By Veda Ajamu

President and Founder, Crack Lifer Project

“Never, never, never give up” — Winston Churchill

Veda Ajamu

Veda Ajamu, president, Crack Lifer Project

I will never, never, never give up on fighting for freedom and justice for my brother, Robert Shipp, as he is serving a dreadful inhumane life sentence for 5 months involvement in a nonviolent crack conspiracy. Robert has been in prison over 21 years now. 

Believe it or not, there are thousands of people serving life sentences for their involvement in nonviolent crack related crimes.

For many, it was a first drug offense. For others, it was a first and only offense. Many were 18 to 25 years old when committing the crack offenses that got them life sentences.

Boys have grown into men and girls have grown into women behind prisons walls in a country that traditionally values second chances. 

On December 17, 2014, President Obama granted Clemency to just eight out of thousands of federal prisoners who deserve immediate release.

Robert Shipp cropped

Robert Shipp, 42, serving life without parole for selling crack at age 20

When I read the list of people that had been granted clemency, Robert’s name was NOT among them.  I yelled “Noooooo,” as if the list could hear me. My heart literally began to ache; tears flowed like a waterfall, burning my eyes. 

While I was crying uncontrollably, other families were rejoicing that their loved ones had been granted clemency.  Though the news brought sadness for me and my family, I am happy for the other families. 

My brother is a man of compassion and still remains optimistic about his chance at freedom….and so do I. 

I am more determined than ever to advocate not only for my brother, but for others like him, almost your, black men serving a racially discriminatory sentence.

I am forming the Crack Lifers Project to create a platform for people serving life sentences for crack crimes and for their families.  We are honorable people who deserve justice and reunited families. I will strive to be a voice for the voiceless and for many who are now hopeless.

Crack lifers come from all walks of life.  Some were poor, some were not.  Some were well educated, some were not.  Some were former business owners, professionals, and hardworking people. Some sold drugs for a living.

None, regardless of their background, deserve life without parole sentences for their offenses.  

My goal is to identify men and women serving life for crack and to share their stories, from their point of view and that of their families — the heartbroken children, spouses, parents and siblings.  

Read how Sharanda Jones got 200,000+ signatures

No. 2 Sharanda Jones and her daughter

Crack lifers need to be seen as human beings, not case numbers or inmate registration numbers. 

I have created the “Top 10 Crack Lifers List” to show you some of the many good people deserving freedom and justice.

My brother Robert is No. 1 on the list. I know the heartbreak that shatters a family when a loved one receives an unjust life without parole sentence for a non-violent drug offense.

I encourage other families to share their stories with me. It’s time for this injustice to end and for our loved ones to come home.

 The 10 Most Outrageous Crack Sentences

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