The power of pardons can be life-changing. Take, for example, the saga of star Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill with law enforcement. The facts—and allegations—intertwined with the Dreams & Nightmares chart-topper’s criminal record is fodder that’ll likely fuel his verses for decades to come.
That’s because Mill (born Robert Williams) has a story that stretches back more than a decade and is fraught with examples of a badly broken legal system. From suffering mistreatment at the hands of police officers at the age of 18 to later becoming the central figure in an extraordinary case centered on the conditions of his parole, Mill’s luck with the law had been exceedingly rotten entering into 2023.
Good News, At Last
But recently, Meek Mill finally got some good news on the legal front. On January 14, the famed battle rapper took to Instagram to share an image of what appears to be an official notice from the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. In the caption, Mill seemingly confirmed what the image suggests: that he’d received a pardon in relation to the 2008 charges of weapon possession and drug possession that subsequently led to his highly publicized probation ordeals.
“Thank [y’all],” Mill wrote beneath the picture. “I’m only gone do more for my community on god!”
Mill’s post arrived alongside a simultaneous release from the office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe, who proudly declared he’d just issued 369 new pardons to eligible Pennsylvanians. Per the release, all individuals receiving a pardon will be given “total forgiveness by the state for a criminal conviction.”
As a result, Mill’s criminal record will also be expunged, bringing a welcome end to a dark journey that included a six-month prison sentence the rapper was forced to serve in 2017-18.
Following his experiences, Meek Mill has become a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform. He’s spoken about how the American prison system treats people of color on numerous platforms, including a primetime television appearance with Lester Holt and NBC’s Dateline and the release of the 2019 documentary, Free Meek.
Many also supported the artist’s cause via the hashtag #FreeMeek, which went viral as part of a public campaign to see the rapper released from prison.
Pushing Pennsylvania Pardons
But pardons are about far more than generating likes on Instagram. As Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe stated, they also represent an invaluable second chance.
“I have taken this process very seriously—reviewing and giving careful thought to each and every one of these 2,540 pardons and the lives they will impact,” said Gov. Wolf via his office’s press release. “Every single one of the Pennsylvanians who made it through the process truly deserves their second chance, and it’s been my honor to grant it.”
This latest pardon news also reflects well on Gov. Wolfe, who has now issued a total of 2,540 pardons during his tenure. Of that number, close to 400 were reportedly issued under an expedited review process established specifically for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses.
Encompassing crimes as basic as simple possession of cannabis or related paraphernalia, a criminal record of any severity can prove to be a massive barrier for those looking to return to the workforce and otherwise move forward. Pardons, thus, represent a second chance—and one Gov. Wolfe wants to see provided to a greater percentage of eligible Pennsylvanians who stand to benefit.
The Biden Influence
Representing the most pardons ever granted by a governor in the history of Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolfe’s numbers also tower over those achieved by President Joe Biden—thus far.
In December 2022, advocates of a mass pardon approach were dismayed to learn that President Biden had granted only a half-dozen pardons as part of his end-of-year clemency actions. Previously, there were signs of optimism following the President’s move in November to issue pardons to around 6,500 Americans with federal cannabis possession offenses, as well as those with comparable convictions in Washington, D.C.
While it was hoped that the President’s earlier actions would be followed by larger, more consequential efforts, the Biden Administration instead chose to issue only six pardons to close out 2022. The small number of pardons stands in stark contrast with a recent Data for Progress survey which found an impressive 52% of Americans agreed, either strongly or in part, that “people of color are unfairly punished for possession of marijuana compared to white people.” Couple that data with the ACLU’s findings that Black people are, on average, four times as likely as a white person to be arrested over a cannabis offense, and therein lies advocates’ evidence to support the urgent need for more pardons.