Born on the North Side of Chicago but raised on the South Side, Euka Wadlington has worked many a job since early adolescence: window and bike repair, deli delivery, DJ’ing, running a car wash, construction, to name just a few. In 1998 he found himself managing a nightclub catering to a mostly black clientele in Clinton, Iowa. According to Wadlington, both he and the club were from the start made to feel unwelcome by local law enforcement — a random raid that turned up nothing, a traffic stop without a citation. A police informant working with federal prosecutors badgered Wadlington for months into taking part in a drug conspiracy. He finally relented.
At his trial, Wadlington (who had declined the authorities’ offer to help set up others in exchange for leniency) was made out to be the longtime corrupter of Clinton despite the absence of drugs in his car, home or business or any trace of unexplained wealth. (Wadlington’s story is recast in Ethan Brown’s "Snitch," a book with a wide readership in America’s prisons.) Thanks to federal mandatory minimums, Wadlington was given two life sentences with zero chance of parole. No other wealthy, democratic country in the world condemns people to life without parole for nonviolent crimes, and fewer and fewer countries impose the penalty even for violent offenses. Wadlington has already served 15 years.
I met Wadlington through my wife, who last year wrote a blockbuster ACLU report on the over 3,200 Americans who are doing life without parole for nonviolent offenses. Thanks to federal mandatory minimums for drug crimes, judges have no discretion in setting a sentence, even for first-time offenders peripheral to the transaction. Due to many states’ repeat offender laws, there are people in our country doing life for stealing tools from a shed or shoplifting three belts from a department store.
In prison, Wadlington has gotten into behavioral psychology, a specialist language he now speaks and writes with great fluency. At the federal prison in Greenville, he runs a lifestyle-intervention course that is immensely popular with the inmates — you can read the testimonials yourself. He is eager to put his new skills to use on the South Side of Chicago or, really, anywhere outside of FCI (Federal Correctional Institution) Greenville, by steering young men beguiled by dreams of the gangster lifestyle toward education and marketable skills.