From baseball star to prison inmate

Blake Russell offers testimony of how poor choices landed him in prison. (WIAT)

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) – Earlier this week U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder outlined a plan to ease the strain on prisons by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences.

The announcement comes as Alabama prepares to implement “Presumptive Sentencing” this October. The idea behind the change is to make sentences fairer across the state so people charged with the same crime do the same time.

It’s also a way to help reduce the states prison population.

17% of those incarcerated last year were there for non-violent drug offences. 6% for drug possession.

It’s one thing to hear about non-violent drug offenders or to see a statistic in an annual report. It’s quite another to sit and listen to the testimony of someone who’s been convicted and is serving time.

As we learn from the story of Blake Russell… it is possible to be a good person who made a bad choice.

“I was raised in a home where drugs… Prison… The idea of the last 10 or 15 years wasn’t even in the vocabulary of our conversations.”

Blake Russell is serving a 15 year prison sentence. Earlier this year he offered testimony before the Alabama Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force in hopes of helping them prevent other kids from repeating his mistakes.

“I was told everything you could have been told about drug abuse and the effects of it. I had no excuse.”

Russell says he fell into drugs as part of peer pressure and the party scene.

His decision cost him a Division I baseball scholarship. It also placed a strain on his family.

But his sister Leah says the family is healing and they are proud to see Russell working to share his story.

“I’m just hoping other people will se that video and maybe he can stop a young teenager…  maybe stop that child from making a bad decision.”

Under the new proposed guidelines Russell would not have been eligible for rehab or alternative sentencing. And his family says that’s too bad because when he is released he will not be judged for his crime but his prison time.

Leah explains, “He’s going to be judged… It’s going to be harder for him to find a job… It’s going to be harder for him to do normal things that you and I would call normal as far as going to work everyday… Or getting a car or getting a license back because he has been incarcerated for so long.”

Russell is five years into his 15 year sentence but because he’s been a model inmate he is eligible for parole this November. His family says he plans to start his own youth ministry to try to keep teens from making similar mistakes.

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