Fmr. prisoner taking on MI criminal justice system


Five inmates and five families want to give their loved ones a second chance at freedom

Five inmates and five families want to give their loved ones a second chance at freedom.

“They just sent him away forever,” Claudia Perkins-Milton said.

“I just want him to come home,” Janice Murphy said.

But most of these men are facing life sentences some have no possibility of parole. Others just can’t seem to get the board’s approval.

“Every time he goes up for parole, they knock it down,” Murphy said.

Some have been locked away since the 70s like Horace Peterson.

“He’s been in there my whole life, my mama was two years old,” said Eric Woodyard, Peterson’s grandson.

Peterson was convicted in 1973 of first-degree murder at a Flint record shop. Woodyard says his grandfather didn’t pull the trigger and wasn’t even in the same room as the man who did the crime. Still he received the same charge.

“I think they’re so immune because everybody in prison feels like they’re innocent,” Woodyard said.

These four women feel the same as Woodyard, that their loved one’s sentences were unjust.

That’s why they’re turning to a man who was dealt a harsh hand by the system, Flint’s Michael Thompson.

He was sentenced 40-60 years in the 90s for selling marijuana and owning guns. He served nearly 25 before Gov. Whitmer commuted his sentence in January.

“There’s a lot of bad people in prison who need to be there. But there’s a lot of good people who don’t need to be there,” Thompson said.

Thompson says two laws stand in the way of prison reform, one is the habitual offender law, which stacks extra time for those with previous convictions like Thompson had.

“If we eradicate habitual offenders, that takes the numbers down drastically,” said prison reform advocate John Ell Allenbey. “It takes the handcuffs off the judges where they’re able to sentence proportional to what the crime actually is.”

Thompson says the second law in the way is Michigan’s truth in sentencing. A law that eliminates being released early on “good behavior” and states prisoners must serve their minimum sentence before being offered parole.

“The first thing we got to do is get good time. Get guys their good time back,” Thompson said.

And Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz says often truth in sentencing does keep MDOCs hands tied.

“We can’t release some one because they’re doing really well and we think they’d be ok,” Guatz said. “There are a number of prisoners who if the board had jurisdiction would consider to be released.”

Gautz says of Michigan’s 33 ,000 prisoners, 85 percent haven’t served their minimum sentence yet.

That’s around 28,000 prisoners without parole opportunities.

“Especially during a pandemic we’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘just let out all of the elderly prisoners’ or ‘just let out all the non-violent drug offenders.’ And the truth is, for the ones who were eligible, we’ve already done that,” Gautz said.

For those who will never be eligible they have to try to appeal and petition for clemency.

“We just started a petition and we’ve got over 50,000 signatures and an attorney,” Thompson said.

For many, it’s a long shot and a long process. These families hope Thompson can bring true prison reform and bring their loved one’s home.