Rahsaan Thomas of ‘Ear Hustle’ released from prison a year after commutation from Newsom

Rahsaan Thomas was released from San Quentin State Prison on Wednesday, more than a year after he was granted a commutation by Gov. Gavin Newsom for his rehabilitation behind bars, including his work on the Pulitzer Prize-nominated podcast Ear Hustle.

Thomas’ supporters had campaigned for his release for years. His departure from San Quentin came hours after The Times featured Thomas in a published report on dozens of people remaining in jail despite the governor’s clemency.

Thomas was among 123 people Newsom has granted commutations or reduced sentences since becoming governor in 2019. But as of January, a third of those individuals remained behind bars — in some cases years after the governor’s recommendations, according to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

This is largely due to Newsom’s decision to appeal to the parole board for the vast majority of his commutations, rather than using his clemency powers to unilaterally pardon them.

Thomas’s sentence was commuted by the governor in January 2022 and paroled by the board in August, but remained in San Quentin State Penitentiary on Tuesday.

Thomas, 52, was sentenced to 55 years and six months to life in prison on second-degree murder and other charges after he fatally shot someone and injured another during a drug deal in 2000, according to clemency documents.

In his transformation, Newsom commended Thomas for completing college courses and a series of self-help programs, saying he was “committed to his rehabilitation.” Thomas had received dozens of clemency recommendations, including widespread support from fans of his journalism about life in prison.

In interviews with The Times in early January, Thomas said he was grateful to both the governor and the parole board and that the trial helped him heal and reflect on his past. But he also criticized the lengthy process, saying that “every day counts”.

Even for those who are granted parole, release is not immediate. There is a review period of up to 150 days after a parole board hearing, allowing for decisions to be overseen by the board’s legal team and the governor before they are final.

Thomas said he and his family struggled with not knowing when he would be released.

“I can’t curse a blessing,” Thomas said from prison in January. “My only wish is that when you get a commutation, that process is streamlined. Really, it should be streamlined for everyone. … If you’ve decided it’s safe to let me go, why are you dragging it out?”

Thomas could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but an Ear Hustle spokesman said they “couldn’t be happier” with his release and called him “an important voice”.

“The ‘Ear Hustle’ team looks forward to working with Rahsaan on the outside to continue bringing audiences stories about life during and after incarceration,” said a spokesperson. “This is a special moment. We are grateful to our audience for their extraordinary support.”

A fundraiser as of Wednesday had raised nearly $10,000 from 137 donors to support Thomas after his release.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-02-08/rahsaan-thomas-of-ear-hustle-leaves-prison-following-times-report-on-commutation-delays Rahsaan Thomas of ‘Ear Hustle’ released from prison a year after commutation from Newsom

Alley Einstein

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