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Free T.I.? Maybe.


“You can have whatever you like?” Not for rapper T.I. 

After spending 10 months in an Arkansas prison, T.I. was released last week, only to be placed into a medium security facility when he arrived at an Atlanta halfway house two days later. Clifford Harris, Jr. has had numerous run-ins with the legal system: two stints in county jail, two probation violations, two trips to federal prison, not including his juvenile record. 

A native of the Atlanta area, T.I. comes from a split home and was allegedly a drug dealer by age 14.

In 2003, he assaulted a female sheriff’s deputy in Florida. 

Three years later, he threatened a man outside a strip club. 

These charges were dropped, but he was then picked up for failing to complete his community service for the 2003 charge. 

T.I. also has a conviction for driving with a suspended license, but these charges seem petty compared to his two most recent. 

In 2009, T.I. attempted to purchase three machine guns and silencers. His Atlanta attorney, Steve Sadow, bargained with the judge and worked out an experimental plea deal.

T.I. paid the $100,000 fine, completed 1,500 hours of community service, and served one year and one day in federal prison (as opposed to the sentencing recommendation of five years in federal custody).

You may remember that those community service hours were documented on an MTV reality show, “Road to Redemption”, in which the rapper helped low-income youth get on the path to a better future. 

But, less than a year later, T.I and his wife, Tiny, were arrested at a traffic stop in California on suspicion of a drug possession. 

With the federal probation violation charge looming, local enforcements did not bring charges against the rapper (Tiny’s charges were dropped after she completed 24 sessions of a drug-diversion program).

As a result, T.I. returned to the Arkansas prison to serve an 11-month sentence.

At the end of his sentence, T.I. allegedly told the Federal Prison Bureau that he would be picked up “in a van of some sort” and driven to Atlanta.

Arkansas officials witnessed the rapper leave the facility and board a luxury tour bus, accompanied by an entourage of SUVs. 

His exit also included the start of filming for his upcoming VH1 reality show due to air in December (this apparently violated prison policy prohibiting cameras on the premises).

Despite the policy that freed prisoners are allowed to move unescorted via private transportation and should do so indiscreetly, none of the Arkansas officials intervened as T.I. left the prison in this indiscrete fashion. 

T.I.’s sentence ends on September 29th, just four days after his 31st birthday. As of today, it is unclear whether or not he will finish his term in an Atlanta jail or at the halfway house as originally planned. 

It seems as though we live in a world where rappers (Lil Kim, Lil Wayne, etc.) can take trips in and out of prison but are rewarded upon their exit with continued record deals, reality TV series, and book deals (T.I. has a deal with HarperCollins for a book titled “Power and Beauty.”

With seven successful studio albums, should we not hold such a public figure to a higher standard? 

Russell Simmons thinks otherwise. In a Twitter campaign to #freeTI and #freeTInow, Simmons brought up an interesting point: Martha Stewart, who recently served a sentence for insider trading, left prison in a private plane. 

Is there a double standard for rappers or black entertainers as opposed to white public figures? 

The obvious link being to Lindsay Lohan who seems to skate around her jail time on a regular basis.

Is it easier for prison and legal officials to look the other way for a “Suzie-homemaker” type, such as Martha Stewart, as opposed to more flamboyant and arguably more influential hip-hop phenomena?

Ultimately, it seems as though Atlanta officials are trying to make an example of T.I. 

First, for seemingly laughing in the face of his experimental plea deal and second, as a warning to the swarms of young fans who admire T.I’s rise from rags to riches. 

T.I., though, doesn’t seem to take his mistakes lightly. 

In his latest album, “No Mercy,” T.I. raps about his short-comings and the catch-22 that comes with fame, saying “it’s hard living in the spotlight,” and asking “my good outweigh the bad, God, ain’t that what really matters?” 

Only, time will tell if he “gets back up” from this latest fall from glory.


Emily Stedman is a second year law student from Marietta, Ga. 

Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyLStedman.