Hip-hop legend and cannabis industry mogul Jay-Z is fighting to help a man who has served over a decade in federal prison for weed.
In 2007, Valon Vailes was found guilty of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute over one ton of weed over the course of five years. A federal judge sentenced him to 20 years in federal prison for this crime, plus an additional 10 years of supervised release. After exhausting his options to appeal or reduce his sentence, Vailes wrote an emotional letter to Jay-Z, asking for support in his attempt to return to his family.
“This correspondence is a plea to ask for your help with the intent to campaign for my clemency,” he wrote, according to Page Six. “13 and a half years is a long time to be still incarcerated over a substance that has become the ultimate green rush… It is a bittersweet reality that I am a casualty and a commodity of this system filled with injustice.”
Vailes explained that he has four children and a mentally ill brother to take care of, a prospect that has been made more difficult by the recent passing of his grandmother, mother, nephew, and best friend. “A lot has changed in my life, but most importantly, I have a newfound view of society,'' he wrote. “Therefore, I pledge to my family, my children, and myself that my incarceration would not be in vain.”
Moved by the letter, Jay-Z had his lawyer, Alex Spiro, file a petition on Vailes' behalf in August. In the petition, Spiro argued that Vailes had been “a model inmate,” having completed drug treatment and other coursework while in prison. The motion further argued that the man's family desperately needed his support, and that he presented no recidivism risk.
The request was quickly dismissed by a federal judge, who incorrectly noted in his ruling that Vailes was representing himself in the case. The ruling also noted that the inmate was vaccinated, and therefore ineligible to be released over COVID concerns. The original motion did not request a COVID-related release, though, and Vailes was being represented by a leading celebrity attorney, not bringing the case on his own behalf.
“It is clear that this court does not even take the time to read the pleadings of the accused and forgotten,” an anonymous source told Page Six. “It shouldn’t take Jay-Z and Monogram to hold them accountable.”
Spiro has now filed a second motion asking the court to release Vailes on a sentence of time served. The new ruling asserts that the 55-year-old inmate is not a danger to the community, and is currently the sole available caretaker for his brother. The petition further notes that if Vailes were arrested for the same crime today, he would have received a shorter sentence.
Other celebrities have also joined the fight to bring justice to tens of thousands of people who are serving time for weed. Last month, Drake, Meek Mill, Al Harrington, Kevin Garnett, and over 100 other musicians, athletes, and politicians wrote a letter to President Biden asking him to use his presidential powers to pardon all nonviolent federal weed offenders.
The Biden administration has already announced plans to grant clemency to around 1,000 federal drug prisoners, but this is only a drop in the bucket. According to the Last Prisoner Project, an advocacy group working to find clemency for cannabis convicts, as many as 40,000 Americans are currently serving time for minor pot crimes.