FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — While serving a 90-year prison sentence for selling marijuana, Richard DeLisi’s wife died, as did his 23-year-old son and both his parents. His adult daughter was in a horrific car accident and suffered a paralyzing stroke as a result. He never met two granddaughters — a lifetime of missed memories.
Yet, 71-year-old DeLisi walked out of a Florida prison Tuesday morning grateful and unresentful as he hugged his tearful family. After serving 31 years, he said he’s just eager to restore the lost time. DeLisi was believed to be the longest-serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner, according to The Last Prisoner Project which championed his release.
DeLisi also finally met his 11-year-old and 1-year-old granddaughters for the first time this week.
“I’m a blessed human being, a survivor,” DeLisi said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday while he was in the parking lot of his favorite hamburger joint as he watched his granddaughters laugh and bounce a ball.
DeLisi was sentenced to 90 years for marijuana trafficking in 1989 at the age of 40 even though the typical sentence was only 12 to 17 years. He believes he was targeted with the lengthy sentence because the judge mistakenly thought he was part of organized crime because he was an Italian from New York. DeLisi said he had opportunities, but never had any desire for that life.
He prefers not to dwell on lost memories and time he’ll never get back. He’s not angry, and instead takes every opportunity to express gratitude and hope.
“Prison changed me. I never really knew who God was and now I know and it changed the way I talk to people and treat people,” said DeLisi, who became a mentor to younger inmates. “For me, being there so long, I was able to take gang members from gangs to gentleman.”