Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JULY 20, 2014, AND THEREAFTER- In this June 20, 2014 photo, Scott Walker speaks during an interview at the federal prison in Greenville, Ill. Walker was sentenced to life without parole on drug charges, but now has a chance for clemency because of a recent announcement by the Obama administration that it will consider the release of non-violent drug offenders like him. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Given life term, drug offender hopes for clemency
First Published Jul 19 2014 11:18 am • Last Updated Jul 19 2014 11:18 am

Greenville, Ill. • From the very start, Scott Walker refused to believe he would die in prison.

Arrested and jailed at 25, then sent to prison more than two years later, Walker couldn’t imagine spending his life behind bars for dealing drugs. He told himself this wasn’t the end, that someday he’d be released. But the years passed, his appeals failed and nothing changed.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Now, after 17½ years as an inmate, Walker may have his best shot at freedom. The Obama administration — responding to mounting concerns about decades of harsh penalties and overcrowded prisons — recently announced it will consider clemency for possibly thousands of non-violent federal inmates, most drug offenders.

Walker hopes this new offer holds the key to his cell door.

His lawyers are optimistic, too, noting in a July letter to the Justice Department that he meets all the criteria for possible release, including serving a sentence that would have been substantially lower if imposed today.

Add to that support from an unlikely corner: Walker’s trial judge, who’s on record urging the president to reduce the sentence to 20 years. He calls a life term "excessive and disproportionate" and says Walker’s time in prison has been "a handbook on self-improvement."

Scott Walker’s story reflects a debate now intensifying in political and legal circles over decades of get-tough laws that have jammed America’s prisons with drug offenders, produced a growing outcry for sentencing reform and posed perhaps the trickiest question of all: How do you make sure the punishment fits the crime?

Walker says he knows he did wrong and should have paid a price. But surely not for the rest of his life.

"From the time you’re a kid ... you hear America is the land of redemption, the land of liberty and the land of justice," he says, sitting in a conference room at the Federal Correctional Institution here in southern Illinois. "Where’s the land of mercy? Is there mercy for people who have made mistakes?"

Walker pauses, then adds:

story continues below
story continues below

"I believe everyone deserves a second chance in life."


Looking back, Walker says he’s ashamed of what he did in his teens and 20s.

"I find it very hard to relate to the person that I once was, which makes it all the more difficult for me to live with my past mistakes," he wrote in a 2009 letter to one of his lawyers. "Age and experience have given me new values, hopes, dreams and goals. ... This is something we don’t comprehend when we are young."

Walker now blames his past behavior on immaturity. "You feel like you’re invincible, that you’re never going to grow old," he says.

With straight brown hair parted down the middle framing his unlined face, Walker looks a decade younger than 42. Speaking with a slight twang, he remembers being so naive he thought he could be arrested for drug dealing only if caught in the act.

Growing up in southern Illinois, Walker started using marijuana around age 14, then graduated to meth, becoming a hard-core addict. He played guitar in a band, and drugs, he says, were an accessory to his rock-‘n’-roll lifestyle.

"Scott was a very strong-willed young man," says Keith Shelton, his stepfather. "He did not listen. He didn’t want to listen. He felt like most kids do. ... You’re made out of steel. You’re never going to get caught. Things are always going to be the way you want them to turn out."

By his late teens, when his family moved to Arizona, Walker began trafficking marijuana, meth and LSD, carrying drugs to Illinois, where he funneled his profits into a $350-to-$400-a-week meth habit. He became part of a loose-knit ring, sometimes selling drugs, sometimes enlisting others, mostly childhood friends.

His mother, Brenda, recalls knocking on her son’s door during the peak of his meth use, alarmed to see him rail thin. "I looked at him and said, ‘What are you doing? What is wrong with you?’" She took custody of his infant daughter — the child’s mother approved — and with her husband, raised the little girl as their own. "I think she kept me sane," Shelton says.

After his arrest on Nov. 12, 1996 as part of a drug conspiracy, Walker’s troubles only deepened, partly because of some bad decisions.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.