The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Pages

Decades On, Stiff Drug Sentence Leaves A Life 'Dismantled'

Feb 14, 2013
Originally published on February 15, 2013 1:11 pm

There are roughly half a million people behind bars for nonviolent drug crimes in America. But no one really knows how many people have been sentenced to long prison bids since the laws known as Rockefeller drug laws first passed 40 years ago.

What's clear is that tough sentencing laws, even for low-level drug dealers and addicts, shaped a generation of young men, especially black and Hispanic men.

Men like George Prendes, now 59. Born in Cuba, he now works long hours as a telemarketer, barely making rent on his tiny, cluttered apartment in the Bronx.

"It's just the drudgery," Prendes says of his life today. "I mean at my age, I shouldn't be struggling like this."

His wife, Yvonne, says prison carved a hole in the middle of Prendes' life.

"His experience damaged a part of him, you know? Wanting to recuperate the time lost," she says. "And you just can't do that. You can't get those 15 years back."

'Everyone Was Doing Cocaine'

Prendes was in his early 20s when New York's Legislature set strict mandatory minimum prison sentences of 15 years to life for nonviolent drug crimes. Prendes says he had no idea the rules were changing.

"Everyone was doing cocaine. And I met judges, I met lawyers, I met a lot of affluent people, and to me that was a sign of affluence," he says. "So I did a little coke here and there."

Prendes says he was broke and facing eviction from his apartment when, in 1977, he made the big mistake that put him in the crosshairs of the new laws: He agreed to help with a drug deal, selling a pound of cocaine upstate in Rochester, N.Y. It was a sting.

"They bust down the door, and there's like 20 cops in the other room," Prendes recalls. "They came in — I remember the guy walked right up to me. I was stunned. And the guy punched me right in the face."

The way Prendes tells it, he had no idea at first that the new Rockefeller law, named after New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, was sending thousands more people to prison every year for longer prison sentences.

The guy who did understand the consequences was Robert King, the young assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute Prendes.

"I felt very comfortable ... with the conviction," King says. "I think the evidence in the case clearly supported his conviction. The sentencing rules were what they were. So it was kind of out of my hands, really."

Advocates of lengthy prison sentences, including many prosecutors, are convinced that they deter crime and slow the spread of illegal drugs.

A Disproportionate Effect On Minority Men

Prendes was a first-time offender, and no one saw him as a kingpin drug dealer. But under the Rockefeller law, he spent the next 15 years in maximum security prison with no chance for parole.

"I don't know if people realize that with a sentence like that, it takes away not only from the person — it takes away from the family," says Mercedes Prendes Estrada, Prendes' sister, through tears.

She's in her 50s now, but was a teenager when Prendes went away to prison. She says their mother spent years and all the family's money trying to help him.

"It really — dismantled [us]," Mercedes says. "It was like a bomb. It had a profound effect that you don't come back from."

In a way, the Prendes family's experience is a new part of the American story. Mandatory minimum sentencing rules for drugs and other nonviolent crimes are now on the books in almost every state. Nearly half the inmates in federal prison are serving time on drug charges.

Studies show the overwhelming majority of people sentenced under Rockefeller-style laws are black and Hispanic men, despite the fact that there's a lot of drug use in white communities.

"I think the intentions were good," King says. "Whether or not it achieved the results, I'd say that they have not."

'A Big Chunk Of My Life'

King, who put Prendes behind bars, is part of a growing movement of onetime supporters of mandatory prison sentences who now say they have doubts about their effectiveness and their fairness.

"I have a son who's about to turn 30. And so we were talking about this case and he was enraged by the sentence. He said, 'That's ridiculous,' " King says. "And I think by today's standards, I think most people would look at this — and I guess I would look at it — and say that sentence was disproportionate."

Rockefeller-style laws are still the norm in the U.S. With more than 2.3 million Americans behind bars, incarceration rates are still rising in some states.

But the high cost of operating prisons has led other states to ease sentencing rules — leading to significant declines in inmate populations in California and New York.

Under New York's modified sentencing guidelines, passed in 2009, Prendes might have served as little as one year behind bars before being released for parole or sent for drug counseling.

"You try not to be bitter. I mean, I was 23 years old when I got arrested. I got out of prison when I was 37," Prendes says. "That's a big chunk of my life. And there's a lot of things that I could have done and didn't do."

So while politicians and prosecutors debate the future of Rockefeller-style laws, millions of former inmates like Prendes are sorting out what they can salvage after decades spent in prison.

This story is produced by NPR in cooperation with North Country Public Radio's Prison Time Media Project, a yearlong investigative series looking at the national impact of Rockefeller-style laws.

