Since the moment he got out of prison, Michael Thompson started talking about the need to reform it.
Now, the 69-year-old Genesee County man has found a platform for spreading that message within the cannabis industry, the same drug he was arrested for selling over two decades earlier.
"I've come out to tell the truth," Thompson said. "The prison system is broken."
Thompson was in prison on charges that stemmed from a marijuana sale in 1994. He had prior drug offenses, and police found guns in his home, so a judge sentenced him to 42 to 60 years — a length of time usually reserved for second degree murder charges, said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in a letter calling for his release.
His case has garnered national attention. In late December, the governor announced he was one of four men to be granted clemency. They were all released on Jan. 28.
In the time since his release two months ago, Thompson has started to rebuild his life and reconnect with his family and friends, who he had stopped letting visit him due to the pain it caused. He purchased a home and is set to take his drivers test this week.
His mission now is to change the system, starting with things like the use of 'good time credit,' releasing people serving time for marijuana and addressing the use of habitual offender and felony murder charges.
"That's what Michigan do with guys like myself, people of color, they stack the charges then they charge you with habitual," Thompson said.
In March, he started sharing this message broadly through his work as a brand ambassador with UBaked, a Burton-based cannabis company that grows and processes.
"These are not just business people. These are people that understand what happened to me, and they understand how they profit off what happened to me," Thompson said.
UBaked CEO Bob Dodge said he first heard Thompson's story on the news when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer commuted his sentence.
"The story itself him serving 25 years for marijuana, you know, set pretty deep with me," Dodge said.
Working together wasn't initially in the plan, but after hearing Thompson's goal about spreading a message on prison reform it spurred an idea.
"I said I'll bring you on and we can work together. You'll be our brand ambassador. When we go and do our vendor days I can bring you and I'll get the press and we'll help get your message out there," Dodge recounted.
Thompson's probation doesn't allow him to work directly with the product at UBaked. But, the partnership has been a "win win" for them both, Dodge said.
"It's given me a platform to speak and speak freely," Thompson said. "For me to tell the truth about what's really going on and what they really need to do to."
Thompson hopes to take his concerns to AG Nessel soon, who he said he's spoken with in the past. In the meantime, Thompson will celebrate his first birthday outside of the Michigan Department of Corrections in decades on April 19.
When he thinks about everything that's happened in his life, Michael Thompson says the song 'A Change is Gonna Come' by Sam Cooke comes to mind.
"If you want to know how I feel," he said. "Just play that song."
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