Donald Fugitt grew up in the North Texas town of Commerce, where he was known as a quiet, silly kid by friends and family. His mother, Carla Lunceford, remembers him growing up constantly laughing or making someone else laugh. In high school, he’d help his football team reach the state championships two of the four years he attended school.
Before graduating, he’d have his first child with his high school sweetheart, a daughter, Kassidy. After graduating, they’d have two more children, a daughter, Kara, followed by Kash, their youngest and only son. The family did what it could to support the three young children. Efforts included a move to Houston so that Donald could support the family working on the nearby pipelines.
With income unable to support the family, Fugitt turned to the cannabis trade, distributing product for an operation. In 2013, the effort was thwarted by federal authorities, with Donald one of several arrested in the sting. He would plead guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute. It would take two years for him to be sentenced to 210 months (17.5 years) in prison in 2015.
Slated to be released in early 2024, Fugitt acknowledges his role in the operation but asks that his sentence be reconsidered as harsh and excessive. Today, the now 36-year-old hopes to receive compassionate relief so that he can spend time with his family and young children as time moves on.
An Unexpected Sentence Handed Down to Donald Fuggitt
No one in Fugitt’s corner thought he could be sent away for such a long period. His record wasn’t spotless with a 2011 DWI charge, but he had never been involved in any drug-related or violent charges.
For his mother, the entire ordeal was a shock. She had no idea her son was involved in any illegal doings. Nor was she expecting to hear he was arrested in Dallas while waiting for another friend who was arrested in the ring to come out of holding. Making matters that much worse, Fugitt’s arrest came just months after the birth of his son.
More unwelcome surprises came when they found out Donald would not receive bond. His mother, Lunceford, remembers being put on the stand at his bond hearing, with the prosecution asking if she’d be comfortable with her son coming home to live with her. They said Donald could be a violent person. She replied, asking if defendants weren’t innocent until proven guilty. “Then they told me to get down off the stand,” Lunceford recalled.
The trial and sentencing would last two years. Lunceford remembers the prosecution presenting photos of people and large bundles of cannabis during the proceeding, saying each were connected to the case. Back on the stand, she was interrogated about those associated. Many of the faces alleged to the operation were Latin American. Carla thought Donald’s lack of Spanish-speaking comprehension would help his case, thinking he could not have participated in tapped phone calls.
However, it did not help. Nor did his lack of cooperation with authorities. Years after the trial, his mother said that Fuggitt refused to provide information because he was hoping to save others from long sentences.
In the end, he would be found guilty and sentenced to over 17 years in federal prison. Years into his prison sentence, Fugitt would write that his attorney “didn’t fight for me” despite agreeing that Fugitt didn’t deserve a federal mandatory minimum.
She told High Times she feels the system railroaded her son. “They have to put it on somebody,” she stated.
In 2018, Lunceford spoke to a nearby lawyer, frustrated by her son’s representation and the lesser sentences given to those in the operation for cooperating with authorities. After paying him $500, the lawyer began talking to a local prosecuting attorney until Fugitt received six years off of his sentence.
The Ripple Effect of Prison on a Family
Like all families of incarcerated individuals, the sentence extends beyond the person in prison. Fugitt’s family has been no exception.
Hardships include keeping up with the cross-country shuffling of prisons, with Lunceford saying he’s now at his seventh in Fort Worth. The distance can make visitations difficult, as have the ongoing pandemic.
Difficulties continue to come even when able to visit. On some occasions, like in Mississippi, the family expected to get an in-person visit but were surprised to be told they could not touch Donald and had to see him through the glass. Lunceford recalls how pale he was from the lack of sunlight from being housed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), which was done to protect him while in a maximum-security prison.
“It was like he was a serial killer, the way they treated him,” she said. Lunceford calls the SHU torture, adding that Fugitt has never complained to her about his situation.
Additional pains came two years into Fugitt’s sentence. After trying on her own, the mother of his three children gave the kids over to Fugitt’s family to support them. “She didn’t know what she was going to do or how she was going to live without Donald,” said Lunceford. She added that neither she or Donald hold any animosity towards the mother for her choice.
While no one holds animosity, Carla can see the effects on the children. Lunceford said his kids miss nights snuggling with their dad to watch TV after he returned from work. Still, there are signs of progress for both. His daughter Kassidy recently made the honor society while holding down an after-school job for over a year. His other daughter Kara remains withdrawn but has shown signs of opening up in the past year. Lunceford credits the change to a puppy the family adopted over Christmas.
They now hope that Fugitt can receive clemency before Kassidy leaves for military service. Attempts for a compassionate release in 2020 early release based on a lung condition and the COVID-19 pandemic were unsuccessful. His case and health situation was featured on a segment of the Tamron Hall Show, but did not further along his bid for freedom.
The family still has hopes thanks to advocates and groups like Weldon Angelos and The Weldon Project, as well as Amy Povah’s Can-Do Foundation. Both organizations aim to advocate for the freedom of nonviolent cannabis offenders like Fugitt.
Angelos and Povah are both former nonviolent drug inmates turned advocates.
Povah began advocating on behalf of other prisoners after she received clemency from President Clinton in 2000. “I never would have received clemency without media exposure,” she told High Times. She began advocating for others and pitching their stories to media outlets for over a decade.
Additional advocate efforts for Fugitt’s release include a Change.org petition directed towards President Biden calling for Fugitt’s release. As of late April, the signature drive had over 5,800 signatures, intending to reach over 7,500.