Story by Pardon Power
It appeared on a blog by a nationally recognized scholar and a blog that is frequented by the DOJ, the Executive Office of the President of the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court and many state and governmental entities.
Stephen Lee Arrington was born in 1948 in Southern California into a broken family. After graduating from high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and served four tours in Vietnam. He rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer in the Specialty Warfare Command as a bomb disposal diver, where he worked with the CIA, the Secret Service and NASA. Arrington also earned the Naval Commendation Medal for lifesaving. But, while he was stationed in Hawaii in the late 1970’s, he took up surfing and got caught up in the marijuana culture that accompanied a new group of friends. By 1979, Arrington was caught selling marijuana to another sailor and his military career came to an abrupt end, albeit with an Honorable Discharge.
Two years later, Arrington was lured away from his studies at San Diego State University by one Morgan Hetrick, who offered a job as a pilot and right-hand man. But Hetrick was actually a cocaine transporter for the Medellin Drug Cartel. Soon, Arrington found himself being ordered to co-pilot a plane to Colombia. When he first refused, four men with guns convinced him to go along for the ride. Later, Arrington was ordered to drive a cocaine-loaded car from Florida to California. Desperate to escape from his circumstance, Arrington abandoned the car at Van Nuys Airport and tried to walk away. But heavily armed undercover DEA agents took him back to the car and Arrington was arrested. He was thereafter known as a co-defendant of John DeLorean in a cocaine conspiracy trial. DeLorean was acquitted on all charges. But Arrington plead guilty and was sentenced to five years in federal prison.
It was during his time in prison that Arrington made a clear commitment to change. More specifically, he desired to work at only doing good with the rest of his life. And his clear success was evident by the fact that, halfway through his term, he was transferred to a lower security “camp” for good behavior. Arrington then became “chief engineer” of an inmate fire crew. Consequently, as a prison inmate, he had the opportunity to lead seventeen emergency responses, on the “outside,” saving lives in the process. In 1984, aB-1 Bomber crashed in the Mojave Desert just six miles from Boron Prison Camp. Arrington drove a full-sized fire truck across open rugged desert terrain to rescue two of the crew. The pilot had died on impact.
One year after his release from prison, Arrington distinguished himself again, by saving the life of a young man who was trapped underwater without air for over eight minutes. Arrington did CPR for over twenty minutes and received the Red Cross’ highest award for life-saving (an award signed by President Ronald Reagan). One year later, Arrington was hired by The Cousteau Societyas a chief diver and expedition leader. James Walsh, Steve’s prosecutor, argued to get Arrington off “special parole” so he could travel the world diving with whales, dolphin and great white sharks.
After over five years of incredible adventures, Arrington resigned the job of his dreams to become a full-time drug education and motivational speaker to youth nationwide. He has since appeared in front of more than seventeen hundred public school assemblies in forty-nine states and in five countries. He also speaks at prisons, youth lock-ups and for church groups.
Thirteen years ago, Arrington and his wife, Cindy, began the Dream Machine Foundation, which provides free medical and dental services in the South Pacific Island Nation of Fiji. The Foundation has taken over three thousand volunteers to Fiji, approximately half of them academy- and college-age youth who have had their lives changed by serving others. Their clinic and mobile medical/dental services have treated over 30,000 patients. In addition, they have brought seven young Fijians to the United States for life- and limb-saving operations. Currently, they are working closely with the Government of Fiji to introduce clean water projects and septic systems into rural villages and schools.
Stephen Arrington has also submitted the formal paperwork for a presidential pardon to President Obama. On average, the distance between sentencing and clemency for the Obama administration has been 24.3 years. Arrington was sentenced 28.8 years ago today. Obama’s positive clemency applications have, on average, taken 3.4 years to get to the White House, where they have waited, on average, for 291 days. At 63 years of age, Arrington is also well within the average age-range of Obama clemency recipients.
Arrington informs PardonPower that he has been vetted by the FBI and has received dozens of favorable endorsements, including one from the Honorable Robert M. Takasugi, the very judge who sentenced him. Says Judge Takasugi:
… aside from becoming a law-abiding citizen, [Arrington] has excelled at becoming an outstanding, socially-conscious individual of the highest caliber.
James Walsh, Arrinton’s prosecuting attorney, has now passed away. But he wrote a very favorable Introduction to Steve’s Autobiography, exTreme. Among other things, Walsh wrote:
My job is the prosecution of serious federal crimes—for the most part, narcotics crimes—and it brings me into contact with a broad cross section of humanity. Most of those contacts are in court and very few of them are pleasant. …
I first met Stephen in my professional capacity, as a narcotics prosecutor. He was there in court, in handcuffs, wearing a prison jumpsuit, looking somewhat dazed. Well he might, since he had been arrested by federal drug agents as part of one of the most celebrated narcotics undercover investigations of the past decade—the DeLorean Case, as it came to be known to most of the civilized world. Stephen Arrington’s role in the events of that case was minor …
Steve was processed in the usual way … He went off to prison, and I continued with the prosecution of the case, never expecting to hear from him again. It is one of the strange aspects of my job that I almost never see or hear again from people upon whom I have an impact. This is not surprising, for although the interaction that I have with them is a very memorable event in their lives, it is also usually the worst thing that has happened to them; they don’t want to relive it, and I don’t either. When I do hear from one of “my people,” it is usually because they have gotten out of jail and back into trouble—they are going around for another cycle of arrest, trial, and prison. …
It is an unusual pleasure to be able to see tangible proof that someone who has descended into the underworld of drugs and danger can resurface, with his character intact, and make his way to a successful and fulfilling career. It is even more of a pleasure to see such a person be willing to share his experience with others in an effort to ensure that they won’t have to make that full journey themselves.
… while I can claim no credit for the resurrection of Stephen Arrington [his] story is an important example to make the point that you can go home again, if you really want to. He did, and we are richer for it.
Today, Stephen L. Arrington’s biggest – and entirely reasonable – hope is to be officially forgiven by the country that he loves and continues to serve, the country where Alexander Hamilton hoped there would be “easy access” to mercy.