Tony Lewis Sr has been in prison for 32 years, on a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense. That’s 6 presidents, 3 full wars, including both Iraq wars and the war in Afghanistan, which is recognized as the longest war in American history. But really, the longest war in American history has been the war on drugs, a war that has been waged by and large on black people who happen to use, possess, or sell drugs. This war started with Richard Nixon in the 70’s, and since then has made the United States the greatest jailer in the world. Our country has more incarcerated people than China, and, collectively more than Russia, Brazil, and India, a country of 1.3 billion, combined. With black people as its focus, the war on drugs and the resulting mass incarceration has devastated millions of black families. Generation after generation have suffered by the merciless and relentless aim of our carceral state, three generations in fact, grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters severely impacted.
Tony Lewis Sr. has gone from being a 26 year old entering prison for the first time to becoming a grandfather in prison. Miraculously, he helped his family break the sad cycle of generational incarceration by encouraging his son, Tony Lewis Jr., to understand what he was up against and not follow in his footsteps. Mr. Lewis used whatever means he could to love, nurture, and teach his son what it means to be a good man. Tony Lewis Sr. is a good man who happened to grow up in the worst circumstances of extreme poverty and violence. It led to him making certain decisions and today he understands the severity of his decisions and takes full accountability for his actions. His greatest wish is to be released from prison to teach young people in the communities like the one he grew up in that there are opportunities available to them, even if they can’t see them. There is another way than taking the path he took.
Tony Lewis Sr. has spent his entire prison sentence being a model inmate and impacting thousands of young people he came across while also collaborating with his son to impact the community he once harmed. Mr. Lewis has been a part of or spearheaded programs like Young Men’s incorporated, an educational and mentoring program, Christmas toy drives for children of incarcerated inmates, turkey drives for families of incarcerated inmates, anti-violence public service announcements with the D.C. Mayor’s office, and many more informal everyday interactions with young and old inmates that encouraged peace, personal improvement, and accountability. Now, at nearly 60 years old, Mr. Lewis has reached criminal menopause and he no longer poses any kind of threat to public safety. Convicted of being part of a 29-person conspiracy in 1989, of which 27 people have been released and the other person has received a sentence reduction, Mr. Lewis remains the only defendant still serving his original sentence of life without the possibility of parole. It is time for Mr. Lewis to be reunited with his family and not have to watch his grandchildren grow up from prison as he had to do with his son. When released he will certainly be an asset to his son’s movement of inclusion, opportunity, and public safety.