After 55-year prison sentence commuted, Utah man wants to revive music career

After 55-year prison sentence commuted, Utah man wants to revive music career (Photo: Cristina Flores / KUTV)

(KUTV) After President Obama commuted his 55 year-prison sentence this summer, Weldon Angelos had a few priorities: Make up for lost time with his family, advocate for other prisoners who have been unjustly sentenced and revive a music career that was cut short when he was arrested.

Now a free man after serving 13 of the 55 years, Angelos is dreaming big.

“I want to do everything. Produce documentaries, films, music -- everything,” he said.

Angelos has been dusting off the recordings he made before he was arrested hoping to tweak the music just enough to make it appealing to today’s audience, which is different than when he went to prison.

“There was more activism in hip hop when I was out,” he said, noting that hip hop today mostly features messages about partying and money.

He’s also writing a memoir, producing a documentary, and advocating for more-just mandatory sentences for drug offenses.

“I’m trying to help change the system so people don’t have to experience what me and my family went through.”

He noted that kidnappers and killers have been given lesser sentences.

Angelos has become a poster boy for criminal justice reform.

He believes unjust and long sentences, especially for first-time drug offenders, are unfair to the offenders and their families who often suffer just as much as prisoners.

In March, he and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, will speak on the subject at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

Angelos was producing and recording hip-hop music with big artists like Snoop Dog, but his dreams for hip-hop success ended abruptly after he sold pot three times to a police informant and was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Paul Cassell, the judge who sentenced him, immediately called the sentence unjust.

Cassell, now retired from the bench, but teaching at the University of Utah, was his first and most influential advocate. He petitioned President Obama to commute his sentence.

In his petition to the president, Cassell said the sentence was “unjust, cruel and even irrational.”

He said a more reasonable punishment would have been six to eight years according to Cassell.

The retired judge said he had no choice but to sentence Angelos to 55 years due to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.

Because police found guns at his house after the pot sales – guns that were not used during the sales. They were able to increase the punishment.

Angelos was a first time offender. Cassell said the sentence was troubling to him.

In the summer of 2016, Obama commuted his sentence after Cassell’s appeals and public support from an unlikely coalition of people that included Lee, the Koch Brothers, singer Alicia Keys and Sen. Corey Booker.

Angelos feels grateful for all the public support that he knows swayed the president to commute his sentence. He’s mostly grateful for Cassell’s help.

“I have never seen a judge do that. It’s an amazing thing he did.”

Angelos said he doesn’t want sympathy. He knows that selling pot was a bad move.

At the time, he did it to support his family, including two young sons, while he worked on his music career.

He regrets that decision.

“I ruined my life, my family’s life, my career is over because of that,” he said.

At the same time, he doesn’t think the crime justified the sentence.

Now, Angelos is trying to rebuild his relationship with his two sons, who are now young men and grew up without him.

“That’s the thing that hurt me the most,” he said of the lost years with his sons.

Angelos is also working on his music with the help of people at Pinnacle Recording Studios in South Salt Lake.

Producer Gabriel Tamashi said when Angelos was arrested, everyone knew about it, because he had already made a name for himself in music.

Now, he’s glad to work with Angelos in trying to revamp his old music.

The goal and the challenge is to keep the old-school sound, which is still popular, yet give it something new that will make it relevant today, then distribute it.

Angelos used to work under the label called Extravagant Records. He hopes to revive that too.

When asked whether he’s bitter about losing his career, Angelos said he can’t be bitter.

“I don’t have time to be angry. I need to work,” he said.

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