President Obama spoke to six nonviolent drug offenders at a federal prison yesterday and gazed into an empty, 9-foot-by-10-foot cell, The Oklahoman reports. He said he was struck by how easy it could be for a young person with few resources to end up in a place like the correctional institution in El Reno, 30 miles west of Oklahoma City. “These are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,” Obama said at the prison. “The difference is, they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes. … That’s what strikes me — there but for the grace of God.”
Speaking in an empty cell block, he said young people around the world are known for sometimes making poor decisions, but that this country ends up incarcerating a disproportionate number of these people. “It's not normal,” he said. The six convicts he spoke with acknowledged their crimes. “Every single one of them emphasized the fact that they had done something wrong; they are prepared to take responsibility for it, but they also urged us to think about how society could've reached them earlier on in life to keep them out of trouble,” the president said. Obama said he did not have tolerance for violent criminals, but that Congress should reconsider of whether nonviolent drug offenders should get sentences of 20 years or more.