Perrion Roberts was once a drug queen pin, but now she has abandoned that life to become an advocate for people with felony convictions and those victimized by the criminal justice system.
On Jan. 24, 2014, at the age of 49, Roberts received a pardon from the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles after pleading guilty to drug trafficking in Alabama years prior. She was sentenced to 21 years in prison, but was only required to serve two years of her sentence thanks to the pardon. She says God saved her and granted her an opportunity to do something productive with her life.
Roberts earlier this year was featured in the season two premiere of BET’s American Gangster: Trap Queens series, where she discussed her story and how she turned her life around for the better. ESSENCE recently spoke with Roberts to discuss how she was first introduced to dealing drugs, why she believes going to jail saved her life, and why people deserve second chances.
What influenced you to sell drugs?
Roberts: I was working, but that was minimum wage, and so it was all about the money and having the income and being able to take care of my family.
Most families can’t survive off of minimum wage, and resources aren’t always readily available for those in urban communities. Based on your experiences, how easy is it for someone to fall into the drug world?
Roberts: It’s very easy because, as you know, it is very difficult for a person with felons to get a job in America, or to live where they want to live. So a lot of people get involved in selling drugs for the mere reason of just surviving. They have no other alternative of making money. It’s not that people haven’t tried. They do try. But sometimes that trying is just not enough to take care of kids and take care of themselves. It’s very easy for a person to get involved in selling drugs or any illegal activity.
You said you believe going to jail was God’s way of saving you and giving you another chance. How so?
Roberts: Most definitely. God did give me a second chance. I realized when I got out in two years on a 21-year sentence. I took that as my second chance, and I moved forward. I persevered with that.
You were pardoned and given a second chance. Why do you believe most people deserve second chances?
Roberts: I believe people deserve a second chance if they have put themselves in a position to let society know that they are changing, or that they have changed by working, by volunteering, by doing things to help build the community up. Why not give a person a second chance? Once you serve your time, you deserve a second chance. You deserve to be free, work in society and live your life. I think, especially if you have a full pardon, or if you are trying to get a pardon, look at the person, what are they trying to do? Are they doing anything to reform themselves? Then they deserve a second chance. They don’t deserve being held hostage from their life.
What are you doing now to help Black and Brown communities struggling against an unjust criminal justice system?
Roberts: I’m appreciating the platform that you all have given me to help and discourage people from committing crimes, and I’m trying to lead by example. I want to let them know that there’s a better way than just doing any criminal activities. I work with the NAACP with helping people understand voting and registering to vote, especially ex-felons. Ex-felons need the opportunity to vote because we are citizens of the United States and we deserve that. I’m just trying to spread awareness to everyone about criminal justice reform.
I’m also working on a workbook that will help individuals change their criminal thinking to responsible thinking. A lot of people need motivation. A lot of people need someone to follow behind to say, “if that person did that then I can do that.” They just need a little encouragement.