A Plea From Behind the Walls: Please Limit Mandatory Minimums

Security tower and razor wire-topped  fence
Security tower and razor wire-topped fence

You may not recognize my name, but I am one of the thousands of inmates sentenced under federal mandatory minimum drug laws. In 2007, I was convicted for conspiring to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine in Virginia. Because I had two prior drug convictions, I received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. I began serving this sentence at age 29, and I write this today at age 37. It is sometimes hard to think about my future. But when I read about reform efforts going on in Congress, I feel hope.

The United States Congress is considering a bill called the The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act that would lower the mandatory minimum for repeat drug offenders like me from life to twenty-five years. Even better, this bill would allow federal judges to consider applying the Fair Sentencing Act to inmates whose sentences are already final, which would also reduce the mandatory minimum sentence that applied to my crimes. I humbly ask America to support this law.

In writing this, I am in no way trying to justify or make an excuse for my past behavior. I'm not incarcerated due to mistakes. I'm incarcerated for bad choices. My choices. Although I acknowledge, apologize and accept full responsibility for my criminal activity, I also respectfully believe that my punishment far exceeds the crime.

My life sentence was the result of mandatory minimums and sentencing enhancements. I'm almost certain that when these laws were passed, Congress's objective was to target and punish kingpins, drug lords, and cartels. Instead, these mandatory minimums and sentence enhancements were used as a way to threaten and persuade non-violent low-level offenders not to go to trial, as well as to punish those same defendants if they exercised their constitutional right to go to trial. I didn't plead guilty, and my sentence was mandatory life. My co-defendant pleaded guilty, and he received a five-year sentence. With mandatory sentences, federal judges have their hands tied and must sentence people to prison terms in situations where the time does not fit the crime.

I am an imperfect man, but I pray I don't die in prison. I yearn to one day be the present father my children deserve, and not just another body leaving prison in a coffin. This Corrections Act could help me and others like me to have hope of one day being released. On behalf of all people serving mandatory life for non-violent drug offenses, I ask Congress to pass the Corrections Act. And I offer my respect and thanks for considering my views.


Mancer L. Barrington, III, Register No. 57952-083, is a federal inmate at Big Sandy Penitentiary in Inez, KY.