NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Due to a law about mandatory minimum sentencing, a Clarksville man convicted on drug crimes received a lifetime sentence. That means, Chris Young would have to die before his body ever left federal property.
"I understood that I did not live the best life I could live before prison and that I made some choices I needed to get corrected, and so I understood what I was up against, and I knew rehabilitation was what I needed," said Chris Young, in his first television interview since his commutation.
Young was one of 32 prosecuted in a Clarksville drug ring, but Young insists he was a low level participant, so he pleaded not guilty in federal court.
"Me trying to prevent from having to die in prison, I literally got sentenced to death in prison," said Young.
He was subject to the three strike rule -- since he had other, more minor previous convictions, so when Judge Kevin Sharp received a guilty verdict from the jury, he had no choice but to give Young a lifetime prison sentence.
"What was going through my head was -- what a waste. This is so harsh for their role," said Judge Sharp.
Sharp may not have had a choice on the sentence, but he did when it came to the rest of his career. Sharp decided to resign his position on the bench and speak out about Chris's case.
That got the attention of Attorney Brittany K. Barnett, who has a track record of getting her clients clemency. "I’ve never seen a judge speak out in this way," said Barnett.
Barnett flew to Nashville to start putting her legal team together, starting with the now-retired judge.
"This is not something that happened overnight. This was years of work. Judge Sharp and I totally worked for many many years, and many people joined forces with us," said Barnett.
Celebrity Kim Kardashian also joined the team. Using her star-power, they got the attention of President Donald Trump, who agreed to a meeting in 2018 at the White House.
Mr. Trump reportedly listened but didn't act immediately, so Sharp became worried. "They didn’t think Chris fit into that category of people they were going to grant clemency to so I really thought this was over for Chris," said Sharp.
Barnett was worried too, so they fought in court to reduce Young's sentence. That was approved back in September, but Young would still have to serve a few more years.
Then earlier this month, on President Trump's last full day in office, Young was granted executive clemency and was flown back home to Middle Tennessee. Waiting on the other side of security at BNA was, of course, Judge Sharp. They shared a long hug.
Our interview was their second chance to catch up. Sharp and Young shared another hug. Sharp also surprised him with a book that Young had mentioned during the sentencing hearing -- "Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" by Jack Weatherford.
"You and me, we’re going to show the world," said Young to the man who sentenced him to life.
What's next for Chris Young? He plans to eventually write a book of his own. He also hopes to extend the mercy to other convicts that was so hard-fought for himself. He plans to do so, by teaming up with Barnett and Sharp once again.
"I felt appreciated, recognized and I felt love," said Young. He now hopes to spread that love to others.