After more than 25 years in prison, Michael Thompson is “the longest-serving nonviolent offender in Michigan.”
MUSKEGON, MI — As President Donald Trump continues to repeat “law and order” rhetoric, thousands of men and women languish in jails and prisons for crimes that are no longer recognized as such under the law.
Michael Thompson is one those men. When he was 43 years old, Thompson was caught with guns and enough marijuana to be convicted with the intent to distribute the drugs, despite the guns having no affiliation with marijuana possession and distribution.
He was sentenced to up to 60 years in prison for dealing marijuana in 1996. Today, a similar charge would carry a 15-year sentence for cannabis alone, despite Michigan legalizing the Schedule 1 controlled substance. Additional time would still be added for a weapons charge in 2020.
Now 68, Thompson is asking for his freedom, with the support of local activists and an online campaign.
A Lifetime Lost
During Thompson’s more than 25 years in Jackson County’s correction center, deceptively named the Charles Egeler Reception & Guidance Center, his mother and only son passed away.
“I’ve lost a lot,” he told the Detroit Free Press via a recorded phone interview. “I’ve lost my only son. He was my best friend. And I loved him. My favorite nephew. I lost my mother and my father. All these losses for what? I’m in here and I didn’t kill anyone,” he said.
In 2018, Thompson was denied clemency by then-Gov. Rick Snyder (R).
“I can’t die in here,” Thompson said in a phone interview from Muskegon Correctional Facility just as the coronavirus was beginning to ravage the United States. “For what? Some marijuana and some guns in a locked closet?”
“They stacked the gun charges on top of the marijuana charge as if they were used in the sale of weed and in fact it wasn’t,” Thompson’s attorney Kim Corral told WNEM-TV.
Investigators alleged that Thompson sold three pounds of marijuana to an undercover informant in Michigan, where the plant is now legal for both medicinal and recreational use.
“Michael’s house had no drugs, no drug money, but it had a number of guns,” Corral said in February. “A lot of them were antique guns in a locked closet.”
The Flint native was not supposed to own any weapons because of prior nonviolent drug crimes. Thanks to Michigan’s Habitual Offender Law, Thompson’s former drug convictions upped his maximum sentence to 60 years.
Judge Judith Fullerton set the minimum at 40 years.
Since his incarceration, the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged Michigan’s incarcerated populations, not discriminating between inmates and employees. Many imprisoned in Michigan have been released to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the close quarters.
Thompson’s release has not been considered worthy of meeting the ambiguous criteria for medically vulnerable inmates, despite Thompson’s Type 2 diabetes.
David Leyton, Genesee County Prosecutor, told WNEM-TV earlier this year that he is willing to work with Thompson’s attorneys to see what can be done for Thompson’s case.
“Forty to 60 years is a harsh sentence even in a second-degree murder case,” Leyton said.
A movement called “Free Michael Thompson,” powered by The Action PAC, is gaining traction with Michiganders. It includes a website dedicated to making calls and sending emails and letters to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for his release.
Corral attended a preliminary hearing with the parole board with her client last month and said “it went well.”
“Michael is doing well,” she told The ‘Gander. “We’re waiting on the deadline to schedule a public hearing.”
According to Corral, Thompson is the “longest serving non-violent offender in Michigan.”