President Trump Grant Executive Clemency for Charles "Duke" Tanner

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     On July 29th 2003, Charles 'Duke' Tanner was a promising young boxer taking part in his first nationally televised fight. Anyone watching the bout could feel his pride in seizing an opportunity for which he had worked so hard for so long. Less than one year later Duke was arrested while attempting to purchase cocaine from a co-operating federal informant. In that moment he lost his pride as an athlete, his joy at being a new father and his dignity as a free man. Over the past 14 years as a federal inmate, Duke has had to work even harder to earn his chance to return to his community and to step back into the ring. Duke is worthy of clemency.

            Duke was given two life sentences for a federal drug conspiracy when he was 24. Despite being a first-time offender for a non-violent crime, his refusal to testify against others landed Duke the harshest possible sentence. When he entered USP Terre Haute he was an angry man, surrounded by dark and dangerous criminals, waking up each morning knowing that society fully expected him to die in prison. Though diligent in the gym, Duke had taken shortcuts on the street and was now painfully aware of the consequences of his poor decisions. Many men would simply lose hope. But though he had been punished beyond all reason, Duke chose to survive by learning new skills and to find ways to be productive inside. Duke has never given up hope.

            As a boxer, Duke had spent countless hours learning how to channel and control his anger. Now he had to teach himself how to use those same skills to focus his mind and spirit. First he set out to prove himself a trustworthy inmate, evidenced by his promotion inside to the coveted position of 'Inmate Clerk' handling administrative matters for prison staff. Next, Duke made it a goal to take every program available to him, completing over 1160 hours to date. At the same time he had to learn how to avoid the rivalries and jealousies that had led to his offense and which could have landed him in trouble with other inmates. Ironically, the boxer with a 19 and 0 record has never been in a fight inside and continues to maintain a nearly spotless disciplinary record - a rarity for a man with 14 years under his belt. Duke takes pride in his record and the character that it shows.

            Personal growth in prison is hard. After 6 years inside, Duke was allowed to participate in the 'Life Connections' program, an intensive faith-based course that requires rigorous personal and moral accountability. Conceived by President Bush in 2006, 'Life Connections' has shown remarkable success in reducing recidivism. Having been recommended by his supervisors and the Warden at Terre Haute, Duke spent 18 months learning ethical and spiritual reasoning to stay law abiding and productive. He learned not just how to respect himself again, but how he could help others to channel their anger and shame into activities that rebuilt hope. Sadly, programming options in federal prisons are severely limited making it harder for inmates to successfully re-enter society. With his unique insight and experience, Duke is currently working on initiatives to improve programming and develop new options for inmates to learn skills that will continue to foster hope and help with re-entry. 

            In 2016, Duke's sentence was commuted to 30 years through the retroactive implementation of the 'Drug -2' law of 2014 and Duke's corresponding eligibility through his good conduct and proven record of positive engagement with the prison community. For the first time in 12 years, Duke woke up with a release date, no matter how distant. Duke's good standing with the BOP allowed him to transfer to a Low Security prison in Pennsylvania where every day he sees more angry young men like his younger self arrive. Now he serves as the mentor he needed 14 years ago. Duke is well known on the compound for promoting peace and harmony among the often diverse inmates of LSCI Allenwood. Nothing gives him greater pride than feeling that he is helping inmates, long term and short timers alike, to begin the process of turning their lives around. You can hear a first hand account of Duke's mentorship here (can we hyperlink to the 'Clemency for Charles Duke Tanner' YouTube video here?).

            As of July, Duke still has another 12 years on his sentence. His son was 2 years old when Duke was sentenced - now Charles Jr. is nearly a senior in High School. The crime Duke committed when he was little older than his son has robbed them both of years and bonds that they can never get back. But Duke continues to apply his focus and spirit to being the best father he can be, enrolling in the 'Inside Out Dads' program and demonstrating truly exceptional dedication by the program management's own account (link to the profile on Ministries website). Duke refuses to just be some vague figure of shame at the other end of a telephone. He knows he has already missed too many opportunities to be there for his family, including the deaths of both parents while incarcerated.

            Duke is in the process of putting himself forward as a candidate for Presidential Clemency (is this what it's called??). While many men and women have been treated harshly by America's War on Drugs, few have worked as hard every day to earn back their freedom and to return to their family and their community. Both the current and former Mayors in Duke's hometown of Gary, Indiana are examples of the many community supporters that Duke's efforts have earned him (If we can - link to the letter written by Karen Freeman here). The fighter in Duke is not dead. He is asking for the opportunity to take what he has learned in prison back home, where he can teach other young men to focus their anger and energy into personal and spiritual growth. He hopes to train young boxers and return to the ring while he is still young enough to lace up his gloves.

             Fourteen years inside will change any man, and is more than enough punishment for Duke's crime. He has proven repeatedly and against the odds that he has earned the right to return to his community now - not when he is an old man. Please sign our petition to help raise awareness and demonstrate support for Duke's candidacy. Let's help this fighter finally get up off the mat.



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