'THAT BROKE ME'

What it was like to watch Trump win the election while in prison

(Photo Illustration) AP, Getty Images

Chad Marks, 38, is an inmate at FCI Ray Brook, a federal prison in upstate New York. He’s currently serving a 40-year sentence for selling cocaine, and is scheduled to be released in 2038. Marks, who has worked in his prison’s law library helping other inmates file appeals, has applied to President Obama for a clemency and is currently waiting to hear back. In a phone call yesterday, he described what it was like for him to watch the election results come in on Tuesday night. His story has been edited and condensed for clarity.


The last time I cried was when I was sentenced to 40 years. I didn’t think anything could hurt me more than that—I’ve been stabbed in prison, I’ve been in solitary confinement, and that didn’t break me.

When Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania, that broke me. And when she gave her concession speech, that broke me again.

We were locked in the cell, and I stood by the door from 9:30 to three in the morning, watching the TV. When they made the call, I felt tears coming down my eyes. My cellmate asked if I was all right and I told him, ‘I don’t know.’

Chad MarksCourtesy CAN-DO Clemency

Chad Marks

It would be hard for people to imagine that prisoners sit around and watch CNN all day, but that’s what we do. We were champions for Bernie Sanders, at first. When Hillary came in first in the primary, we said, ‘We have to get behind her. Numerous inmates here told their family members, ‘We need you to vote for Clinton.’

We didn’t believe she would do as much as Obama as far as the clemency thing goes, but we figured that she would continue the process and give us a chance. There are 2.2 million prisoners in prison throughout the U.S., and we all have family members. We can start changing the voting blocks.

When we woke up this morning, seeing the other guys—just to look at their faces, we were all hurting. We’re devastated. We’re asking ourselves, what are we going to do? Are we done? Trump won by fear-mongering and lying, we know that. But now, it’s hard to express in words. We don’t know what’s going to happen.

I’ve had a clemency petition in for 26 months. That gave me hope, because I think I have a good case. When I was sentenced, one of my co-defendants got 15 years, another got 12 years, and I got 40 years because I went to trial. I had a plea agreement for 10 years. I instructed my attorney to take it and he didn’t. Later he testified six times that I instructed him to take it, but the judge said he didn’t believe him. You just can’t justify that. And there are so many other guys in here who deserve clemency too.

I’m so thankful for what President Obama and Eric Holder did with clemency—they gave us hope when we had no hope. But now the hope is gone.

President Obama wrote me a personal letter a while back. I wrote to him, and he wrote me back. He said that prison isn’t about punishment but about rehabilitation, and he told me to make better choices, keep pushing on, and help other people.

Donald Trump says he’s the ‘law and order’ candidate, but I don’t know if he believes all the stuff that he says. We would hope that Trump makes an informed decision about criminal justice reform and he doesn’t make one based on fear-mongering. My opinion is they’re probably going to do something on criminal justice reform—the Speaker’s always been onboard, obviously some guys in the Senate are on board.

Trump should look at it based on the fact that people have the capacity to change and should earn the opportunity to improve their lives. If you do everything to better yourself, I think you should get that chance.