Spotlight On: Frank C. Rodriguez - December, 2014

I was born in Pontiac, Michigan and grew up in Clarkston, Michigan.  We did not have much money and we lived on welfare.  My mother had cerebral palsy and my father left when I was really young; my oldest sister raised me while I was growing up. My grandfather was my best role model in many ways:  he taught me about growing things, fixing things, and other skills that I use to this day.  But his influence was not strong enough to overcome my situation.

I struggled through school and the teachers just passed me to get me out of their class.  I did graduate, but I could not read or write.  At the age of 10 I was placed in a juvenile facility because my mother did not want to deal with me any longer.  I spent about a year there and once released I lived here and there with friends, and sometimes with my older sister. I was selling small amounts of marijuana at that time and working odd jobs.  I met a guy that asked me to go to his stepfather's house to “watch out” when he was taking some cocaine from his step-father's stash; he gave me two big ladles-full of cocaine for looking out for him.  At that point in my life I had never seen nor sold any cocaine.

With the baggies in hand, I asked some people what I could get for it and then I was off and selling cocaine.  However, that supply ran out really quickly and I found that selling that product made me very popular among my peers, so I wanted to continue to sell this drug.  I started to find suppliers to purchase more cocaine.

At that time in my life – my early teens – I was seeing a lot of violence, and one of my best friends killed himself right next to me playing Russian roulette (brain matter went all over me).  I was run over by another drug dealer during an argument in a bar and I was fighting a lot.  I could feel my life in a spiral to hell.

By that time, I had become known as a cocaine dealer by those that wanted to purchase cocaine and also to the police.  The police heard my name a lot and they started an investigation into my cocaine dealing.

At the age of 27, I was functionally illiterate and without strong family roots, but I had a lot of ambition to achieve some sort of success.  I was arrested on drug charges and after 3-1/2 years (1,375 days) in Oakland County Jail, on November 4, 1996, an Oakland County jury convicted me of conspiracy to deliver over 650 grams of cocaine, possession with intent to deliver between 50-225 grams of cocaine, and two counts of delivery of less than 50 grams of cocaine.

On December 12, 1997, I was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without parole, 10-30 years, 2-30 years, each sentence to run consecutively to the others.

During my time in the Oakland County Jail awaiting trial and sentencing, I met another prisoner who mentored me and helped me learn to read.  This prisoner was well educated and assisted me for free; he told me that if I did not learn how to read and write, I would probably die in prison.

After I arrived in the Michigan Department of Corrections, I was placed in the Reception & Guidance Center for classification; I was classified to a Level IV prison due to my life sentence; I served about five years in Gus Harrison Correctional Facility (ARF) Adrian, Michigan.  After five years, I received a lower security level classification and was placed in Level II at ARF.  While at ARF I worked in the prison law library.  Because I filed a grievance on the administration, I was transferred to North Side prison in Jackson, Michigan.  While there at Jackson, I worked in the prison Quarter Master.  Then I was fortunate enough to secure employment with Prison Legal Services of Michigan, Inc. (PLSM), which was then-located inside the prison walls.  I worked there until PLSM was moved outside of the prison years later.  After working for PLSM for some years, I applied for membership in the Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section of the State Bar.  On October 1, 2008, I received confirmation of membership and I continue to be a member in good standing.  This was a great personal accomplishment. I also authored an article in the Criminal Defense Newsletter, Vol. 34 No. 2 (November 2010) entitled “Errors Not Corrected in the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report as Ordered by the Circuit Court at Sentencing May be Grieved Using the Michigan Department of Corrections Grievance Process.”

While incarcerated, I assisted many prisoners with their commutations. I became very knowledgeable about how the commutation process works in Michigan.  I was even able to assist the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) with its Clemency and Commutation Project.  I found that very little has been written on the actual commutation process that the Governor and the Michigan Parole Board use to review commutations; therefore, I saw a need for a manual which explains that process in light of current law, rules, policies, and internal practices of the Michigan Parole Board.  SADO agreed on the need and has produced it as a part of their Defender Book series.

I prepared my own commutation petition, and on September 30, 2010, Governor Jennifer M. Granholm granted me a commutation of my life sentence.  I spent approximately 17 ½ years in prison, but by good fortune I was able to find the help from other persons to further my educational development.  I developed skills and a strong support system which has made my re-entry into society far easier than most.  I worked hard to overcome my illiteracy and learned to channel my desire for success into avenues that would help others while increasing my own skills.

Since my release on January 4, 2011, I have worked at SADO as a paralegal and recently completed my associate’s degree at Lansing Community College, with a major in Paralegal Studies and a minor in Business.  I am a  member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and will graduate summa cum laude.  [Editor’s note: Frank was released from parole at 12:01 p.m., Monday, January 5, 2015).

I am a member of the advisory board for an outreach program called Advocacy, Re-entry, Resources, and Outreach (ARRO) that connects ex-offenders and their friends and families to quality resources to ensure successful community reintegration.  The ARRO staff has assisted many ex-offenders over the years and I am proud to be part of the wonderful program.

To my great joy and pride, on June 30, 2012, I married a wonderful woman, Felicia, whom I met at LCC.  She and my stepdaughter, Sophia, make my new life complete.

by Frank C. Rodriguez
State Appellate Defender Office