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After 25 Years, Michael Thompson, Michigan’s Longest Serving Non-Violent Offender, Set to Go Home

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Gov. Whitmer’s clemency order last month has set the stage for Thompson’s release, possibly as soon as January 28.

This isn’t a story about a crime committed by Michael Thompson.

As Bloom & Oil reported earlier this year, Thompson is a non-violent drug offender currently in prison for a 1994 arrested related to selling marijuana. That may have been illegal then, but the real crime is what happened after.

For the past 25 years, Thompson has been incarcerated as part of a 40- to 60-year sentence handed down by a Michigan trial judge in 1996.

Despite various, substantial efforts calling for Thompson’s immediate parole and release, not even the onset of Covid-19 inspired Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to grant clemency to Thompson. As a result, this past August, the 69-year-old tested positive for the virus.

In December, the Marshall Project reported that one in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States had tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate “more than four times as high as the general population.” Thompson’s situation is further evidence of this profoundly serious situation, which continues to play out at jails and prisons across the country.

At the time of Thompson’s diagnosis, his advocates feared that his type-2 diabetes — a comorbidity factor that increases one’s risk when battling Covid-19 — might cost him his life.

Now, in an update provided to Bloom & Oil by DeeDee Kirkwood, who has been advocating for Thompson’s release since 2014, it appears that the prospect of better news may, at last, finally be at hand.

According to Kirkwood, Thompson is currently being housed at the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson, Michigan. The facility is actually across the street from where Thompson was hospitalized with Covid.

As of late December, Thompson described inadequate safety procedures being put in place as a result of his roommate testing positive for Covid as well. The details he shared (through Kirkwood) are harrowing.

“He has been quarantined for the last 13 days,” Kirkwood wrote by email on Dec. 28, “and only allowed out of his cell for some phone calls. He is washing his clothes in the toilet bowl, which he sanitizes the best he can with shampoo.”

Though Kirkwood notes that Thompson has asked for bleach or other disinfectants to aid in the proactive cleaning of his cell, he was denied those requests. Through Kirkwood, Thompson also spoke of rats and mice that force him to keep his food products on high shelves to avoid being spoiled.

“He says these conditions are horrific and he can’t believe it’s 2020 with the shit he’s going through,” Kirkwood relayed. “It rivals the worst prison conditions from when he started out decades ago in prison.”

Though the profound failure of the United States to properly care for its incarcerated citizens during a global health pandemic is a stain that will likely never fade, there is, after years of tireless work, at last a potential date for Michael Thompson to head home.

On Nov. 17, a parole board hearing took place in which Kirkwood notes “the parole board was clearly in his corner, with no opposition.” During the hearing, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also spoke strongly in Thompson’s defense.

Then, on Dec. 22, as the Detroit Free Press reported, Gov. Whitmer announced that she would grant requests for clemency to four men serving lengthy prison terms for nonviolent crimes tied to drugs. One of them: Michael Thompson.

What comes next?

Well, according to Kirkwood, things have been somewhat confusing as Whitmer’s order is translated into concrete action.

While she acknowledges that Thompson, his family, and the numerous individuals and organizations who have advocated on his behalf are all overjoyed by the governor’s decision, the clock is still ticking to get him released as quickly as possible.

“Everything is moving fast,” Kirkwood conceded, “but, in the meantime, he is straddling the present and the future with one foot in hell and one foot turned towards the promised land of freedom.”

In another update provided on Jan. 5, Kirkwood added that Thompson’s current release date is now tentatively set for Jan. 28.

In the interim, she recommends anyone moved by his story donate to a GoFundMe campaign she’s established to cover Thompson’s “anticipated housing, food, and medical costs.”

Speaking with local Flint news station WNEM-TV a few days after Whitmer’s announcement, Thompson shared what the upcoming moment of his release will mean.

“No, I didn’t think I would ever get out of here,” he told a reporter by phone from his cell. “Look at what I’m in here for. Why was I given that much time?”

Thompson also detailed how he was “in a wheelchair for a while” while recovering from his own Covid diagnosis and spoke about how he’s looking forward to a welcome home meal of fish, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and vinegar (with a little salt and pepper).

It is a meal that cannot arrive soon enough.

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