Alto Parnell is the eldest of three sons who were raised by a single mother in Clarksville, Tennessee. He dreamed of becoming a movie director or music producer. A romantic, he loves Valentines Day and R&B music like Anita Baker’s “Angel.” Traveling through Africa is one of his greatest goals. However, he may never witness a gorgeous sunrise on that continent: when Alto was 28, he was sentenced to mandatory life without parole for his nonviolent role in a drug conspiracy.

Throughout his youth, particularly in his teens and twenties, he suffered from depression. He started smoking marijuana in order to ease his anxiety and depression. Mental health is a topic that is often stigmatized within the African-American community. Often people don’t seek out therapists or medication that would help because of shame or lack of access.

During his trial, his lawyer insisted that Alto refuse any plea deals. He told Alto the prosecution would not be able to prove their case. Unfortunately, Alto took his lawyer’s advice and was convicted of drug conspiracy to distribute cocaine. When he heard the judge utter his sentence, Alto recalls feeling as if his heart stopped beating. He feared being unable to care for his mother; he feared not being present to teach and guide his four nieces.

Alto finds faith through the care of loved ones; when they visit, he feels restored and fortified. He excels in prison rehabilitation and training programs, completing a stock investing and business management courses among others. He hopes to graduate from his victim impact course in the coming months. He has also worked as a unit orderly, safety clerk and library clerk. If he’s ever released, Alto will be a “productive, law-abiding citizen and will not let drugs come between him and his family ever again.” His passion for self-improvement gives him hope that he will one day be granted clemency or have his sentenced reduced through the courts to utilize the skills he learned in prison to support his mother and be a role model to his nieces.

His new dream is starting a non-profit organization benefiting children and the elderly within his community. He also wishes to one day get married and raise a family. Alto regrets his past mistakes: “I truly and deeply apologize for my actions…I want it to be known that I have mentally changed for the better.” Alto is a dedicated, goal-oriented man with an altruistic heart.

After serving eight years of his life sentence, Alto has been a model prisoner. However, that very life sentence without parole keeps him from being able to positively contribute to society. “You must be the change you want to see in the world. I made that promise to my soul a long time ago and I stand on this belief.”

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