“I was completely overwhelmed. It felt like a dream to be free after having a life sentence and having it removed."
Freed from a life sentence under Louisiana’s habitual offender law, an Abbeville veteran is now working on his fresh start.
Derek Harris spent nine years in prison for his third strike - a $30 marijuana deal. Prosecutors agreed he didn’t get a fair defense and Harris was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary Tuesday.
Harris’ life changed forever after serving during Desert Storm. He says he returned to Abbeville with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and turned to drugs.
“I wasn’t exactly myself because the drugs had taken over and I’m an addict. I’m a recovering addict, but I was an addict at the time and it was bad,” Harris explained.
That led to arrest for theft and drug-related offenses. His third arrest led to the life sentence, under the state's habitual offender law.
“I was devastated because I didn’t feel I’d done anything to warrant a life sentence,” said Harris.
As for his fresh start, Harris will be moving to Kentucky and hopes his story can help others.
“I don’t want anyone, especially kids, going down the road I went down. I’m going to do everything in my power to help them avoid that,” said Harris. “I’d really like to get my commercial driver’s license and start driving trucks, but I’m going to be helping kids and people that have addiction. That’s my bottom line, to try and help anybody that I can.”
He’s forever grateful to those who fought on his behalf and helped convince prosecutors and the court to have a change of heart.
“I’m learning to live with it, take it one day at a time, start to live right and make something positive out of my life,” said Harris.
A GoFundMe has been set up for Harris. Anyone who like to donate can click HERE.
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