When Lamar Reed was 10 years old, he went to his mother with a question he couldn’t get out of his mind. It was one that had been forming since he first began boarding planes as a toddler to and from Oakland or Los Angeles to visit whichever state the federal government was caging his father—Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oregon. Lamar’s father had already been jailed for a full decade before he gathered the courage to ask his mother a question that might give him answers. He needed to know why his dad had been locked up all his life and why he still had so many years left in his sentence. He wanted something that could explain why he had never seen his father wear anything but a prison jumpsuit.

Lamar searched his mother’s eyes and, somehow, found the words to ask the only question that might explain it away: “did my daddy kill somebody?” Darryl Reed, Lamar’s father, hadn’t killed anyone; he sold crack and did so at the height of the U.S. government’s War or Drugs.

In fact, just two years before Darryl was arrested, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. The law was written to target users and distributors of crack cocaine by creating mandatory minimum sentences for even small amounts of crack cocaine. As little as five grams of crack brought a minimum of five years in prison without the possibility of parole. Darryl was sentenced for possession of far more than five grams of crack, though. When officers raided his Oakland home, they seized 30 pounds of crack and 16 pounds of powder cocaine, together worth an estimated $3 million. He was ultimately sentenced to 35 years in prison.

When the Anti-Drug act was passed 30 years ago, President Reagan’s stated intention was to quell the crack epidemic by creating a zero tolerance environment for users and distributors. Another result of it, however, was the disruption of families like the Reeds, black families.

Darryl will be released from prison this year after serving 26 of those years. He is one of 774 people, the vast majority of whom were serving time for nonviolent drug crimes, granted clemency by President Obama. The end of Darryl’s long sentence is finally in sight. Set to be released next month, he’ll return to a world vastly different than the one he left, however, and the prospect of readjustment is daunting—especially for the son who has only ever known him behind bars.

Lamar, now 27, says that it was hard to suspend disbelief when he learned that his father’s sentence was being commuted by Obama. Over the years, he’d grown numb to the possibility of his father’s early release, unable to see an end in sight. 

“Once we found out about the clemency, of course, I was happy, but I wasn’t really feeling the effects of it. The feeling was more surreal, an out-of-body experience almost,” Lamar tells Complex.

When the Anti-Drug act was passed 30 years ago, President Reagan’s stated intention was to quell the crack epidemic by creating a zero tolerance environment for users and distributors. Another result of it, however, was the disruption of families like the Reeds, black families. According to the ACLU, the federal drug guidelines laid out by the ADA drug laws have had a, “devastating effect on African-American men, women, and families.” That’s because aside from creating a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of crack, a drug heavily associated with black Americans, the law also created a tremendous disparity in the sentences given for possession of crack versus powder cocaine. Ultimately, it led to a system of mass incarceration that heavily policed black communities, incarcerated black men and women at astronomical rates for drug possession, and guaranteed that they’d be behind bars for a long time. In part because of such high rates of incarceration, one of every 14 black children have a parent that is incarcerated, making them nine times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than a white child.

The DEA raided Darryl Reed’s home in Oakland after intercepting him in telephone wiretaps of another case “buying multi-kilos of cocaine.” It’s reported that when agents found Darryl, who was 20 a the time, his hands were buried in a metal soup pot filled up with as much as 30-pounds of crack. His son Lamar was born a few weeks later.

Lamar says maintaining connection to his father over decades has been difficult and expensive, but his family has somehow found a way. He likes to joke that he’s been a “jet setter” since he was a baby, crisscrossing states to visit his dad in more than a dozen prisons. 

“I have seen this whole country going to visit my dad.” His earliest memory is of himself as a four-year-old boarding a plane to visit his father in a Philadelphia prison.

Researchers at the Ella Baker Center in Oakland found in one study that travel costs associated with visiting loved ones behind bars had forced a third of inmate families into debt. Prisoners are often transported to private prisons without notice, leaving family to follow an erratic migration of what some inmates call going “on the draft.” 

