For more than two decades, Edwin Rubis has done all he can think of to demonstrate that he is a changed man. He tells High Times that drug and alcohol addiction pulled him into the illicit cannabis business, which he only entered to settle debts. Federal agents argue otherwise, convicting the long-time Texas native of leading a drug enterprise. Because he fought the charges, a decision he claims not to have fully understood at the time, Rubis is now just a little over halfway through a 40-year sentence. The now-53-year-old’s release date is set for August 2032.
However, he and advocates continue to push for an early release, hoping that his exemplary record and prison community service show he has genuinely been rehabilitated. Rubis is pained to see that he and others remain incarcerated for the plant many are financially profiting from. He mentions Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner specifically.
Addiction Leads to Desperation and then Federal Prison
Rubis’ struggles with alcohol and drug addiction began when he was 21. Several stints in rehab didn’t stick. By 1995, he had a wife and three sons and worked as a mechanic and car salesman in the Houston area. However, addiction continued to burden him. Debts to drug dealers mounted. “They threatened my family; they threatened me,” he claimed.
“I needed to pay this money back,” he said.
To settle his debts, he began transporting cannabis from the border to Houston for the dealers. He claims to have ceased all work in 1996 as soon as the debt was settled. A year-and-a-half later, Rubis was arrested by DEA agents in 1998 at the age of 29.
After his arrest, Rubis asked agents why he was arrested. They reportedly said his name had been given to agents by another person caught in the sting. During the arrest and subsequent search, Rubis said that agents found no drugs, money or guns in his family’s apartment or other possessions. Instead, he claimed a conspiracy was built against him by agents and those in the operation who ultimately received lesser sentences for corroborating the story.
Unable to afford a lawyer, Rubis had one appointed on his behalf. His counsel advised him to play ball like the others arrested and turn over any information to the Feds. He said he didn’t have any information to give up.
Ultimately, the Feds offered no plea deal. “I tried to plead guilty because it was the obvious thing to do,” claimed Rubis. However, that feeling changed when he wasn’t allowed to plead out like the others. He felt compelled to now fight the charges in court, believing that he could prove his innocence based on a lack of physical evidence.
Rubis went to trial. The decision proved costly, resulting in his 40-year sentence.
“I learned the hard way,” he said, adding, “They gave me 40 years based on the testimony of others.” He said he would never have gone to trial had he known the typical outcome for anyone fighting against federal charges. In 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that just two percent of 2018’s 80,000 federal cases went to trial, with 97 percent of federal convictions made via plea deals.
Prison’s Dark Days Almost Become Too Much
Prison has been brutal for the Rubis family. Addiction landed Edwin in prison once before for car burglary. This time around, the experience was much more jarring.
“I had been in state prison, but I had never been in one of the most violent prisons in the United States,” said Rubis.
That place was USP Beaumont, otherwise known as Bloody Beaumont, one of the most notoriously violent institutions in the system. Those first two-and-a-half years were trying for Rubis in a way he hadn’t experienced before. “I couldn’t fathom the thought of serving 40 years in prison, especially for marijuana,” he stated.
His mental health deteriorated further when thinking about the financial and personal struggles his family would contend with. “Being in prison, unable to help them, brought me to extreme depression,” said Rubis. Making matters worse, his appeals were all rejected. Despondent, he attempted to take his own life.
“It’s hard for me to remember,” said Rubis, barely holding back tears during a phone call.
He credits his Christian faith for keeping him in better spirits through the years. With a new perspective, he began to improve himself and others around him.
Faith and Education Fuel Rubis and Those Around Him
Rubis experienced a “face the music” moment, deciding to accept his fate in prison.
“I felt like my life needed to change,” claimed Rubis. The change relied on religion, education and rehabilitation. Over the years, Rubis would enroll in “any rehabilitation program they had to offer,” including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. He’s taken courses on anger management and completed a two-year dental apprentice program. He also serves as a mentor to other prisoners at his current residence, FCI Talladega in Alabama. Rubis is also heavily involved in the prison’s chapel and programs, including operating his prison ministry. Through the efforts, he hopes to help others turn their lives around as he has.
Rubis’ 180-degree life change earned him the endorsements of prison staff and administrators who have written letters on his behalf. Despite his efforts and the support of prison officials and advocacy groups like Freedom Grow and The Last Prisoner Project, he remains locked away.
Support also comes from everyday individuals like Carter Wynn, who remembered seeing a change.org petition for Rubis in 2012. After signing the petition for his release, Wynn noticed Rubis’ contact info on the page. He contacted Rubis, and the two sparked a bond, leading to Wynn advocating for Rubis’ release.
Wynn wrote letters to judges seeking Rubis’ compassionate release, offering to provide him a job when let out. He also provided High Times with a 2020 letter from prison staff, noting Rubis demeanor and disposition made him capable of working with “a very demanding staff member,” as one supervisor described. Others noted Rubis’ near-immediate commitment to education once arriving at Talladega in August 2008. “The amount of positive programs he has completed exceeds that of the average inmate,” wrote Unit Manager J.A. Gilman in September 2020.
Still, Rubis has not been granted his freedom for a nonviolent cannabis offense.
With roughly 12 years left, he admits that it can be frustrating seeing inmates like himself denied their release. He believes he’s done everything to prove he’s changed. Today, Rubis continues to contact advocacy groups and the Biden administration, seeking an early end to the sentence. A change.org petition and GoFundMe has been established for him.
While waiting for a possible reprieve, Rubis hopes change can come for more than himself. In the final minutes of our call, he emphasized the need for nonviolent, radical action to address harsh sentencing against nonviolent cannabis offenders. While crediting the efforts of advocacy groups, Rubis hopes to see more people join in the fight so that harsh drug sentencing and policing can one day come to an end. Once free, he hopes to participate in the battle for drug and prison reform.
On September 16, 2020, Rubis filed a compassionate release motion with Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. The motion was denied within 24 hours. Rubis said it did not address any of the issues asking for his release. Rubis has appealed. A year later, on August 13 2021, the Fifth Circuit Court Appeals sent the case back to Judge Hittner, instructing him to fully explain the reasons for the denial.
On August 17, 2021, Judge Hittner again denied the compassionate release motion, in the same manner he had done before. The motion is back on appeal again, with Rubis now waiting for a decision from the Fifth Circuit.