Spotlight on: Gregory Wines

From the May 2024 Criminal Defense Newsletter

You began working with SADO in 2023 as a Summer Justice Fellow with Project Reentry. Later that year, you joined SADO’s Juvenile Lifer Unit, working as a paralegal. You bring unique experiences to your work: when you were 17, you were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for felony murder and also received two parolable life sentences for other convictions. What do you want readers to know about your case?

I want people to know that the law doesn’t always punish people according to their actions and based on their individual culpability.

In my case, I was initially offered a plea deal to second degree murder. The prosecutor made this offer because I was not the principal. But I was also 17 years old and didn’t know anything about the law, so I rejected the offer. In my mind, I hadn’t killed anyone, so why would I admit that I had? In the end, after a jury trial, I was convicted of first-degree felony murder as an aider and abettor. I received the same sentence as a principal: life without the possibility of parole.

When I speak with legislators, I find that they don’t always understand that the non-principal can be sentenced the same way as the principal. Now that I’m home, I want to work for reform in this area, because it’s so sorely needed.

Before you came home in 2022, you must have done a lot of thinking and planning about what your new life would be like. Could you think and plan for everything? Has anything surprised you over the past couple of years?

I thought I could plan for everything. I took advantage of every educational opportunity I could while I was in prison. I got my GED and my Paralegal Certification and took most of the credits for an Associate’s Degree.

But what I couldn’t plan for is how to navigate adult relationships. I read about relationships when I was in prison and had some valuable relationships with women before I came home. But this did not and could not prepare me for the ups and downs of relationships and the decision-making involved. I just wasn’t prepared for the emotions associated with relationships. To survive in prison, you need to be stoic and suppress your emotions. But that’s not going to be successful in societal relationships. You can try, but you can’t really prepare for this shift.

What fun things have you done since you came home? What things are you looking forward to doing?

I’ve gone to a bunch of concerts: Papa Roach, Shinedown, and Theory of a Deadman. I also went to a Caskey concert in a small venue, and it was awesome. I loved the light shows and the pyrotechnics – I will never forget them.

I only had two things on my prison bucket list: to go to Pictured Rocks and Tahquamenon Falls, in the Upper Peninsula. I first learned about them on my black and white TV, and I didn’t realize how beautiful they were. And then I got a color TV, and what I saw blew my mind! I can’t wait to go in person.

You have been an advocate for Second Look legislation. What can you tell us about that work, and proposed legislation?

My involvement and passion for Second Look stems from my own sentencing experience. After someone serves a decade or more in prison, we need to ask whether more time is necessary, or whether we are just warehousing that person. I think it’s important for people to understand that Second Look allows for a process that both helps the prisoner succeed and protects society. So, if Second Looks becomes law, a prisoner who succeeds in petitioning the judge will then be required to go before the Parole Board, which has the discretion to grant or deny parole. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card. But if people can be safely released, then we don’t need to spend money warehousing them. That money can instead be reinvested into things like crime prevention and victims’ services, which help everyone.

What do you like about working for SADO? What do you like about legal work?

The people at SADO care a lot about their work but also about the workplace and one another. This shows up in a couple of ways. One, everyone here has been so helpful in teaching me the things I need to know for my work. For example, a handful of different people have worked with me to help me understand how shared computer drives operate. This is a big deal if you’re coming from a place where all you’ve operated are typewriters!

Two, all this caring means that I have a work family. I never imagined I would feel this close to the people I work with. When I got my apartment, it was virtually empty, but my co-workers from SADO helped fill it up. I also have a work colleague who has offered to watch my cat when I go out of town. I’m working on making more friends outside of work, but I feel like I have them already at work.

You have a cat! What can you tell us about Jax?

I got Jax in February from the Humane Society. There were other cats available on the day I visited, but Jax was alone in a locked room. They told me that he had tested positive for feline leukemia and so he had to be separated from the other cats. In my mind, Jax was in seg! They let me into the room and Jax immediately hopped up on my lap. It was over – Jax got paroled! Jax has one more blood test to go, but it looks like he’s over the leukemia. 

Kathy Swedlow

CDRC Manager and Editor