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April 4, 2009 -- Crack The Disparity (US)

Now That He's Released, Garrison's First Priority is Reform

By Zerline Hughes

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


Lawrence Garrison is home.

After spending more than 10 years of a 15-year crack cocaine sentence in prison, Garrison is rebuilding his life in his hometown of Washington, DC. Despite being released from prison a few years early as a result of the United States Sentencing Commission's retroactive guideline amendment implemented last year, Garrison isn't yet at peace. His twin brother, Lamont, is still incarcerated -- and has about nine more years to go.

"It didn't hit me until I went to the bus station that I was released -- unsupervised," recalled Garrison. "The only thing I could think about was my twin. He was supposed to be with me. We walked in together; we should have walked out together."

The brothers -- who continue to maintain their innocence -- were separately convicted of conspiracy to distribute powder and crack cocaine just a few months after having graduated from Howard University. They were charged with conspiracy as part of a 20-person powder and crack cocaine operation, implicated by a target of the investigation, the owner of a Maryland auto body shop who received a reduced 36-month prison sentence in exchange for information.

Although no drugs, paraphernalia or drug money were found in the Garrison's home, or on their person, they were subject to the harsh, mandatory minimum sentence that crack cocaine offenses deliver.

For the first time, the Garrison twins were separated in 1998 -- by unfair, draconian sentencing. Lawrence served his sentence in Elkton, Ohio, while his brother remains at a prison in Manchester, Kentucky.

Lawrence Garrison returned to Washington in January and resides with his mother and great uncle. He clearly remembers his first family meal upon returning: a salad, with broccoli, cheese, ranch dressing, and a slice of cheesecake which he shared with his grandmother and mother, Karen Garrison, who also is an active advocate for sentencing reform and works for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

He's currently living with his mother in the home he and his brother were raised in together, which keeps him motivated to continue to advocate on behalf of his brother and others like him.

"We're contemplating a commutation for my brother," said Garrison who celebrates his 36th birthday this month. "I've been on the Hill a couple of times. Everywhere I speak, every organization I speak to, I advocate for my brother. The same way my mom has for the last 10 1/2 years."

Garrison is grateful to be able to speak to his twin on the phone -- a luxury he was not permitted while incarcerated. He also appreciates what he calls "those little things," like being treated with respect and "not hearing keys jingle and doors being locked behind me."

Garrison is already at work. In addition to having garnered employment with a community development organization, he's already been advocating for change and participated in a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill. He will also be participating in this month's Crack the Disparity Advocacy Month Lobby Day on April 28.

"I notice a lot of people drop the ball. I can't drop the ball because my brother is still in, and others are still in," he said. "The sentences are way, way out of bounds. We're still a long way off from the goals we're supposed to achieve. I'm looking forward to Lobby Day. I'll be there."

Zerline Hughes is the communications associate for The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. She can be contacted at

Also visit our "Crack/Powder Cocaine" section.

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