Copyright 2013 North Country Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the controversial Rockefeller drug laws. In 1973, New York City was suffering a heroin epidemic. And in response, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller pushed for long prison sentences, even for low-level drug dealers and addicts. The policy changed the way we think about crime and punishment. It influenced tough-on-crime laws across the country, and it contributed to the sharp rise in the number of Americans behind bars. As North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, a fresh debate is now under way over the cost, fairness and effectiveness of Rockefeller-style laws.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: There are roughly half a million people behind bars for non-violent drug crimes right now, in America. But the truth is, no one really knows how many people have been sentenced to long prison bids since the Rockefeller laws first passed 40 years ago. What's clear is that tough sentencing laws shaped a generation of young men, especially black and Hispanic men like George Prendes.

GEORGE PRENDES: It's just the drudgery. I mean, at my age, I shouldn't be struggling like this.

MANN: Prendes, who's 59 now, was born in Cuba. He works long hours as a telemarketer, barely making rent on his tiny, cluttered apartment in the Bronx. His wife, Yvonne, says prison carved a hole in the middle of Prendes' life.

YVONNE PRENDES: His experience damaged a part of him, you know, wanting to recuperate the time lost. And you just can't do that. You know, you can't get those 15 years back.

MANN: Prendes was in his early 20s when New York's legislature set strict mandatory minimum prison sentences of 15 years to life for non-violent drug crimes. Prendes says he had no idea the rules were changing.

G. PRENDES: Everybody was doing cocaine. And I met judges, I met lawyers, I met a lot of affluent people, and to me that was a sign of affluence. So I did a little coke here and there.

MANN: Prendes says he was broke, facing eviction from his apartment. So in 1977, he made the big mistake that put him in the cross hairs of the new laws. He agreed to help with a drug deal, selling a pound of cocaine upstate in Rochester, New York. It was a sting.

G. PRENDES: They bust down the door, and there's like, 20 cops in the other room. They came in. I remember, the guy walked right up to me. I was stunned. And the guy punched me right in the face.

MANN: The way Prendes tells it, he had no idea, at first, that the new Rockefeller law was sending thousands more people to prison every year for longer prison sentences. The guy who did understand the consequences was Robert King, the young assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute Prendes.

ROBERT KING: I felt very comfortable with - first with the conviction. I mean, I think the evidence in the case clearly supported his conviction. The sentencing rules were what they were so it was kind of out of my hands, really.

MANN: Advocates of lengthy prison sentences, including many prosecutors, are convinced that they deter crime and slow the spread of illegal drugs. Prendes was a first-time offender, and no one saw him as a kingpin drug dealer. But under the Rockefeller law, he spent the next decade and a half in maximum security prison with no chance for parole.

MERCEDES PRENDES: I don't know if people realize that with a sentence like that, it takes away not only from the person; it takes away from a family.

MANN: Prendes' sister Mercedes is in her 50s now, but was a teenager when he went away to prison. She says their mother spent years, and all the family's money, trying to help her brother.

M. PRENDES: It really dismantled - it was like a bomb. It had profound effects that you don't come back from.

MANN: In a way, the Prendes family's experience is a new part of the American story. Mandatory minimum sentencing rules for drugs and other non-violent crimes are now on the books in almost every state, and nearly half the inmates in federal prison are serving time on drug charges. Studies show the overwhelming majority of people sentenced under Rockefeller-style laws are black and Hispanic men, despite the fact that there's a lot of drug use in white communities.

KING: I think the intentions were good. Whether or not it achieved the results, I'd say that they have not.

MANN: Robert King, who put Prendes behind bars, is part of a growing movement of one-time supporters of mandatory prison sentences who now say they have doubts about their effectiveness and their fairness.

KING: I have a son who's about to turn 30. And so we were talking about this case, and he was enraged by the sentence. He said, that's ridiculous. And I think by today's standards, I think most people would look at this - and I guess I would look at it - and say that sentence was disproportionate.

MANN: Rockefeller-style laws are still the norm in the U.S., with more than 2.3 million Americans behind bars. And incarceration rates are still rising in some states. But the high cost of operating prisons has caused other states to ease sentencing rules, leading to significant declines in inmate populations in California and New York. Under New York's modified sentencing guidelines, passed in 2009, George Prendes might have served as little as a year behind bars before being released for parole or sent for drug counseling.

G. PRENDES: You try not to be bitter. I mean, I was 23 years old when I got arrested. I got out of prison when I was 37. That was a big chunk of my life, and there's a lot of things that I could have done and didn't do.

MANN: So while politicians and prosecutors debate the future of Rockefeller-style laws, millions of former inmates, like George Prendes, are sorting out what they can salvage after decades spent in prison.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.