President Barack Obama paroled many of the men and women who were sentenced to overly harsh federal prison terms during the “War on Drugs.” Black people were arrested, convicted and sentenced at an astounding rate during that period and to inordinately harsh terms under new “mandatory” minimum sentences passed by Congress and states. Lamont Durville Glass is one of the nearly 2,000 nonviolent drug offenders who got a second chance after he was granted clemency. He discussed his now and then as he tries to put back the missing pieces and start anew.
When Knoxville, Tenn., native Glass went to prison in 1997, he was the owner of a Nokia flip phone. Nineteen years later, he’s a free man with a new perspective on life and he owns a Samsung Galaxy S7.
Glass is just one of hundreds of former inmates who were granted a clemency by President Barack Obama.
Glass was convicted and imprisoned in Knoxville for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm. When he went in, he was 24. Today, he’s 44.
“I really was expecting to die in jail,” Glass said. “I felt like a lost soul. Since being out, everything just feels brighter. The air felt fresher, my shoulders were up and my head was held high.”
Glass said his violent nature and the company he kept as a young kid contributed to the situations that landed him in jail, but he knows better now.
Growing up, he said, hustling was the only thing he knew. He didn’t hold a job until after being released from prison.
“The money was great,” he recalled. “I had … three cars and I had everything I needed. When I was younger, I just liked to fight. I was always around local drug dealers who I looked up to. But spending nearly 20 years in jail definitely humbled me.”
When he was arrested for cocaine sales, Glass said his choice was either to plead guilty for a lesser sentence or go to trial. If convicted at trial, he said, he faced a possible sentence of 30 years to life. Instead, he chose to plead guilty and was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months in prison.
Glass heard about Obama’s clemency program and applied. He recalled a time not long before his release, when he was on punishment in solitary confinement and was seriously feeling the weight of his sentence.
“I remember being in ‘the hole’ and telling God, ‘You got me this far; please get me over these last three years,’” he said. “‘Don’t let me go crazy in here.’” Two weeks later, an officer came to the kitchen where Glass worked as a cook and told him he was a free man.
Glass’s new-found freedom has been up and down, so far, he said. The good news is that he has been reunited with his four daughters. Glass missed most of his daughters’ lives, but he says he’s making up for lost time now that he has a second chance.
His youngest was not even a year old when he was convicted. Today she is an engineering student at Florida Architecture and Mechanical University approaching her 21st birthday and currently studying in Brazil.
“When I first got convicted, the first thing I thought about was my girls,” Glass said. “I didn’t want them growing up without their father. It’s been the most beautiful experience spending time with my girls now and I wouldn’t trade anything for that. Our bond has only strengthened since I came out.”
Glass said he lost many friends while locked up, but one woman stuck by his side throughout his time in prison—his longtime girlfriend and now his wife, Sharonda Glass.
They went unannounced to a Knoxville courtroom in November and were married.
During Glass’ time in prison, they broke up but remained in contact with each other for the sake of their children.
“I would visit him almost every weekend, but as time went on I realized I had to pay more attention to the kids and be with them,” said Sharonda.
Glass said he is fortunate to have his wife.
“It’s hard in this day and age to find an extraordinary Black woman,” he said. “She raised three girls and fostered children while I was away. Nineteen years and it feels like we’re falling in love all over again. It’s been a bumpy road, but we’re going to make it, because she loves me and I love her.”
Sharonda said she found out Glass would be coming home early from an article she saw while she was at work.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the list of Knoxville men being released,” she recalled. “I was excited and called everyone I knew to tell them the good news.”
The not-so-good news is Glass is struggling to keep a job. He recently started a temporary job at a meat company, but dislocated his shoulder on the first day, he said.
“It’s hard for a convicted felon to get a job straight out jail,” he said. “How exactly do you explain a 20-year gap on your resume to an employer? After 90 days, companies will hire you full time and you’ll get full benefits, but you can never really hold down one job, because they don’t want to give convicted felons the benefits.”
Glass is on probation and will be on supervised release for 11 years. During the processing of his clemency, Glass said he filed his own papers himself with no help and although he spent nearly half his life in prison, he says he’s grateful for everything he went through.
“I don’t take any of this for granted,” he said. “I’m doing all that I can to live my best life. I’m doing this for my family, Obama and of course, God.”