Memphis man released from prison after President Obama commuted life sentence

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After 19 years in prison, a Memphis man is free Wednesday evening after former president Barack Obama commuted his life sentence.

FOX13's Jerrita Patterson sat down with Philander Butler about an hour after he was released.

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Philander Butler made that walk right into the arms of his overjoyed family Wednesday morning.

"I was sentenced to life without parole and 10 years supervised release," said Butler.

It was 1998, when the then 28-year-old Butler was put away for life for his third drug offense.

Nearly 2 decades later, Butler finally received word, his conviction was being commuted.

He described to us what it was like to have his name called by the warden, October 6th of last year.

"He was like 'What do you think you're in here for?' I was like 'I believe I’m getting ready to get clemency. I think I’ve been granted clemency, ad he was like 'Yeah, you're right--you have been granted clemency.'"

Former president Barack Obama, granted clemency in the last three months of his presidency.

Now this father of nine is trying to navigate back into a world that has continued to evolve.

There's a lot Butler will have to figure out.

"The phone itself because the one they bought me, I don't know what to do with it.  I was talking and the thing started saying what I was saying.  I was like 'What's that?'"

It's not just the city's landscape Butler has to learn all over again, but he has to learn how to be a part of a society he's been away from for nearly 20 years.

Butler said everything for him goes back to time as he's taking things not only day by day but minute by minute.

He's hoping others will learn from his mistakes before it’s too late.

Local activist Jeffery Futrell believes it's no coincidence Butler graduated from the "Freedom of Release" program at the prison years before he even knew he would be set free.

"I am hopeful that this process will continue and other men may receive similar relief,” said Futrell.

Jimmy Townsend was also released Wednesday.

Law enforcement considered Townsend a drug kingpin when he was taken down following an undercover sting.

He was sentenced to life in prison back in 1992.

At one point, he was married to Marjorie Harvey who is now married to talk show host, Steve Harvey.

Townsend was among 330 other inmates with sentences commuted by President Obama back in January.