NEW YORK (WPIX) — His story incited calls for justice and now, from inside a New York prison, a 58-year-old inmate said he’s been punished enough for his crimes. Reggie Randolph, a nearly blind man who spent more than 850 days in a Rikers Island jail facility after stealing NyQuil cold medication was transferred to Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill in late November.
“My inmate number is 21A-2448,” said Randolph, who’s now serving a two- to four-year sentence at the maximum-security state prison facility. “I’m being over prosecuted for my case, it feels like. I understand. I’m human. I’ve made some mistakes.”
His sentence stems from the 2018 theft of about 40 boxes of NyQuil cold medication from two separate Duane Reade pharmacy locations in Manhattan. “I stole $198 worth of NyQuil,” Randolph said. “I would sell the NyQuil—sell it, and buy my drugs. I was on heroin and crack cocaine.”
He said he’s been clean for almost a year now. Randolph, a father of two, was previously diagnosed with schizoaffective mental health disorder and currently struggles with myriad medical issues. For example, “I’m blind in my right eye,” he said. “I’m legally blind in my left.”
After the NyQuil thefts, prosecutors under outgoing Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance upgraded the criminal charges against Randolph. The case history involved disqualified him from two pretrial diversion programs—approved by prosecutors and the court—which would have kept him out of jail.
Randolph has a family on the outside rooting for him. Tunisa McClan, the mother of his two daughters, lives in Florida. “He deserves the opportunity to show his children that he’s capable of so much more than what the state has labeled him as,” she said.
Randolph said he’s ready for another chance to get his life on track and reconnect with his family. “I feel like me dealing with my drug addiction, I was being selfish—depriving them of they father, which was not right,” he said.
His record includes five felony convictions from the mid-1980s to 2005, along with over 53 nonviolent misdemeanor theft and drug possession convictions. Randolph believes he’s being unfairly punished for stealing the NyQuil in addition to the rest of his troubled past. “It’s like triple jeopardy. You understand what I’m saying? I paid my debt to society for the crime,” he said.
Criminal justice advocates argue that the process has become an institutionalized cog of the criminal justice system. Randolph’s attorneys argue that his crimes—committed while he was high or trying to get high—were repeatedly used to justify giving him a stiffer sentence after each new conviction. Instead of putting defendants like him into a supportive environment to treat their mental health and drug issues, the system ends up putting them behind bars.
Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she’s seen this scenario before. “It doesn’t work for anybody, except for the political panderers who think it’s a good idea to just lock ’em up and throw away the key whenever there’s a problem. And here we have an aging gentleman, with serious, a chronic history of serious problems, and we have failed him—miserably,” she said. “It’s no accident this is a Black man living in New York City who has been cycled in and out. We need to change our laws—the last vestiges of the Rockefeller drug laws. We need to eliminate the system that allows for mandatory minimums for people because they have a long record. That is the antithesis of dealing with people in a rehabilitative way.”
On its online data dashboard, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office touts a 57.7% drop in the number of cases arraigned between 2013 and 2019. It’s also been five years since the DA’s office began declining to prosecute several low-level, nonviolent offenses like evading subway fares, marijuana possession, or unlicensed street vending.
And although newly elected Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg pledged to continue avoiding the practice of felony up-charging for nonviolent misdemeanors, those decisions will be made at the discretion of his office. That includes deciding which nonviolent criminal offenses will not face prosecution.
Bragg did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and a spokesperson for Vance declined to comment. But they previously sent a statement reading:
“The Judge ruled that this was not a simple shoplifting case because Mr. Randolph removed more than 40 boxes from multiple stores in order to resell them. Regardless, our office supported Mr. Randolph throughout several stages of this case, from agreeing to handle his case in a specialized drug treatment court, to supporting his participation in multiple residential drug treatment programs in lieu of incarceration, to the clemency petition process currently underway.”
Brooklyn-based State Sen. Zellnor Myrie is planning to introduce a potentially landmark bill as soon as next week. It would eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing, the policy that in August gave a judge no choice but to sentence Randolph to two to four years in state prison following his theft of NyQuil.
“Mr. Randolph has issues that don’t have to deal with incarceration and that have been proven to fail,” Myrie said. “Forcing the court to say, ‘Is this the right choice for this person? Is incarcerating really gonna help them rehabilitate? Is that really gonna help keep our community safe?’ That’s what this bill is about. And it’s about allowing the court to make that decision without having their hands tied.”
Whenever Randolph gets out of prison, he has a room ready and waiting for him at the Redemption Center—a supportive housing facility in Queens—complete with employment, health, and social services. Adrian Griffen moved in last year after spending 20 years in prison. “All of that was available to me. Like, immediately. It wasn’t no waiting line, it wasn’t moving around 10 times a day to different shelters to try to find help,” he said. “It was available immediately.”
For Randolph, there’s no chance of closing out the year with his family. A parole hearing was postponed by corrections officials due to an internal paperwork mishap. As a result, this 58-year old inmate will remain in prison, and may have to wait up to three months for another hearing.
Until then, only New York Gov. Kathy Hochul can help Randolph. A few months ago, Randolph’s attorneys at the Legal Aid Society filed a petition with her administration to commute Randolph’s prison sentence. A decision from Hochul has not been announced.