Meek Mill on efforts to make the criminal justice system a "fair game"
Hip-hop artist Meek Mill is returning to court Tuesday to try and get his more than decade-old conviction on drug and gun charges thrown out. Meanwhile, the rapper wants to make himself the face of criminal justice reform, after many criticized his 2017 prison sentence for violating probation as too extreme.
"People who come up in the environments that I come up in… around drugs, violence, death -- you see that on a daily basis," said Mill, now 32. "And, you know, people make mistakes. If you got people sellin' drugs on your doorstep, they're shootin' every night in your neighborhood."
When he was caught carrying a gun at 18, he was using it for protection, Mill said. "I think any smart person in America, if you was in that situation, like, this is the only choice you have to make to stay alive."
Philadelphia native Robert Rihmeek Williams, better known as Meek Mill, served five months in prison after a 2008 conviction, and was given seven years' probation. After violations that extended his probation, including failing a drug test and violating travel restrictions, a judge sentenced the rapper in 2017 to up to four years in prison.
Mill's supporters called that excessive -- and he walked free just months later after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court intervened. But he's still on probation.
"Some days I think about it, wake up like, 'man, I'm on probation.' I can't just get up and take my son to Disneyworld…" Mill said. "I've been havin' to ask somebody to travel my whole adult life since the age of 18 to 32. I can't go across a state line."
Meek said he has to ask permission any time he wants to leave the county – and that if he leaves the city without asking permission, he's risking getting the remainder of his probation time as a jail sentence.
That became a major problem when he had to take his son to school. "My son lived in New Jersey, but I lived in Philadelphia, and the bridge is [a] 15-minute ride. It's just a bridge," he said. "I couldn't go get my son from school."
By the time he was five, Mill didn't have a father. He said he learned how to parent his son by watching TV shows: "You just gotta learn…" he said. "I'm not perfect at it." Now, Mill said he's now trying to teach his son about "dignity," "respect," and being "the man of the house."
He's also paying it forward in his community. The rapper has partnered with Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin and hip hop mogul Jay-Z to create the REFORM Alliance, an organization dedicated to battling injustice.
"It's the way that the system is structured. Like, you have a kid, he got 35 charges, he's facin' 25 years, he was sellin' two bags of weed but ended up gettin' charged with a buncha charges…" Mill said. "He don't have money, so he can't hire an attorney, so he's gonna take a deal. And his life is just ruined."
Mill emphasized that the organization isn't advocating for people who are threatening their communities. "I'm not speakin' for any lowlifes, and I'm not speakin' for anyone who's out here bein' a threat… doin' what you're doin' to break down your community. I'm not speakin' for you," Mill said. "I'm speakin' for the people who are actually caught up in these situations and tryin' to make it out."
"If you do your time for your crime or do whatever you do to get outta the system and you get outta the system and you're tryin' to better yourself, I'm speakin' for you," he said. "People in this world make mistakes."
What he wants to see, he said, is to make a "smart" probation and parole act that will help people "gain their life back" and avoid the "loop" of the criminal justice system.
"I want to do somethin' for the people who come from where I come from, because we actually do start in the back," he said. "It goes back to slavery, but, you know, we have to catch up. I want to help people get the right start and make it a fair game."
Prosecutors also agree Mill's conviction should be overturned because of a perceived bias from the judge who sentenced him. The rapper could be re-tried under a new judge. CBS News will have more with Mill next week, including a special announcement about his next chapter.
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