Sentenced to 150 years in prison John Esteen discusses serving in the US military, how he became incarcerated, legal battles, his case becoming a legal landmark within in the American justice system, being a free man and much more…
E&E 2nd Wind Nonprofit Corporation
YouTube: Life inside Dateline NBC Prisoners
Sentenced to 150 years in prison John Esteen discusses serving in the US military, how he became incarcerated, legal battles, his case becoming a legal landmark within in the American justice system, now being a free man and much more…
John Info: E&E 2nd Wind Nonprofit Corporation
YouTube: Life inside Dateline NBC Prisoners https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mg_8e4KlhLA&t=12s
Nigel Beckles: Welcome back to my in conversation and podcast. My guest for this episode is Steve, the prison sentence of 150 years, but now he's a free man. American John Esteen. Hi, John. Welcome to my podcast series. So where do you live at the moment?
John Esteen: I live in Avondale, Louisiana. Yes, sir. Westbank in new Orleans. Did you grow up there? Yes. From nine years old on, because I grew up in New Orleans.
Nigel Beckles: Well, I understand you served in the army. How long did you serve for.
I was in the National Guard actually. So, I went to war, I'm a war veteran. There 1990 to 91 that was in Saudi Arabia, then Iran. I entered to a guide into the National Guard right after high school in 1987. And after I graduated to offset costs to go to college while at state university.
Nigel Beckles: During the year 2000, you are sentenced to 150 years in prison. So what happened?
John Esteen: Non-violent drug offender. That's what my charges it's dealing with you on the court. They asked me, uh, they tried to get me a cop out to a deal. So I refused that because the offer, they was giving me, I have to testify on co-defendants, which I had 22 of them. I had my walls up, so I was tired, already made my mind up. My lawyer at the time was the court appointed attorney. He told me, he said, esteem, if you go to trial, they're going to give you 150 years. So I'll look at 20 years at that time. No different. So I'm doing 20 years was the difference between 20 and 150. My life is pretty much over with anyway. That's how I looked at it at the time I was young, you know? So I went with that and I told him to strap up your boots. We will be going to trial.
Nigel Beckles: So how old were you when you went to trial?
John Esteen: About 32 years old in 1998. I'm well into my thirties.
Nigel Beckles: So how did you feel when you received your sentence?
John Esteen: Well, of course my world was crushed. My thoughts were like, well, go from here. I have 150 year sentence. I know I can't live that long.
Nigel Beckles: So what were your interests and activities while you were in prison?
John Esteen: I got into sports. I love sports. So I got into basketball, football, and boxing. That's the main things I did to pass my time in prison.
Nigel Beckles: While in prison what qualifications did you obtain?
John Esteen: Bible college. So I went to four year degree. I got my bachelor's and ASTA degree in Christian ministry. Also, I went to horticulture school and I got certified as a horticulturist as right now. That's what I do with my non-profit organization is I do lawn service right now for senior citizens, disabled vets and single parent homes.
Nigel Beckles: Well, in March, 2018, a judge re sentenced you to a hundred years. So, how did that happen? And what was that process?
John Esteen: Well, you know, I seen people come to prison on murder charges and charge of that nature getting 40 years going home at 20 years. And I'm sitting in prison on non-violent drug charge, what 150 years. So that was the fuel to keep me fighting for my freedom. So I know what's possible if I'm a non-violent offender in prison with that much time, I have hope. When they have people would harshest sentences, halted charges gone home. So as I will do the court system laws changed and in my, and it benefited me to a certain extent. So I had to find other ways.
Nigel Beckles: In 2019, you won parole after a legal battle in a Supreme Court decision. Who did you work with to obtain your freedom?
John Esteen: I didn't have the finances get a lawyer or anything. So I had to really study myself and understand my case. And there will emit console's there that will, I will consult with. They will lead me in the right direction. I had one in particular that stuck with me that believed in me and we fought it all the way to the end. I went through the Louisiana Supreme court, but, we did go to the Louisiana Supreme court the first time it got denied. So I had to go through the whole thing process again. So I had to start my judicial branch, where I got sentenced that go to the fifth circuit court of appeals. They denied me and I went back to the Louisiana Supreme court this time using language that they had put in my denial prior.
Nigel Beckles: Why is your case in particular, considered to be a Supreme Court legal landmark case?
John Esteen: Because it was over it overturned previous state precedent for nonviolent offenders. And since the opinion was rendered, about three years ago, these offenders have been able to cut their sentence in half in at least.
Nigel Beckles: So how long did you actually serve.
John Esteen: 20 years and seven months.
Nigel Beckles: And how did it feel to be a free man?
John Esteen: Unexplainable. I had denied every time for years, 10, 15 years. You start to lose little hope and that freedom started to kind of disappear. And so when it came to the point where my hope coming back and I started seeing some daylight during the court system, when they granted my, my hearing, it was like, wow, it's still not over yet.
John Esteen: And when it actually was over all is said and done, and I was going back to court to get my sentence reduced. I was hoping to get all my full counts, ran together and get one 20 years sentence and go home. Scott free with no parole eligibility and nothing, but that was further from the truth. So the judge, she saw it different. She kept my time. Consecutive. She gave me a maximum, all four of my counts, which only took away 50 years of my original sentence, left me with a hundred. So they sent me back to the penitentiary a hundred years and me scratching my head.
Nigel Beckles: So what was the first thing that you did after your release?
John Esteen: I went to McDonald's. I love the French fries. I had a happy meal. There you go. Add a few Apple pies, French fries, and you know, and everything else dead though, attitude. But all I wanted was the fries. Definitely a happy meal.
Nigel Beckles: So I understand you started an organization. What is it called? What does it do?
John Esteen: Yes, my non-profit is E second wind that develop that because when I came home, I was fortunate to have parents to help me to get on my feet. And like many other guys wasn't as fortunate, no females that come on from prison. So I came up with this non-profit organization to be that parent, even though they have parents, I still to be a part of the parent to help them. What if parents couldn't help you see what transportation education, even our mental health services, I'm still working on that now. We are raising money.
Nigel Beckles: So how is the organization going?
John Esteen: It's going fine. We video a couple of our little services cutting people, grass, and got an interview for one of them and I was really excited about it. That encourages us to continue doing what we're doing and be seeing its benefit and helping people. And that was a great thing to see that it's very beautiful. I'm going to continue that and I want to help more.
Nigel Beckles: So, John, what are your plans for the future?
John Esteen: Wow. I want to be in a position where I can help these guys. That's incarcerated still. You know, I talked to a lot of them on a constant basis, through emails and they all hurting, like for legal help. I like to be in a position where I can have a team of lawyers. So we can go out and assist these people the best way we can.
Nigel Beckles: John in the USA. Thank you very much for your time. Much appreciated.
John Esteen: Thank you, sir. Appreciate you.