Terence Byrd lives for the feeling of sun on his skin. He likes black ink, not blue, and enjoys a well-done steak. But his favorite food by far is curry goat and rice — the spicier the better. He loves reggae music, butter pecan ice-cream, and the Miami Heat, and in friendship values loyalty and honesty over all else.
Terence’s favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, when families travel near and far just to gather together around a table crowded with gratitude and love, not to mention deep fried turkey! Given the opportunity, a younger Terence might have chosen a night out on the town, but after 23 years all he wants is a night in — a thousand nights in — with his brothers, sisters, grandmother, mother, father, and son.
Family is everything to Terence. In prison, he counsels younger men to always keep their families in their hearts and minds: they do the time, too, and it takes a tremendous toll. The beacon of his own life was his grandmother, Ms. Mattie Taylor, a strong and loving woman who brought out the best in anyone she encountered. Whenever Terence feels like giving up or giving in, he thinks of his grandmother. He thinks of all his family — each one so deeply affected by his sentence. Each one serving life.
The hardest thing, he says, is the pain in his loved one’s eyes during visits. Not everyone can bear to make the trip. Though his mother lives less than two hours away, Terence has not seen her for eleven years.
On the phone, she tells him she’s waiting for him to get free so that she might finally hold him in her arms.
Terence hopes that day will come soon. On February 7, 1995, at the age of twenty-six, he was convicted of possession and intent to sell less than a single kilo of crack cocaine —about enough to fill a small sandwich bag. His sentence? Life in Prison Without Parole.
At his hearing, Terence’s judge bemoaned the inequity of laws that penalized crack one hundred times harsher than powder cocaine. “It’s very difficult for me to find a rational basis that allows one to be a hundred times the punishment of the other in effect.” He said, “But that is…Congress refuses to change that.”
“If the Senate and the House ultimately agree to some sort of change that could be retroactive I would consider that for… I find the punishment too harsh under the circumstances, but I am bound by law.”
In 2010, under President Obama’s administration, the disparity in sentencing did change. But due to two prior state possession charges, the first when he was just seventeen years old, the government deemed Terence a ‘Career Offender’. Retroactive application of the new law did not apply.
Terence wishes to show to the world that we shouldn’t be so fast to condemn people, to give up on them. People can learn from their mistakes, he says. Now forty-eight, Terence has been locked behind bars for nearly half of his life for a non-violent crime. It’s time for him to come home.