He’d slept three hours in the last two days and hadn’t had a moment to collect himself and wrap his head around the news that he was free. But the morning after his sudden release from prison, Meek Mill was at ease as technicians buzzed around him, hanging lights and setting up booms. We’d assembled at a recording studio in central Philadelphia, expecting to find him loopy and raw after a night of being feted by his town.
He’d been choppered from prison by his friend Michael Rubin, the billionaire co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, to sit on Celebrity Row at the Wells Fargo Arena for Game Five of their playoff series with the Miami Heat. Afterward, Rubin and a raucous group of stars — Kevin Hart, Dwayne Wade, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid — dined at a nearby restaurant, closing the place down at 3 a.m.
Instead, Meek sat calmly, creasing the sleeve of his Gucci bomber, as if this was just another couch in another town, not the first day of his second shot at life. “Five months in prison, all I did was sleep,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I don’t need to rest, I need to work.”
He’d been sitting in his cell at the state prison in Chester when word reached him that he had been granted bail in a writ by the state Supreme Court. “I found out like everyone else — I saw it on TV,” he says. “I flipped around the dial just to be sure. Even so, I’m like, Do I trust this?” Meek can be excused for his skepticism. For 11 years, he’s lived in a judicial web with no clear means of escape. He was arrested in 2007 by a corrupt cop named Reggie Graham; convicted of gun and drug counts solely on Graham’s word; then held on probation by his nemesis, Geneice Brinkley, a judge notorious in Philly for remanding people to prison on technical violations.
Charged with no crimes since his 2007 bust, Meek’s served three stints in prison, a year of house arrest and a decade of strict probation. Even after news broke about Graham’s corruption — he’d been featured on a list of dishonorable cops by the former District Attorney Seth Williams — Brinkley declined to grant Meek bail, let alone void his verdict. Last week, her superior, President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper, agreed to toss the convictions of three men busted by Graham. One hundred and five more are queued for quick dismissal. Just one defendant — Meek — has been forced to soldier on. Brinkley refuses to relinquish his case; he must go before her in June to present the same facts that have freed other victims of Graham’s.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, the rapper discussed the fallout from five months in prison.
What has it been like to see your son Rihmeek again and realize that due to your imprisonment, you’ve been a bit of a stranger to him?
The most upsetting part was, my son got suspended when I was arrested and serving time. My son had never been suspended. He always been doing great in school, and I felt like I was a great failure by being incarcerated. [Not] raising my son was like a big grief to me. It hurt me a lot. It angered me, but yesterday I held my son. We had conversation, I think he happy, and I told him I would never leave him again.
He’s about the age than you were when you lost your father.
Yeah, it's a little different. My father got murdered, and I knew somebody killed him. That's how I remember it. My aunt said, "You tell your dad goodbye like he ain't never coming back." It registered to me as a little kid what she said, and I always remembered it. I had a phone [in jail], so I stayed in contact with him [Rihmeek], I tried to keep the connection there, but it's not a real connection when you only could call at certain hours. My son, he don't get home from school at 6 o'clock, so you know, it ain't do me the real justice. It was just a reflection of what happens over and over with young black men, like a lot of young black men grow up without father figures and you end up in the wrong places. I always said, "Your mother's at work, your dad in prison or on a graveyard. Who's raising you?" You know what I'm saying?
You’ve lost many people around you growing up to violence. How much of that survival guilt feels like it's part of your consciousness?
It's just a way of life. It become a part of your life, the way you think, the way you react, even being in prison. We're in there with murderers, rapists. Your mind transforms into survival mode. You gotta survive, because people in here that got guns, people in here that killed multiple people, people in here that's ruthless. Some good people there, because everybody's not bad in prison, but survival mode ...
Was it always like that for you growing up?
[My] whole block is riddled with bullet holes and there's a little girl jumping rope on that same block. It’s a psychological thing, that if people go to the army for three months and see one of their comrades be killed and come back, they're getting diagnosed with PTSD. I knew [my cousin Angelo who was killed] was living the street life, and it hurt me a lot, but to see his mother hurt me even more. To see my aunts breaking down at seeing his dead body was traumatizing. It's like real movie stuff. You'll be traumatized. And anybody that's traumatized, I think you'll kick into survival mode.
