Weldon Angelos was just 24 years old when he was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for three marijuana sales. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of federal prisoners serving decades-long sentences for non-violent crimes, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws created in the 1980s during America’s war on drugs.
“I do think about Angelos,” said Paul Cassell, a now-retired federal judge in the Utah circuit. “I sometimes drive near the prison where he’s held, and I think, ‘Gosh he shouldn’t be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there. … That wasn’t the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it.”