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Freed early from a 55-year prison term, a ‘changed’ Weldon Angelos is rebuilding his life one brick at a time

First Published      Last Updated Dec 27 2016 09:37 pm

Friends who helped him win his release from prison say the former music producer will succeed as a free man.

Sandy • Weldon Angelos is 36 years old, with no job and no home of his own. He bunks at his sister's house, only recently got his license and that iPhone remains a mystery to him.

But cut him some slack. He's been in prison for 12½ years and must rebuild his life. Truth is, he was supposed to be behind bars longer, years longer, decades longer.

But Angelos enjoyed a sudden reversal of fortune.

He would have been in his 70s by the time he finished serving a mandatory 55-year sentence on federal gun and drug convictions, but Angelos was abruptly released last month.

Several weeks later, he was enjoying himself at a party in his sister's backyard, surrounded by people who worked hard for years to win his freedom.

Seeing friends and family excited Angelos and filled him with gratitude for all the help he had received. "I feel blessed and lucky," he said.

Now Angelos, a former music producer, is starting life over, with no bitterness, as a different man.

"I've changed a lot," he said. "I'm not close to being the same person."

Angelos' plans include writing a book about his experience, making a documentary, becoming an advocate for criminal-justice reform and speaking to at-risk youths about avoiding the mistakes he made. He already has written a commentary about minimum-mandatory sentences for Time magazine.

He has some job prospects and is assessing his choices, Angelos said. Before prison, he was running his Utah-based rap and hip-hop label, Extravagant Records, but is unsure if he wants to return to the music industry.

He recently listened to albums he produced before he was locked up and said, "It even sounds old school to me."

Whatever he ends up doing, Angelos said, he'll stay out of trouble and follow all the rules — what he calls "living in the square."

He's been inspired by close friend and former rapper Mutah "Napoleon" Beale, who was a member of 2pac Outlawz, a group founded by slain rapper Tupac Shakur. Beale, who left what he describes as an empty life in the music world, now gives talks to young people about the pitfalls of hip-hop culture.

Angelos said Beale, who is helping him get over his fear of public speaking, has shown him that change is possible. Beale is confident Angelos will succeed outside prison.

"Weldon has always been a man of principle and honor, someone who will make it against all odds," Beale wrote in an email. "His experience has opened his heart and mind in ways that we can least imagine. I believe he will do good for himself, his kids and troubled kids all around the globe, especially at home in America."

In the weeks since his release, Angelos' days have been filled with visits and calls from family, friends, filmmakers, journalists, lawyers, justice-reform advocates and others. Sometimes the activity so overwhelms Angelos that he has to step away to be by himself for a while. After so many years in prison, he's still getting used to life on the outside — and it's not easy.

At first, the bed in his sister and brother-in-law's guest bedroom at their Sandy home felt too soft, so he slept on the floor. But after prison meals, he's been delighting in Italian food and In-N-Out burgers. Angelos has secured a driver license — "Not having an ID for the first 10 days, I felt like I didn't exist," he said — and has gone on his first date in years.

He is trying to master his iPhone, a much different device than the flip phone he used pre-prison. He teases his sister Lisa Angelos, his most ardent supporter, that her job as his assistant is to handle his emails and phone calls. She laughingly reminds him that she quit that position.

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