Chris Young’s favorite color is emerald green, which makes perfect sense since he’s a Gemini. He loves roller coasters and good energy and has at least three books going at all times. At the moment it’s Manuel Lima’s Visual Complexity, 2-Pac’s A Rose That Grew From Concrete and Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity— a combo that speaks to the many sides of his personality. A romantic at heart, Chris loves to smile.
As a kid, Chris used to pretend he was Indiana Jones. He’s fascinated by archeology, and can’t wait to travel to Egypt, to see the pyramids in real life. He enjoys all holidays, which represent the family he’s always yearned for. In prison, he’s kept busy as a GED tutor and a law clerk. He studies in his free time and is obsessed with tech and its latest trends – even teaching himself how to code – without a computer!
Chris was arrested on this case at 22. A few months after his arrest, he rejected a 14-year plea deal, insisting on his constitutional right to go to trial. By the time his federal drug conspiracy case came before Judge Sharp in a Nashville, Tennessee courtroom, he had already spent three years in the county jail awaiting trial, then another year passed before sentencing.
He prepared and memorized a twenty five page speech for his sentencing that Judge Sharp remembers to this day. In it, Chris spoke of Nero, Van Gough, Cromwell, Descartes. He shared stories from his childhood, rife with poverty and trauma: constant pain from sickle cell anemia, kerosene and candles the only heat through frigid Tennessee winters, weekly baths at the neighbors when the water got turned off, his mother’s crack addiction and abuse at the hands of her boyfriend. He described how, at 18, he discovered his 22-year old brother’s body after he committed suicide. He recounted the extreme lack of financial resources and social pressures that led to selling drugs at a young age and his goals and dreams if given the chance.
But under federal drug laws, none of it mattered. The law mandated an automatic life without parole sentence for Chris because of two drug priors dating from when he was a teenager, the first when he was 18 for under 7 grams of marijuana and cocaine – the second when he was 19 for less than .5 grams of crack – total weight combined for both offenses equal less than three pennies.
At sentencing, Judge Sharp said the imposition of a life sentence was “way out of whack” with what Chris’ co-conspirators had received. The judge said, “Each defendant is supposed to be treated as an individual. I don’t think that’s happening here.”
Inflexible federal drug laws left him no choice. Against Judge Sharp’s will, he sentenced Chris, 26 at the time, to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Despite facing a reality that would be unbearable for many, Chris, now 30, stays positive in prison by reading as much as he can, studying and dreaming big. He is inspired by Ben Horowitz, has read his book twice and agrees with him that rap canons contain the best business advice ever. He is also inspired by Elon Musk, with whom he shares a love for tech and aspirations to visit and colonize Mars.
Chris’s ultimate dream is the “literal reconstruction of the urban areas/hoods of the world. I want to have them entirely cleaned up and refurbished. Then we need the residents of those areas trained in technology, in new areas of knowledge and wealth, in financial literacy. I agree with Nelson Mandela, that ‘poverty is man-made’. We made it, and we can eliminate it!”
Striving daily for personal growth and development, Chris plans and prepares as if he is going home tomorrow. He says, “if I don’t BELIEVE I will be free one day, then I will never be free.”
A life sentence, assuring Chris will die in federal prison for his low-level role in a drug case is too heavy a burden. He does not deserve to die in prison.
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