30 Years is TOO Long ~ Free Bill Underwood
30 Years is TOO Long ~ Free Bill Underwood
Why this petition matters
It's been over 30 years since William (Bill) Underwood was sentenced to LIFE in prison without the possibility of parole, his first and only felony, under mandatory minimum sentencing as a drug offender. An aging 67-year old model prisoner, father and grandfather, his children and grandchildren are advocating for his FREEDOM. SIGN this PETITION to support their efforts.
By Ebony Underwood ~ Daughter of William Underwood:
My Dad's name is William Underwood. He is a devoted father of four, grandfather of three and a former music industry executive who promoted, managed and jumpstarted the careers of top R&B and pop stars of the 80s and 90s.
But he wasn't perfect and made mistakes by selling drugs before his music career. What originally was a way out of poverty when he was a teenager, and for so many others, eventually became a one-way ticket to prison. Prosecutors, hoping to get a lengthy sentence during the 1980's War on Drugs era, pegged him as the leader of a drug conspiracy and Dad was held fully responsible at sentencing. Prior to his arrest, he had never been convicted of a felony.
Although he once was a part of the negativities of drug street life culture, Dad had moved beyond that lifestyle and positioned himself legitimately in the music industry as a highly regarded manager, publisher and advisor who was in constant demand by recording artists, record labels, and Hollywood actors requesting his expertise. Indeed, his involvement in criminal activity had ended years before his arrest, as evidenced by the fact that the FBI closed an investigation of him in 1986 “due to lack of activity’. However, 2 years later, in 1988, he was arrested and charged with a continuing leadership role in a narcotics conspiracy, despite being engaged in a full-time career in the music industry.
Sentenced in 1990, as part of the first round of drug convictions made under the newly enacted federal Sentencing Guidelines of 1987 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, my Dad received (3) mandatory minimum sentences of 20 years on drug conspiracy charges, plus a 4th charge -- a life sentence without the possibility of parole. These four charges comprise my father's first and only felony conviction. The life without parole sentence was the result of a decision, not made by his jury at trial, but rather by his judge binded by the mandatory Sentencing Guidelines, at his sentencing hearing.
As of 2008, my Dad has already completed serving the concurrent 20-year sentences on Counts 1, 2 & 3. He now seeks commutation of the life without parole sentence of Count 4, a totally non-violent offense.
Despite being incarcerated for 3 decades, my Dad has never received any infractions while in prison and has a pristine institutional record. He has no substance abuse issues and is long and far removed from the negative influences that plagued his younger years. Any ties he may have once had to any type of criminal activity is buried in the distant past. Now, instead of influencing promising young artists in the music industry, he mentors imprisoned young men about making better choices in their lives.
Fatherhood is at the center of his existence, as Dad's love for his children has never faltered throughout the over 30 years of his incarceration. He calls my siblings and I almost everyday, consistently sends birthday and holiday cards and now emails, but more importantly he has developed an incredibly loving relationship with his grandchildren despite never once meeting them outside of prison walls.
At 67-years old my Dad is a changed man, who has accepted responsibility for actions that led to his incarceration. He deeply regrets the negative impact the behavior in his prior life has had and yearns for the opportunity to reunite with his children and family. He poses absolutely no threat to society and he has the family and community support systems necessary to make his transition from imprisonment to outside society smooth.
However, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole has meant that -- no matter how long my Father lives, no matter how much my Father's life has changed, no matter what steps my Father has taken to better himself, no matter how much his family yearns for his return, no matter how many laws have changed -- he can never, ever, leave prison alive.
Today, the laws that were used against him have all been overturned but, unfortunately, because the laws have not been made retroactive, he remains trapped behind prison walls. A life without parole sentence, devoid of hope and compassion, is inhumane and akin to a living death. Thirty years away from his family has been punishment enough.