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20 Years Down, 20 More To Go: 'Marijuana Lifer' Edwin Rubis Speaks Out

It’s been a while since the last time we chatted with Edwin Rubis - one of the many Marijuana Lifers that we profiled in our series last year. But unfortunately, not much has changed for him.

He’s had a birthday. He’s made some progress towards getting his bachelor’s degree. He’s got one year less left to serve. But he’s still in prison on a non-violent marijuana charge, and has 20 more years to go.

“I’ve been trying to keep myself busy,” he said during one of two fifteen minute phone calls from FCI Talladega. “I know that maybe one day I may have the opportunity to get out of here, and I never ever want to go back to this place again.”

“After almost 20 years, I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. Not even on my enemies.”

“I told my attorney that I was going to take my own life.”

Rubis started dealing marijuana in his mid 20s. He was battling drug addiction, and ended up in debt to a few guys after he lost some drugs he was transporting. Once he was in debt, it seemed the only way out was to transport even more for them.

And it worked. He repaid his debt, started treatment for his addiction, and was on his way to getting his life back on track. However, one year later, his name came up in an investigation.

He was advised to give up the names of others in the drug trade in order to make things easier, but he didn’t have the information the officers were looking for, so he went to trial for the charge of conspiracy to distribute 1000 kilos or more of marijuana. In May of 1998, he was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

“I basically started to cry, and I became depressed and suicidal,” he said. “I told my attorney that I was going to take my own life and I was put on the second floor of the county jail to be put on suicide watch.”


A prison transformation

In the beginning, Rubis had a hard time adjusting, spending a lot of time doing nothing and feeling sorry for himself. But a few years in, something changed.

“I had to make a decision as to whether I was going to succumb to a depressive state of mind and just say to hell with it, or I was going to try to make something out of it.”

He chose the latter and soon started working towards a college degree, eventually becoming a certified dental assistant. He also got an associate’s degree in religious education and used his spiritual experience to become a lay-leader minister within the prison.

He’s also done about 20 other things, according to his resume. And now, he is working toward a bachelor’s degree, with the hope that he will receive clemency and become a productive member of society.

But that's easier said than done.

Clemency troubles

Rubis first applied for clemency early last year. He thought he was in pretty good shape: he had a clean prison record, could show he was rehabilitated, and had significant outside support in the form of an online petition.

Nevertheless, his request was denied. He’s eligible to apply for clemency again in April, and his friends and family have been working hard to make sure that this one goes through: there’s a new petition, with almost 10,000 signatures, a fundraiser, and letters sent to senators and congresspeople.

There’s also one major hurdle: his family can’t afford to hire legal representation - hence the fundraiser. Despite all that, Rubis is hopeful.

“You can look at my life, my situation, and you can look at everything that I’ve done in prison, and I can claim that I’ve been rehabilitated,” he said.

“People are actually profiting from marijuana”

He may be hopeful, but that doesn’t mean he thinks his situation is fair, especially given the strides that many states have taken towards legalization.

“You can say, ‘this guy committed a crime, he’s got to do the time’, and I do agree with that,” he said, “but at the same time, a life sentence is so unjust to impose on someone, especially for the same product that people are making money off of nowadays.”

“People are actually [legally] profiting from marijuana while we’re sitting here, so it’s kind of discouraging in a way, specifically from my position.”

For now, though, Rubis waits patiently, sending out letter after letter to try to drum up support for his cause. And when he gets out, he hopes to become an advocate for other marijuana lifers who have been left behind.

And of course, stay as far away from prison as humanly possible.


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