When Lamar turned twelve, Darryl began sending his son literature and articles related to prisons systems and the carceral state as a way to answer some of his questions.

When he was younger, his father was being detained in east coast states, making contact limited. “All he could do is express his love over the phone and just make sure he was in my ear,” Lamar says. “I never doubted anything about how much he loved me and how strong our bond was.”

One thing that reinforced that bond was shared learning about mass incarceration. 

When Lamar turned twelve, Darryl began sending his son literature and articles related to prisons systems and the carceral state as a way to answer some of his questions.

“I wanted to try to educate him on my situation,” Darryl tells Complex in a phone call from prison, “that I didn’t get 35 years because of drugs, but that I got 35 years because of the powers that be. I wanted him to know that it was bigger than just me. And the bigger plan was to incarcerate the African-American male.”

As Lamar got older and visited more frequently, he not only learned from his father but also began to see for himself how drug sentencing disproportionately affects people of color.

“Its hurtful,” he says. “For everyone else, it’s just a statistic, but when you go and you have been going into prisons your whole life and you see all these other young black dudes like your dad, you ask, how long they gone keep these dudes in there.” 

One reason President Obama commuted Darryl’s sentence, and those of so many others, was to account for the basic unfairness of the War on Drugs and the disparate impact it had on families of color.

Under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Congress finally eliminated mandatory minimums for simple possession of crack and reduced the weight disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. Given those new laws, the Obama administration began commuting the sentences of individuals who would have gotten less time had they been convicted under the new, more reasonable laws.

Darryl grew older as the federal drug laws changed at a dial-up Internet pace. He became a father behind bars and a grandfather three times over and has now spent more time in prison than he has as a free man. He says he’s thankful that laws are changing to course correct the past but is suspicious of the timing amid rising prescription opioid and heroin drug use among white Americans.

“Eventually, they start getting arrested and charged, and they don’t want to give them the amount of time they were giving us,” he says.

Columbia Law professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw shares the sentiment. She said in an interview with The New York Times, “One cannot help notice that had this compassion existed for African-Americans caught up in addition and behaviors it produces, the devastating impact of mass incarceration upon entire communities would never have happened.”

One reason President Obama commuted Darryl’s sentence, and those of so many others, was to account for the basic unfairness of the War on Drugs and the disparate impact it had on families of color. In fact, Darryl was one of 325 prisons to receive clemency from Obama in the month of August. It was, “the greatest number of commutations ever granted by a president in a single month, “according to the White House. It’s a step in the right direction on behalf of the federal government but nothing can replace the time that was lost. 

“The sentence that they gave him isn’t just pouring over into his life, it’s has touched three generations now,” Lamar says of his father's nearly three decades locked up. “I don’t think my father was perfect or did no wrong, but my father for sure didn’t get justice.”

For his part, Darryl has made good use of the time. Even behind bars, he has used his life and example to steer young people area away from drugs and violence. He made a practice of calling into radio stations over the years to share his story and he works with an Urban Peace Movement, an anti-violence organization based in the Oakland area. In fact, Darryl is often the Keynote Speaker, via speakerphone, at their Silence The Violence events.

In the coming weeks, Darryl will likely be sent to one of several residential reentry centers, or halfway homes, contracted by the Bureau of Prisons to “help inmates gradually rebuild their ties to the community and facilitate supervising ex-offenders’ activities during the readjustment phase.” Readjustment, even for someone pardoned by the President of the United States, will mean rebuilding his life one step at a time: finding a job, checking in regularly with a probation officer and—perhaps the biggest challenge—reconnecting with his family.

For Lamar, that journey will begin when he sees his dad in plain clothes.

“Literally since the day I was born, I’ve been waiting for this moment, never knowing exactly when it was gonna come,” he says. “I tell people it’s not going to seem real to me until that very first moment he is in real clothes, and he doesn’t have a number on his chest, and he doesn’t have a jumpsuit on. I have never seen him like that.”