A Florida man who was sentenced to 90 years in prison in 1989 for selling marijuana was released Tuesday morning from the South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach County, the Florida Department of Corrections confirmed.
71-year-old Richard DeLisi is believed to be the longest-serving inmate convicted on cannabis charges.
“I’m a blessed human being, a survivor,” DeLisi said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday while he was in the parking lot of his favorite hamburger joint as he watched his 11-year-old and 1-year-old granddaughters laugh and bounce a ball.
DeLisi’s wife died while he was in prison, as did his 23-year-old son and both his parents – a lifetime of painful memories, CBS reported. His adult daughter was in a horrific car accident and suffered a paralyzing stroke as a result, the report said.
DeLisi was 40 in 1989 when he was sentenced to 90 years. He got long sentence because the judge mistakenly thought he was part of organized crime because he was an Italian from New York, according to the CBS report. He said he had opportunities, but never had any desire for that life.
During his time in prison, DeLisi’s family reportedly spent more than $250,000 on attorneys’ fees and over $80,000 on long-distance international collect calls.
DeLisi prefers to move on instead of dwelling on lost memories and time he’ll never get back. He does not have any hard feeling but is thankful and hopeful.
“Prison changed me”, he said. “I never really knew who God was and now I know and it changed the way I talk to people and treat people,” said DeLisi, who became a mentor to younger inmates. “For me, being there so long, I was able to take gang members from gangs to gentleman.”
He now wants “to make the best of every bit of my time” fighting for the release of other inmates through his organization FreeDeLisi.com.
“The system needs to change and I’m going to try my best to be an activist,” he said.
Chiara Juster, a former Florida prosecutor who handled the case pro bono for the The Last Prisoner Project, criticized DeLisi’s lengthy sentence as “a sick indictment of our nation.”
A bill to decriminalize marijuana at Federal level was passed last week by the House of Representatives, a move they said will “address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs.”