How Christopher Young’s 14-Year Plea Deal for Drug Crimes Turned Into Life in Prison

By Taylor Dolven and Daniela Porat |
October 4, 2015 | 6:05 am

christopher-young incarcarationChristopher Young always practiced his speech in the shower. He would speak quickly, far more quickly than in casual conversation, but not because he was nervous. He would do it because he had to — other inmates were waiting for the shower.

Young had been locked up in Kentucky’s Warren County Jail for four years. After he and 27 other men were arrested in 2010 as part of a drug conspiracy in his hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee, most of the others took plea deals and began serving out their sentences. Young, believing that the length of the sentence in the plea deal offered to him was unreasonably long, chose to go to trial.

While locked up, Young studied encyclopedias at the jail library, hoping, he says, to better himself while behind bars. The notes he took as he pored over the books formed the basis of his speech, which he was preparing to give at his sentencing hearing. He wanted to contrast the amazing achievements made by people throughout US history with his own lost potential, and compare the experiences of accomplished black Americans with his own experience of falling into drug dealing.

On September 28, 2014, Young was led into the courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit. As he entered, he locked eyes with Sunny Koshy, the assistant US district attorney who had prosecuted his case. Koshy’s eyes, Young says, never left him.

After a few minutes of courtroom formalities, Chief United States District Court Judge Kevin H. Sharp asked Young if he wished to say anything to the court. It was the moment for which the 27-year-old Young had been preparing. He approached the podium to speak — but not to proclaim his innocence or ask for leniency.

Christopher Young knew he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.

* * *

A jury had previously found Young guilty of three felonies in 2013. For the next year, he sat in jail waiting to be officially sentenced, though there was little doubt what his punishment was going to be thanks to decades-old federal sentencing laws that mandate certain punishments for drug-related crimes.

As the 1990s began, a period of steadily rising crime in the United States was reaching its zenith. Media reports blamed it in large part on a so-called crack epidemic in the country that was fueling violent crime. Politicians took notice, and the US Congress responded by creating mandatory punishments for drug crimes based on two factors: the kind and amount of drugs involved. The laws effectively stripped federal judges of their ability to consider things like the extent of the person’s involvement in a crime or the person’s character when sentencing drug offenders.

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