“Among men, Blacks (28.5%) are twice as likely as Hispanics (16.0%) and 6 times as likely as Whites (4.4%) to be admitted to prison during their lifetime” said the authors of a 1991 study for the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The hardest thing about incarceration, Mingo recalled, was “the emotional and mental roller coaster that you go through, the hope that the truth will come out, that you will somehow wake up and realize that this was all a bad thing. sleep”.
In prison, he did his best to stay in shape and became a counselor to fellow inmates. He also spent years advising others on their legal cases and developed friendships with the many college and law students who visited him, some of whom would later attest to his character.
Then in 2020, protests broke out across the country following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. The resulting social justice movement took aim at the police’s use of deadly force, as well as the disproportionate rate at which black and brown men were jailed. Mingo’s case was defended by his niece Ava Nemes.
Noting the lack of physical evidence linking Mingo to the murders and the failure to present alibi witnesses at trial, Nemes wrote in a Change.org petition urging Cuomo to grant clemency: “Only one black man in New York in the 1980s could have been convicted on such weak charges and banned for so long.” More than 100,000 registered.
Nemes also noted that the judge who had sentenced Mingo was later censured after openly using the N-word in court.
Mingo got additional support from a team led by CUNY law professor Steve Zeidman, director of the school’s Criminal Defense Clinic, who said Mingo was the “illustrative model” of someone who deserves leniency.
The pandemic lent added urgency to Mingo’s request, as elderly inmates in overcrowded conditions were especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
During a 2020 interview WNYC conducted with Mingo over the phone from a prison wing, a corrections officer was heard saying he had to end the call. Apparently, a prison counselor had contracted COVID-19, so the entire wing was being cleared out.
“I have to go,” Mingo said, hanging up abruptly.
Weeks later, Mingo discovered that his clemency petition had not been approved.
miracle of mercy
Mingo’s “miracle” of clemency occurred the following year, in August 2021. It was a prison officer, a lieutenant, who broke the news.
Mingo was sitting in the prison library when the officer found him and told him to go out into the corridor (an ominous sign, he thought) and remove his mask.
“So now my mind is racing and I’m wondering, what is this about? And then he takes out the paper and reads that I was granted a pardon.”
Mingo had already received the hint of his clemency from his sister, but hearing it in all his officiality, his body suddenly heated up. His knees buckled, he said, and he felt weak. The official said he didn’t look good and told him to lean against a wall, so Mingo did, then asked him to read the letter one more time.
“I asked him if he was serious. She said it was. Then he took me and put water on my face”.
Mingo went back to his cell and didn’t tell anyone his news. All night, he lay awake, wondering if it was all a “cruel joke of some kind.”
In the morning, however, someone woke him up and told him to turn on the television: Mingo was on the news. The clemency grant was one of the last acts of Cuomo’s service as governor before he resigned amid serial sexual harassment allegations.
Inside prison, Mingo said, the word of his clemency made him an “instant celebrity.” The commutation trimmed his sentence; it did not erase his convictions.
“I remember the day I left, one of the guys upstairs yelled at me and said, I want you to listen to this song.”
It was “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
Stepping out of the prison walls, Mingo noticed that the air smelled different. He hesitated to take that first step, he said, “just to make sure I’m really free.”
A new life
Since September, Mingo has lived in Ossining, in a house that commands a spectacular view of the Hudson. The property is owned by her sister and her husband, who decided to move to Ossining in 1985 to be closer to Mingo while he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Prison, but Mingo was transferred to Attica soon after.
Sometimes, he said, he goes out on the porch at night and just listens.
“It almost sounds like the trees are talking to each other, the leaves are talking to each other, the birds are talking to each other,” he said. “I wonder what they’re saying.”
He’s hoping to get a paying job, but for now, he’s volunteering with a construction crew that builds prefab houses for returning ex-inmates.
“Greg is a really nice guy, really nice guy,” said one of his fellow volunteers, John Porco.
Reform advocates said Mingo’s quiet personality, combined with his personal history and reputation as a model prisoner, have helped him win speaking opportunities at conferences and in front of lawmakers.
“That really moves our work forward,” said José Saldana, executive director of Release Aging People in Prison, “because it helps the public understand that people behind bars are people and, in many cases, they are mentors and leaders who inspire and a positive change in others.”
RAPP is part of a coalition backing a campaign for parole reform, specifically a “Senior Parole” bill that would make parole easier for anyone over the age of 55 who has served at least 15 years of time. , as well as a “Fair and Timely” bill aimed at those who have demonstrated a track record of improvement. The legislation attempts to address the fact that while the state’s overall prison population has decreased, the number of aging inmates has increased.
There are currently 4,704 people in New York state prisons over the age of 55 who are incarcerated, of which 47% are serving life sentences, according to the RAPP. Half of this aging population is black.
The campaign is supported by unusual quarters: advocates for survivors of crime and violence, including several organizations that wrote to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie asking them to support parole reform.
“More than 60% of survivors indicated that they favor shorter prison sentences and more spending on prevention and rehabilitation programs, including education, mental health treatment, and drug treatment,” the authors wrote, based on the 2016 National Victim Opinion Survey.