“I never said that I was innocent of the crime, it just was always about the amount of time for the crime.” says Lorenzo Garrett, reflecting on the 23 years he spent in prison for a nonviolent offense.
In 1998, Lorenzo Garrett was “at the top of the world.” He held a steady job at General Motors and was making “fast, easy money” on the side through the drug trade. In March of that year, it all came crashing down when Lorenzo was arrested and charged with manufacturing, possession, and delivery of cocaine. Facing 84 to 150 years, Lorenzo got his priorities straight real quick.
“That was the day my life turned upside down.” Lorenzo realized his poor decisions to give in to the fast lifestyle that the drug trade offered affected more than just him. “Family ties, loved ones, friends; I’ve got to make some real conscious decisions on how I can get out of here,” he told himself. Leaving behind his mother, sisters, and children, Lorenzo pleaded guilty and was ultimately sentenced to 28 to 150 years behind bars.
Lorenzo stresses that he accepts full responsibility for his mistakes. “I always maintained the guilt of the choice that I made that landed me facing that much time.” But he wasn’t willing to give up — he knew he was in for “the fight of [his] life.” Garrett decided to get to work righting his wrongs. Returning to his foundations, Lorenzo applied the lessons he had had been taught as a child – work hard, treat others how you want to be treated, and act honestly.
Already having graduated high school and obtained some college credit before being sentenced, Lorenzo was eager for any opportunity to add to his skillset and help change the course of his life. Jumping at the opportunity to learn a skilled trade, Lorenzo’s first accomplishment was completing a custodial maintenance certification. Upon completion, his instructor told him, “You’d make a good tutor,” so he hired him to help the class. Lorenzo discovered he enjoyed helping others. “I kind of liked helping people, the less fortunate,” he said.
His next achievement came after a transfer of facilities and enrollment in a building trades program. Lorenzo completed his building trades certification at the top of his class. Again, the instructor reached out to hire him. The opportunity excited Lorenzo as the program built houses for Habitat for Humanity. He was excited to “work towards a good cause.”
When Lorenzo wasn’t participating in MDOC programming or helping others, he was in the law library studying his case. Garrett was determined to exhaust every avenue to return to his family and loved ones. “Sentence reductions, motions, commutations – I had filed two previous requests for commutation but was denied,” recalls Garrett. Upon his third request, Lorenzo did not hear back in the usual 90 days, “A year and a half went by, and I never heard anything.”
“Michigan Gov. Whitmer commutes sentences for 4 men serving decades in prison for nonviolent crimes” the 2020 WDIV ClickOnDetroit headline meant everything. “I was notified December 22nd, 2020, that the governor had granted my commutation to release me from prison,” Garrett remembers the moment with tears in his eyes.
“I had worked hard and reached out. It’s thanks to Safe & Just Michigan, Path2Redemption, and the governor that I’m here today.”
A commutation reduces an individual’s sentence to a specified term but does not nullify the underlying conviction. The commutation process in Michigan starts with an application, which the parole board reviews to determine whether to hold a public hearing. After a hearing, the board makes a recommendation to the governor.
“As a former prosecutor, I recognize how critical it is to take steps toward a smarter and more equitable justice system. Over the last two years, we’ve worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to make tremendous progress to give people a second chance,” Governor Whitmer said. “These commutations offer a second chance to four individuals [including Garrett] who have accepted responsibility and paid their debts to society and whose sentences span decades for non-violent offenses. We still have a lot of work to do, but today is a step in the right direction, and I’m confident that Michigan can continue to be a national leader in smart justice.”
Five weeks later, Lorenzo Garrett walked out a free man. Returning to his fiancé, adult children, and sisters, Garrett has taken responsibility for his convictions and is ready to move forward. Having since enrolled in Mott College with the use of a Pell Grant, Lorenzo is currently finishing his associates degree in business management.
“I’ll never forget what the judge told me upon my sentence, ‘You were at the top of the world, now you’re at the bottom. Work your way to be back at the top,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing – and I’m here to prove it. Standing here as the man I am today, that my life has completely changed and I’m grateful and humble to be here.”
Listen to Lorenzo tell his story here: