WINCHESTER — Alessandrew Rashaun Williams is grateful he received the seven-month minimum in his sentencing guideline recommendations after being convicted in August of marijuana distribution and possession of hashish oil charges involving less than two pounds of pot.
Williams avoided getting the maximum 16-month recommendation and the one-year midpoint. Still, the idea of being jailed for a nonviolent crime involving a drug that is legal for recreational use in 11 states and the District of Columbia bothers him. And the 23-year-old Williams knows his punishment won’t end after his scheduled release in February.
As a convicted felon now, Williams loses his gun and voting rights. Having a criminal record means it’ll be hard for him to find a job and it could mean he’s ineligible for college loans.
“My whole life got flipped upside down because of one little mistake,” Andrews said as he sat in a meeting room at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center. “I feel it’s just not right.”
Williams, who was born in the Cayman Islands before coming to the U.S. in 1999 and becoming a U.S. citizen, had been doing well before his arrest in 2017. A 2015 Millbrook High School graduate, he was in his second semester at Lord Fairfax Community College taking information technology and real estate classes and working part time.
His only brushes with the law were for possession of a small amount of marijuana in a traffic stop when he was 16 and a disorderly conduct conviction in 2017 while visiting West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. Williams said he went to a college party, got drunk and fell asleep outside. He was awakened by police and when he ran from them, he was tackled and arrested.
Because the arrest happened before his 21st birthday, Williams said it increased his guideline range. He also said he spent eight or nine hours in custody, but police reported it was 24 hours, which added to the range.
Williams said he dealt pot to make a little extra cash for gas, groceries and rent. He said his reputation as a pot smoker who sold to friends got around. Williams said a confidential informant working for the Northern Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force who bought the marijuana from him that led to his arrest was a young woman he’s known all his life.
“I wasn’t a big-time hustler,” he said. “I came to find out she was just picking me out of a random group to get me in trouble.”
Despite a trend toward legalization, marijuana arrests are frequent. Williams was one of 659,700 people arrested for marijuana violations in the U.S. in 2017, according to FBI statistics and one of 60,418 for marijuana dealing or manufacturing. The former category was up about 1% from 2016, the latter down about 8%.
Williams is part of the statistics, but he doesn’t want to be a casualty of America’s nearly 50-year-old “War on Drugs,” which has destroyed thousands of lives and cost taxpayers $47 billion annually, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Upon release, Williams hopes to find a job, return to college and eventually relocate to make a fresh start. He said he’s grateful to his family and friends for their regular visits.
While he doesn’t feel lucky, Williams said he’s fortunate to not have received a longer sentence like so many African-American men like him who are imprisoned on drug charges. He’s trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“I’ve never cried or been upset. I’ve always been like OK, another day, another day, another day. Just take it one day at a time,” he said. “I’m always just positive about it.”