President Barack Obama met drug offenders during a historic tour of a federal prison, telling them he could have been one of them.
Obama famously wrote in a memoir that he used marijuana and cocaine as a young man.
He spoke with inmates and toured El Reno prison Thursday, the first time a sitting president visited a federal prison.
El Reno holds 1,300 inmates, 146 percent of its capacity, according to Reuters.
Obama vowed to work with wardens and corrections officers to address overcrowding, part of his administration’s wide-ranging rform of the the criminal justice system.
Obama walked down the prison’s dimly lit gray halls and stood at the door of Cell 123, Block B, noticing its two occupants’ sparse supplies — brown uniforms, mesh laundry bags, dish soap and a few books.
Six non-violent drug offenders shared their stories with Obama. Their discussions will air on HBO’s Vice documentary program in September.
“These are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from mistakes I made,” Obama later told reporters
“The difference is they did not have the support structure, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive these mistakes,” he said.
More than 1.5 million Americans were in state or federal prisons at the end of 2013, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
African-Americans were 15 percent of the U.S. population at that time but accounted for about a third of its prisoners.
Obama wrote about his own drug use in his memoir “Dreams from my Father” and has made helping young black and Hispanic boys a priority of his remaining time in office through a program called My Brother’s Keeper.
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