JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - "Freeway" Ricky Ross started selling drugs at age 19.
"I was a fairly large drug dealer, made millions a day," he says. "Dropped out of high school, couldn't read, couldn't write. Drugs looked like the best opportunity I had."
In the early 1980's he arguably became the biggest drug dealer in South Central Los Angeles. One of his suppliers was linked to the C.I.A. through the Iran Contra affair.
Ross became the main distributor to the bloods and Crips gangs in L.A., and was instrumental in the gangs' nationwide expansion.
The Texas native spent 20 years in federal prison, and this weekend he's part of the Criminal Justice Reform conference in Jackson. He promotes alternative sentencing for drug dealers because, although his empire was huge, he denounced violence.
"Some drug dealers are vicious and violent, but the average drug dealer doesn't want any violence because he doesn't want his business interrupted," Ross says. "Most drug dealers are entrepreneurs and trailblazers. They're people that think forward, looking for opportunities, so we have to give these guys an opportunity to do something."
Now, Ross writes books and helps rehabilitate young drug offenders.
He's taking part in a conference that includes the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union. Those attending are analyzing ways to improve inmates' re-entry into society, and reduce incarceration rates in our state.
"We know we're number 2 per capita (for incarceration rates)," says Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of the Mississippi ACLU. "Mississippi has one of the largest incarceration rates, we need to change that. People are in jail for low level, non-violent offenses."
The conference explores increased use of drug courts and better restitution programs.
The Mississippi Justice Coalition was formed three years ago to challenge the criminal justice system that some say is weighted against the poor and racial minorities.
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