 28.
But it has been frustrating at times for Curry, who was sentenced in 1993 to 235 months for his part in a 28-member crack cocaine ring in which his role was described by investigators and prosecutors as a “flunky” and a “minor player” and “delivery boy.” Mandatory sentencing guidelines at the time required the harsh sentence.
“Losing eight and a half years, you know you can’t make it up,” said Curry. “You just have to close that door and move on. I haven’t been bitter or mad about the situation. I just kind of move forward.”
Since his release from prison, he has become something of a celebrity for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the group that helped win his commutation. The constant telephone calls, media interviews and speaking engagements are just some of the things that come with being made a symbol of what the group calls unfairly harsh drug laws.
FAMM contends that mandatory minimum sentences can penalize even low- level, non-violent drug offenses with harsh sentences. The group brought Curry and 11 other former prisoners from around the country to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lobby for a bill that would make a 1994 “safety valve” law retroactive.
The safety valve law exempted certain nonviolent drug offenders from mandatory minimum sentences, but did not apply to prisoners, like Curry, sentenced prior to 1994.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, in February introduced the bill to make the safety valve retroactive, and was joined by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D- Baltimore, and others. FAMM spokeswoman Monica Pratt said Wynn’s bill would affect about 460 low-level prisoners convicted of drug offenses.
Curry said one of the reasons he was on Capitol Hill was because he thinks it is time for him to take over the struggle that his father, Arthur, has been waging for 10 years, to free him from prison and to fight mandatory minimums.
He also has to decide what he is going to do with his life.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Upper Marlboro resident works out in the morning and plays basketball at the Prince George’s Community College in the evening and at Bowie State on Sundays. The 31-year-old Curry has also been speaking at schools and in front of the community college’s basketball team. He said he wants to work with children as a mentor or counselor.
“That’s what I really want to do,” he said.
Curry said if he gets a job with the Foundation Intermediate School, a local school for troubled youth, he might even be willing to give up his basketball dreams.
“The fight has really begun for me, personally,” he said. “It’s an uphill battle, but I’m optimistic.”