Edwin Rubis should be the Bureau of Prisons’ poster boy for rehabilitation. While incarcerated, he’s overcome drug addiction, completed a bachelor’s degree, earned an associate’s degree in religion, and became a prison minister as well as a certified dental assistant. Not bad for someone who’s been serving a life sentence for a nonviolent cannabis offense.
Unfortunately, none of those gains have done him any good in terms of decreasing the number of years he has to spend behind bars. His clemency requests have been denied, so he’s stuck in prison for another 19 years—all for transporting marijuana as part of an agreement to get out of debt with the dealers he owed.
So Rubis' only hope of getting a second chance might be an unlikely appeal from Kim Kardashian.
"My petition is really not going to do anything now if people don't get involved, speak up and say, 'Hey, this guy is in prison, hey, give this guy another chance,'” Rubis told Civilized over a phone call from FCI Talladega.
"Like what happened with Alice Johnson," he added. "Someone else spoke up for her, a celebrity. Kim Kardashian went to the White House, and she spoke to President Trump, and now she's not in prison anymore. So I guess that's the same thing that needs to happen in my situation, for someone to speak up and say, “Hey, this is enough. He has already served his time, he has already been rehabilitated, there's no need to keep wasting taxpayers’ money to keep him in prison any longer.”
So you need a Kardashian on your side.
Yes! Yes, of course. Yes I do, and not only me, but a lot of us do. I'm not only speaking for myself, you know, I speak for a lot of the guys. I know what they go through and I know there are stories about these guys who have been in prison for 26 to 27 years for marijuana, serving life sentences. I know how they feel, because I’m in the same place.
Does life in prison become more bearable over time?
Things have been very difficult at times, because after 22 years, things have become a little bit distraught. Specifically last Christmas, when I didn't get to see my family, I didn't get to see my mom or my sons, who are grown by now. So things have been very difficult, it was very emotional for me. So yes, you know that all the different things are taking place out there in regards to marijuana legalization and you're still here. This morning, two inmates were discussing how you can buy stocks in Canada for marijuana businesses and stuff, and I’m like, “what?” I try to keep an upbeat attitude most of the time and I try to be optimistic about my situation but at times, it can be very difficult emotionally.
If you were freed tomorrow, what's the first thing you'd do?
Well, the first thing I would do is go see my mom. That'd be the first thing, because she’s my hero, and she's the one who's been in my corner since day one. I'd also visit my family, my sons, and I'd go see all those friends who have been part of my support system. Those would be the first things I'd want to do. The next thing that I'd want to do is go to the beach. I have not seen the ocean in 23 years, something like that.
What's the hardest part about being separated from your family and friends for so long?
It's very hard. One of the things that has been very very difficult for me emotionally has been pretty much for them to not know me anymore. They forget about you in a way, because so many years have gone by, so you tend to forget. So that's kind of hard. With my family circle, there's been cousins, uncles, they know that I’m in prison, but they kind of forget about me, because 22 years is a very long time.
What's one of the biggest misconceptions about prison that you've seen?
On TV shows, they don't really show you the reality: the disconnection from your family, the separation. They show you all the glamour, all the violence, the money and the drugs. They don't really show the emotional disconnect: the children who have been affected by different aspects of drug deals.
Do you feel that your race played a role in your sentencing?
Definitely. I mean, of course, yes. That's something that we all know. I mean, we're living in America. I'm sure there are other countries that are the same way, somewhat, but here everybody knows their race is going to play a vital role in the criminal justice system. I'm a minority, so I'm gonna be looked at differently than if I was a person who was white.
If you could change one thing about your day to day life in prison, what would it be?
I would change the whole rehabilitation process. Because the bureau of prisons offers several programs to try to rehabilitate you, but they're not adequate enough to really make a change in your life. So that's something I'd definitely change, the rehabilitation services that are offered in the BOP.
You have a life sentence. Do you think it's ever fair to sentence someone to life for a non-violent crime?
Of course not, no. If someone were to commit a murder in the federal system, 23 or 24 years is the average that person receives. So when people end up with life or 50 years for distributing drugs, when no violence was involved, I mean, it's something that's out of proportion in the parameters of justice.
So what do you think would be a reasonable punishment, if any, for what you did?
Well, I mean, I know I did wrong. I knew at the time that I was involved in a lot of different illegal endeavours stemming from my drug addiction. So what would be reasonable, not even for me, but for my family, would be five years, you know, maybe maximum 10 years. There were no victims involved, and there was no violence.
You mentioned that there are a lot of people serving time for violent crimes that have shorter sentences. What's a surprising example that you've seen compared to your own situation?
Well, yeah, there's people in here that are serving 10 years, 15 years, for molesting children. You know, there are people in here that are serving 10 years, 12 years, for bank robbery, where they shot up certain people. It's disproportionate in a lot of ways. I see those kinds of instances where they're actually way lower than mine, and when I convey that information, they're actually amazed. They say, “Well, who did you kill?”
What's one thing you wish people on the outside understood about the criminal justice system in America?
There are people in here that have the potential to change. There are people in here that should be given a second opportunity. There are people in here that deserve mercy. There are people in here that have repented of the crimes they have committed and that they want a second chance.