How a middle class kid with promise, intelligence, and opportunity becomes a career criminal.

I was a good innocent kid, born in Connecticut, articulate and excellent in academics. I enjoyed playing outside and grew up in the church. I didn’t think that bad things could happen to good people. That naïveté was a double edge sword. I trusted people too early.

When I was a child, my family relocated to Richmond, Virginia, a predominantly black Southern city. All of the sudden, I was the outsider, ridiculed for my articulate northern accent. My grades began to fall as I tried to fit in. Being accepted meant that I had to accept “their” ways.

I had working class parents. My mother was a teacher and my father worked in sales. But many of the people I saw in my new community were hustlers and dealers. That was normal behavior. And growing up in that community, in the 1980s, I began to sympathize with them.

From ages 16 to 18, I worked at McDonalds and got paid minimum wage. But if I hung out with the boys and played middle-man in the drug deals, I would make an extra $100 or so. Drug money comes in large lump sums; but after you take losses and pay your boss you actually haven’t made much.

One particular day, when I was making one of these middleman transactions, a black man robbed a convenient store. I fit the description of the guy and was pulled over. I had six grams of powder cocaine on me, so I got 3 years in prison.

During those 3 year stint in prison, I was ridiculed for not being a true street kid, drug dealer, or criminal. I was even stabbed in the ventricle of my heart and nearly lost my life.

After that happened, I focused on becoming a hard criminal. By the time I was released at age 21, I had become a full fledged convict with the battle scars to prove it. I immediately went to the street to sell drugs. Nine months later, I was caught with 199 grams of powder cocaine. This time, I did 10 years.

It was during that decade that I started to reflect on my life… how had I ended up here, in such a dismal place? I had potential talent and opportunity but I was wasting it. I decided that wasting my talent was the greatest sin. I was determined not to sin anymore.

I worked on an associates degree in business management, obtained two trades — plumbing and commercial foods — and I majored in Religion. I also became an athletic trainer. I rehabilitated myself and corrected my train of thought.

My wife and I on our wedding day

At 32 years old, I was released and ready for life as a productive citizen. I became a truck driver, attended church every Sunday, and got married to my wife. I started out making $26,000 a year (more money than I was making selling drugs), which was fine because of the support I had from my parents and my wife.

I would occasionally stop through the hood to say hi to the old crew — but that was a big mistake. An old friend of mine named Rodney, an addict, was working with police to get his charges reduced.

It was a bust-buy. Mr. Quinones (a snitch) was working off some distribution charges and told Rodney he had an unlimited amount of cocaine he was willing to give to him. Rodney bit — hook, line, and sinker. Only he needed money several thousand to make the deal.

I had just gotten $5,000 of insurance money from a car accident. He assured me that if I loaned him the money, he would pay me back with interest and fix my wife’s credit for free. Greed made me agree to this deal.

I took Rodney to meet Quinones. And they got busted. I was sitting in my car and was arrested. Rodney was coerced, pled guilty, and placed the blame on me. I went to trial because I wasn’t directly involved in the crime. Rodney was coerced by the prosecutor to admit his guilt and implicate me. The first trial was a hung jury; in the 2nd trial, I was convicted and received a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years to life. If you can believe it, I was given the low end — 30 years. And I was 36 years old at the time. I was married with a daughter and a son on the way. I had been working the same stable job for three years.

I’ve been here in federal prison for 11 years, and I have about 16 years left. Rodney got 41 months for his testimony against me and has been free for about 8 years.

Now, I am now soon to be 47. None of the new laws or amendments have applied to me because I didn’t have crack or a gun. I was mislabeled as a career offender because I had two prior powder cocaine convictions. As of now, I won’t get out until the end of 2031. I’ll be 63.

The only thing that gives my wife, son, daughter and I hope is clemency. I am praying to be released by the 2014 Clemency Project. My wife and kids need me in their lives. When I get out, I want to be a personal trainer and work with at risk youth to teach them the dangers of drugs and gangs.

This past stint has been incredibly hard because I don’t think I should’ve been convicted. I was just sitting in a car at the wrong time.

Thank you so much for giving me an outlet to tell my story and for listening to me.

Note from Medium’s editors: We’ve been emailing with Michael Wallace in federal prison, where he wrote these words, which we’ve cut and paste onto the platform and edited lightly for clarity.