I always speak about from where I come from, it's young kids in the ghetto. It's criminally infested. This is all you would see. When you walked to school every day, I would see crime on a [daily] basis. If you stab somebody in front of babies seven days a week, a baby would get turned in four or five years and try to do the same thing. It's psychological. These kids are growing up in ruthless environments and being punished for their mentality – it's just a larger problem.
"These kids are growing up in ruthless environments and being punished for their mentality – it's just a larger problem."
Do you think access to weapons plays a role in that?
You can get your hands on an AR-15 as fast as you can get a bag of chips in Philadelphia. I don't know where they're coming from and why they're so easy to access. Why is it a little kid, 15 years old, on Instagram with an AR-15?
What role do the police have in this?
If the police are already failing you and your community, and your community is failing you, and your own people are failing you, you will kick into survival mode. I think that issue should be addressed. I can't blame it just on police, because it's a self-hatred issue, too, where we are killing one another, African Americans, and we're also living in unsafe neighborhoods where you can't walk to the Chinese store without thinking you're gonna get killed.
Can you talk about the toll this has taken on your family?
It's been traumatizing for my mother. I called my mom the other day. I was locked up just two days ago, and I had my mom. She was talking a lot, and she sounded a little slurrish. I know my mom. ... I was like, "You was drinking?" "Yeah, I had three beers." And my mom, she really been staying away from drinking, because 20 years ago, she was drinking a lot, and she overcame that, she do it occasionally, but I hear drunk loud, like, "What you doing? You drinking, ma?" She was like, "Yeah, I had to get drunk, like, this judge is driving me crazy. "
But just the fact that something that happened to me when I was 18 years old, now that I'm 30 years old, is driving my mom crazy, and I'm not committing crime. I don't think that was really fair. I gotta break it down to my son, like, "Yeah, I gotta be in here for two years for riding a bike," he's like, "We ride bikes all the time, every day at Grandma's. Why you doing two years for riding a bike?" He's six years old and it’s complex to explain to a kid why you're doing two years in jail for riding a bike.
I don't understand and I'm a little older than six.
Yeah, I don't think you should be deprived of your freedom for years and then placed in prison with lifers and [murderers]. I went from being a regular citizen to being locked down 24 hours, maximum security, coming out, getting placed in another prison [with murderers].
Why are we serving the same type of time? It's a criminal environment. There should be levels to prisons. Like, a guy that commit crime and he went to prison, [why does] he needs to go with the rapists? I don't think you should be able to make a mistake and just be placed in a penitentiary, like, where is the in-between? Where is the rehabilitation?
"I feel like I'm indebted to the people who have been wrongly accused."
Do you feel a sense of indebtedness to the people who were locked up beside you?
I don't feel like I'm indebted to all of them; I feel like I'm indebted to the people who have been wrongly accused. The injustice and the mistakes, and the errors of the system that put some of these men and women in these positions. A lot of people are mentally stable and they knew what they were doing and they made very bad choices that put them in bad situations. But we all make bad choices sometimes.
I’m always going to a guy who I played ping-pong as an example. I watched him open his legal mail from superior court and they tell him, in a briefing, that "We know you're innocent, but due to certain statutes, you're still in prison." I see the way he fought for 26 years.
Would you want to name him?
His name is Eric Reddet. His ruling said, "It is clear to all,” superior court judge John T. Bender wrote, “that it's likely that an innocent man sits behind bars for no better reason than a poorly conceived statute. Under the state's post conviction, defendant must file a petition for a relief within a year of the judgment becoming final.” There are a few exceptions, one which is if the defendant obtains new evidence, but even then the petition must be filed within 60 days of when the claim could have been presented. So in my case, we found out that a cop was corrupted from 11 years ago, and that had been hidden for 11 years. But once you find out that, you got 60 days to bring that evidence forward, and if you miss them 60 days, it doesn't matter if you innocent or not.
So this is one of the things that you want your story to impact. You want these laws to change.
Of course. That's terrible. A man is in jail because of a statute, not because, if he really did it, not if because if he's guilty or he's innocent, but because of a statute.