America’s longest serving hashish prisoner is having fun with the primary days of freedom
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – Richard DeLisi’s wife died while serving a 90-year prison sentence for selling marijuana, as did his 23-year-old son and both parents. His adult daughter was in a terrible car accident and suffered a debilitating stroke as a result. He never met two granddaughters – memories missing for a lifetime.
71-year-old DeLisi walked grateful and absent from a Florida prison last week when he hugged his tearful family. After 31 years, he said he was only looking to restore the lost time.
Richard DeLisi, 71, left a Florida prison last Tuesday after serving 31 years on a marijuana conviction. His family was there to greet him. (Last photo of the prisoner project)
DeLisi has been considered the longest serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner in the country, according to The Last Prisoner Project, which campaigned for his release.
DeLisi also met his 11 year old and 1 year old granddaughters for the first time this week.
“I am a blessed person, a survivor,” DeLisi said in a phone interview with The Associated Press when he was in the parking lot of his favorite hamburger joint and saw his granddaughters laughing and bouncing a ball.
A mentor for younger prisoners
DeLisi was sentenced to 90 years imprisonment for marijuana trafficking in 1989 at the age of 40, though the typical prison term was only 12 to 17 years.
He believes he was targeted with the long sentence because the judge mistakenly thought he was part of organized crime because he was an Italian from New York. DeLisi said he had opportunities but never wanted to live this life.
He prefers not to bother with lost memories and the time that he will never get back. He is not angry and instead uses every opportunity to express gratitude and hope.
“The prison changed me. I never really knew who God was and now I do and it has changed the way I talk to and treat people, ”said DeLisi, who became a mentor for younger inmates. “Having been there for so long, I was able to take gang members from gangs to gentlemen.”
We are incredibly proud of this group of wild women who fought tirelessly for Richard’s release and are now working to ensure that Richard and every other cannabis prisoner are completely free and can rebuild their lives.
via @WWAY pic.twitter.com/p0aZ0SJwMM
– The last prisoner project (@lastprisonerprj) December 11, 2020
“The system has to change”
When the then 40-year-old hipster with the heavy Italian accent first went to prison, he was illiterate but taught himself to read and write.
Now he wants to “get the most out of my time” and fight for the release of other inmates through his organization FreeDeLisi.com.
“The system has to change and I will do my best to become an activist,” he said.
$ 330,000 for lawyers and phone calls
Chiara Juster, a former Florida prosecutor who handled the case for The Last Prisoner Project pro bono, criticized DeLisi’s long sentence as “a sick charge against our nation.”
The family has spent over $ 250,000 on legal fees and over $ 80,000 on international long distance calls over the past few decades, but it’s not money they want back.
Rick DeLisi was only 11 years old when he sat in the courtroom saying goodbye to his father. Now he is a successful business owner with a wife and three children who live in Amsterdam. He can’t wait to get his father overseas and to their vacation home in Hawaii.
These are the memories his father longed for when he was imprisoned.
“Swimming, lying in the sun, oh so many things, eating at Jack’s Hamburgers,” said the father.
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A chance to cook breakfast for dad
Every moment, even the little ones, are milestones.
For years, 43-year-old Rick dreamed of cooking his father’s breakfast, like last Wednesday morning, with heaping platters of eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits. He burst into tears when he saw his father eat a bagel and drink a bottle of water that did not come from the prison superintendent.
But it’s bittersweet to think of wasted time.
What for? Asks his son?
“It’s just kind of agony for your soul for 31 years,” he said. “I’ve been robbed all my life so I appreciate being able to witness it, but then again, I feel like someone isn’t responsible? Is there anyone who can answer that? “
The harm to the whole family
Rick DeLisi said his family fell apart after his father’s judgment. His mother never recovered. His brother overdosed and died, his sister was in a terrible car accident. Rick fled to the country when he was 17 to escape the pain.
“I can’t believe they did this to my father. I can’t believe they did this to my family, ”said the grieving son, describing the reunion as the opening of an old, painful wound.
His voice breaks and his eyes are full of tears as he talks about how grateful he is to finally see his father.
“I have a feeling who is responsible for this debt and justice,” said Rick DeLisi. “I don’t mean debt with money. I mean something more valuable. Time. Something you can never get back. “
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