Shawn J. Crew’s favorite color is sky blue. A country boy at heart, he loves four wheeling, fast cars, campfires and fishing, and craves a grilled rib-eye and crab legs. His favorite day of 2017 was April 8th, when his beloved parents drive 18 hours each way so that Shawn’s son can celebrate his birthday with his father.

To change for the better takes a certain power of will, and that’s something Shawn says he’s accomplished behind bars. “I truly believe people change,” he says. “I am one of them. Since I have been locked up, I have remained sober.” And no, that’s not because there are no drugs in jail — because you better believe there are drugs in there, Shawn says — but because he’s had the will to get help, the will to change.

The 35-year-old father of two is serving a life without parole sentence in a federal prison in Pennsylvania. Shawn is a nonviolent drug offender, locked up for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, after he got caught helping to cook meth to maintain his own habit.  His sons are only 9 and 10 years old, and his parents are elderly; he’s now been in prison for almost seven years.

Shawn came out of a great family. He grew up in a small town called Bellevue, just outside Peoria, Illinois. Life came at him fast. By the time he was 13, Shawn started smoking cannabis and stealing drugs from his older brother and sister. But things really went downhill around when he turned 16: He lost two of his best friends, one to a motorcycle accident, the other to suicide. When a friend figured out how to manufacture meth, Shawn soon found himself in the throes of a fast addiction. It became hard for him to hold down a job and get by through everyday life. He tried rehab programs again and again, but continued to relapse.

Learning to manufacture meth was the worst idea Shawn ever had, he says in retrospect. It was a short lived stint, but with a lifetime of repercussions. “I lost everything, my kids, my family, my life,” he says. “Just like that my world changed.”

Since he’s been in jail, Shawn has been sober and trouble-free —but with a life sentence, there are no second chances for good behavior. He sees his family once a year. He worries about being away from home, about his sons growing up without their father’s love and guidance, his parents getting older without his support.


“When I call home, what hurts the most is when my boys ask me, ‘Dad, when you coming home? We miss you,'” Shawn says. “All I can do is tell them ‘hopefully soon’ because the truth hurts too bad.”


If given a hypothetical second chance, he says he would do anything in the world to be back with his family again, to talk to his children about drug abuse, and to give back to the community however possible.

“I have done wrong for the first half of my life. I just want to do right for the last half,” Shawn says. “I just want a normal life like normal people. I don’t have to have a lot of money or a big house. I just want to be with the ones who love me. I don’t want to die in here.”



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