Former Inmate For Nonviolent Drug Offenses, Who Won Clemency, Adjusts To Life At Home David Padilla is adjusting to life back home in Northeast Philadelphia. After nearly 20 years in prison, he won clemency last year, freeing him from two life sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.
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'It's Just The Beginning Now,' Says Man Freed From Serving 2 Life Sentences

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'It's Just The Beginning Now,' Says Man Freed From Serving 2 Life Sentences

'It's Just The Beginning Now,' Says Man Freed From Serving 2 Life Sentences

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Now the story of a second chance. When we first met David Padilla two years ago, he was locked up, one of hundreds of inmates serving life for nonviolent drug crimes.


DAVID PADILLA: I can say that I deserve punishment, but I don't agree that I should die in prison.

SIEGEL: While in prison, he got an associate's degree and a job. Then President Obama granted him clemency. Padilla got out a few months ago. He's rejoined his family, and he's rebuilding his life, as NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: David Padilla vividly remembers the day he got called to the warden's office last December. The first thought on his mind - did I do anything wrong? Padilla says his leg started shaking. Then he got the news that he was getting out for good.


D. PADILLA: Before he could finish, I was crying. I had so many dreams of being released from prison, and every time I wake up, I'm in my cell.

LISETTE PADILLA: I stood up for a minute, and then I started just screaming and crying.

JOHNSON: Lisette Padilla is David's wife. She waited nearly 20 years for that news.

L. PADILLA: We waited so long for this day, and I was so happy and thrilled. I was saying, oh, my God, it's finally over. He's coming home.

JOHNSON: Five days later, from the parking lot of the prison in Fairton, N.J., David's four kids captured their reunion in a cellphone video. His wife, Lisette, runs to him, crying.


JOHNSON: Clutching a manila envelope, David walks out, jubilant.


D. PADILLA: I'm home, y'all. It's over.

JOHNSON: That was Christmas week 2015. David rejoined his family in April for good after nearly four months in a halfway house. Now in the living room of their row house in northeast Philadelphia, David and Lisette say they still can't believe he's home for real. They sit close together on the couch, holding hands.

D. PADILLA: It's a beautiful thing to be home after 19 years, one month, 10 days in federal prison. This doesn't happen to people like us. You know, we're minorities, and it's a blessing.

JOHNSON: They are adjusting, they say, but so many changes, small and big, like this one at the movies.

D. PADILLA: The size of the chairs, my goodness, it's like a recliner. When I was like, yo, I hit the button, it reclined back. I was like, man, this is awesome (laughter).

JOHNSON: Then there's cellphones and apps. He marvels at the technology, but he has trouble wrapping his head around the way people behave now.

D. PADILLA: I see no one talking. I mean, I seen people just looking down at their phones and at that time I didn't know what they were doing. But what they were doing was texting. And they're (imitating tapping sound), and they're not talking. I mean, this place was kind of full, right, Lisette? And, man, you could hear a pin drop in there.

JOHNSON: David pledged that wouldn't happen is his home.

D. PADILLA: We have a little bucket, and they put the bucket right here on at of this table right here. When you come in, you have to put your phone in the bucket.

L. PADILLA: Family time.

D. PADILLA: Family time.

JOHNSON: Family time is something they all cherish. They're all still getting used to seeing their dad outside an antiseptic prison visiting room and getting less private time with their mom. For his three grown-up kids' teen years, David was in prison. Now, son Pablo has just turned 14, leading to some tense moments in the house. David has become a disciplinarian.

D. PADILLA: He's learning. He's learning that men do certain things in the house. Men take the trash out. There's chores all around the house that men do. Men do dishes, too. I'm not only telling him. I'm showing him.

JOHNSON: With the help of a friend in social services, David's got a job cleaning tour buses, working the night shift for $11 an hour. During the day, Lisette has a long list of projects for her husband to do. It all starts in their kitchen.

L. PADILLA: We started a little demolition.

D. PADILLA: I started a little demolition already 'cause I had a cabinet right here so I just took that out.

L. PADILLA: 'Cause it was already falling apart.

D. PADILLA: It was falling apart a little bit.


D. PADILLA: This will be open wall.

JOHNSON: David says he's turning to YouTube videos for construction tips and leaning on an old friend for support.

EFRAIN ROSA: Let's pump this ball up real quick for the kids.

JOHNSON: Efrain Rosa spent a decade in prison with David. We met back in their old neighborhood where Efrain co-founded a youth mentoring program. The Waterloo playground here used to be the turf of drug dealers. Needles littered the pavement.

Today, it's the headquarters for MIMIC - Men in Motion in the Community. David's already signed up to volunteer with the program. He says he wants to make amends for his role in moving drugs through the community.

D. PADILLA: You know, my charges is drugs. Drugs trickles down all the way to the community, so someway, somehow you affect the community. So this is my way of giving back, of telling the kids there's options, there's other ways.

JOHNSON: David wishes he had those kinds of role models when he was a young man. The expectations were low for him. It wasn't until prison that he got a real education and found a job. Back at home in northeast Philadelphia, he and Lisette are looking to their shared future. They're already planning to celebrate a special day next year. David points to a big framed photo on the living room wall.

D. PADILLA: Look how young we looked in that picture, and that's a wedding picture of Lisette and myself. That was April 15, 1987. When I see that picture, a lot of memories come back. Next year will be our 30 years of marriage, and it's just the beginning for us right now.

JOHNSON: When they got married, David was 20, Lisette only 17. The odds were against them, David says. He knows he's beaten the odds more than once. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Philadelphia.

SIEGEL: NPR senior producer Marisa Penaloza co-reported that story.

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