Israel Torres

Israel Torres was a first time nonviolent drug offender when he received a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine and marijuana in 1998. He served 17 years before receiving clemency from President Obama on December 17, 2014.

Hearing that sentence, life in prison, it didn’t really hit me at first.

I’m not sure I fully grasped it until 10 years later when I was in the law library sitting with another inmate looking at older guys walking around with canes.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, using and selling drugs was just the cool thing to do and when you’re young you want to be with the in-crowd and you tend to take up their behaviors. You’re wanting the nicer things in life that you can’t afford but see everyone else having.

My judge seemed to disagree with the sentence but stated that because of mandatory minimum sentencing his hands were tied — it’s the law so and he has to go by the books. He went on to say that he hoped other young men would hear my story and realize if they traffic in drugs that this could happen to them too.

The hardest thing about prison was being away from my kids and family.

A life sentence meant I’d never leave so I was always thinking about how my kids were growing up without me in their lives. That hurt me so much. From behind bars, I watched my parents grow old and it’s scary to know that you wouldn’t be there if they passed away.

I was only 21 years old when I received my time so prison impacted our family hard. They had to live life thinking I would never get out. That I would die in prison.

You tend to think of the what if’s and the do’s and don’ts, but it’s all too late. It doesn’t matter anymore because you’re already locked up. I was young when I went to prison, and didn’t realize that life is too precious to have been doing the things I did to be taken away from my family.

We all make mistakes and wrong choices at times.

Some of us will rightly be prosecuted for our wrongs but to receive an excessive sentence like life in prison for a first offense is unjust. I thought often about how other young people would follow in that path.

As time went on, prison changed my outlook on life because as you mature, the reality that you’ll never be going home really sets in.

My relation between my mother and I was, and still is, wonderful. She would come to the prison as often as she could, and would even surprise me at times. Sometimes she would just want to see me and take off without telling anyone. Those days provided light when things seemed so dark.

My mom is my queen, she’s a beautiful woman inside and out. She’s so caring and will do anything for you and give to you to even if she’s left with nothing — as long as you’re happy, she’s happy.

President Obama commuted my life sentence on December 17th, 2014.

It was one of the most amazing days in my life. I knew it was possible and was confident that it would happen for me because one of my co-defendants, Jason Hernandez, received clemency from President Obama one year before I did.

Now that I’ve been given this second chance, I’m focused on being a productive citizen and paving the road for others that are in my situation. My goal is to leave a positive message so that others can receive the same relief I did. There are many people in prison who deserve a second chance.

The hardest part of my life is already done.

There’s nothing hard about being free unless you make it hard on yourself. Work. There’s work everywhere if you just want it. The day I left prison, I was offered a job. Life is good to me.

I want to tell President Obama how thankful I am for him believing in me, giving me this second chance, and bringing me back to my family. You’re an amazing man and I will continue to be that law abiding citizen your letter asks me to be.

I truly hope that in the near future, our current president will take using his clemency power into consideration.

Photos by Brenton Gieser 
Story edited by Jon Perri Twitter

Israel Torres
Share this story
Twitter Facebook