MUSKEGON, MI — A man incarcerated at the Muskegon Correctional Facility who was recently hospitalized with COVID-19 has received a preliminary parole hearing, following the advocacy of the Michigan Attorney General on his behalf.
Michael Thompson, who has served 25 years of a 42-60 year sentence on drug and weapons charges related to a marijuana bust, will meet with the Michigan Parole Board for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, Aug. 20, two weeks after MLive reported on Thompson’s medical condition after a coronavirus outbreak at the prison where he was living.
The meeting will consist of Thompson, a “personal advocate” who will not provide legal representation, and one member of the parole board, Sarah Gersten, the executive director of Last Prisoner Project, a prison reform group supporting Thompson’s case, told MLive in an email
The meeting also comes two weeks after Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, unequivocally supporting calls for Thompson’s release, and arguing that today’s sentencing guidelines are significantly less severe.
“While technically legal, the sentence imposed on Mr. Thompson is the product of a different time in Michigan legal history. And it is a time that has passed,” reads the letter, in part.
Thompson’s attorney, Kim Corral, filed a petition for an expedited parole hearing for Thompson in January.
Next week’s meeting amounts to a pre-hearing interview, Gersten said. Thompson’s advocates will push for the entire hearing process to be expedited, in acknowledgement of Thompson’s age and health, she added.
“This is a good first step because at least the parole board is moving forward, but if they take the entire statutory timeframe to get to a public hearing and make a decision it could be as long as the end of October,” Gersten wrote.
Even before he contracted COVID-19, Thompson’s case had gained notoriety nationwide as a symbol for the draconian drug laws of the 1990s. Cannabis and prison reform activists, including some celebrities, participated in a social media campaign, #FreeMichaelThompson, arguing that, because marijuana is now legal in the state of Michigan, he has more than served his time.
The charges for which he is currently in prison, however, are weapons charges tied to an incident in which the Flint native sold three pounds of marijuana to a “confidential informant who was trying to avoid a severe sentence of his own by working for the police,” in the words of Nessel. During that arrest, guns were found in Thompson’s home, which was illegal because Thompson had been convicted on felony drug charges in the past.
For that reason, Thompson has not yet reached his earliest possible release date — the year 2038 — so Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would have to sign off on a commutation of Thompson’s sentence, according to an MDOC spokesperson.
Because of Thompson’s advanced age and medical status — prior to contracting COVID-19, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, making him more at-risk for the most adverse effects of the virus — Nessel and others have called for Thompson’s “immediate” release, pending approval from the parole board.
“I also respectfully request that your office consider Mr. Thompson’s application as expeditiously as possible and that he be released as soon as possible if your office will be granting his application,” Nessel wrote.
Thompson is one of 395 prisoners inside the Muskegon Correctional Facility to have contracted the virus in the last three weeks — a figure that amounts to one-third of the incarcerated population. Nine Muskegon prison employees have also been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to MDOC figures.
Thompson is hospitalized at Duane L. Waters Hospital, inside the Michigan State Prison, in Jackson, where his friend and advocate, Deedee Kirkwood, said he is on oxygen and “without energy.”
“He said he is isolated and talks to no one and it’s like being locked up in a crazy house,” Kirkwood wrote to MLive in an email. “He wants to get out so he can get healthy on the outside.”
That’s why Thompson’s supporters are urging the governor’s office to expedite his process, according to Gersten.
“Every day Michael sits in confinement puts him at a greater risk of death from this virus,” she wrote.
Read more on MLive: