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76-year-old grandmother sent back to prison for not answering phone during computer class, her attorney claims

76-year-old grandmother sent back to prison for not answering phone during computer class, her attorney claims
Posted at 9:48 PM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 07:35:35-04

BALTIMORE — A 76-year-old woman released from prison early last year due to COVID-19 is now back behind bars after not answering her phone during a computer class, her attorney said.

Sapna Mirchandani, Gwen Levi’s attorney, said she was arrested on June 12th. She said Levi is currently at a D.C jail and will soon be transferred to a federal prison. It's where she would serve the remainder of her 2005 sentence of 33 years (later reduced to 24 years) for conspiring to sell at least a kilogram of heroin.

Levi, who is a mother of six and cancer survivor, won’t be released until 2025, Mirchandani said.

She claims it’s because she didn’t receive approval to go to the class in Baltimore from her case manager at the Volunteers of America Chesapeake, which is a halfway house that oversees Levi’s home confinement.

Mirchandani said Levi believed she received verbal approval for the five-week class, which she attended and received approval for twice before.

She said the halfway house claims they tried to call Levi, but she never answered. Levi’s attorney said that was because she turned her phone off during the class.

“The halfway house told me if she would have picked up the phone this would have never happened,” she said.

Mirchandani said this was a simple mistake that should not have ended in her going back to jail.

“It really just sickens me that she’s sitting in jail right now,” Mirchandani said.

Mirchandani also said the reason she was arrested was because she went unaccounted for longer than four hours, which she said the Bureau of Prisons considers as a person trying to escape.

They decided to move forward with her arrest, despite photo evidence showing she attended the class.

“if you’re at a class, and they confirm you’re at a class and you hadn’t skipped town why are they charging you as an escapee,” she said.

For the past year, Levi has worked to turn her life around, volunteering for several advocacy organizations, while she also cared for her 94-year-old mother in Baltimore.

“I feel as though this opportunity I’ve been given to come home that i will have to make the best of it,” Levi said in her own words while she was home during an interview with the Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

“She is the poster for what we want people to do when they come back from prison. She threw herself into her community and made it better. She mentored young people. She gave back,” Mirchandani said.

Now, the 76-year-old’s freedom is in question.

Mirchandani said her last hope is a motion filed in court asking for her release and the chance president Joe Biden catches wind of a petition urging for him to grant her clemency.

“We know God has the final word,” said her son Craig Levi. “We just waiting the final outcome, but in the meantime, we have to fight for not only my mother, but for the other mothers and fathers and sons and daughters that are out there.”

WMAR-2 News’ Ray Strickland spoke with Levi’s case manager at the halfway house to ask about what happened, but she declined to comment or answer any further questions.

She directed all inquiries to the Bureau of Prisons, which has not returned any of our phone calls.

Mirchandani also said she has not been told when or where Levi will be transferred.

On Tuesday, July 6, a judge granted Levi a compassionate release.

FAMM President Kevin Ring released the following statement on the release.

"We are so happy for Gwen and her family," Ring said. "Sending her back to prison for going to a computer class was shameful. She deserves to be home. But this fight is far from over. It’s time for the Biden administration to ensure that the 4,000 people on home confinement get to stay home wither their families, too."

Judge Chasanow's motion for Levi's release reads, in part:

"Upon full consideration of the factors, the court concludes that it would do little (if anything) to serve the goals of sentencing to require her to return to full custody. ... During her incarceration, she took many courses, worked, and completed drug education."

Mayor Brandon M. Scott released the following statement on Gwen Levi:

“The criminal justice system is designed to rehabilitate offenders for successful reentry to society, yet individuals like Gwen Levi are regularly confronted with the burdens of their faults after serving time. Following Gwen’s early release from prison last year, the 76-year-old chose to rewrite her story by volunteering for advocacy organizations around Baltimore. But while grace is a rare occurrence, judgment in America flows abundantly. Gwen recently made national headlines after being sent back to prison for failing to answer her phone during a computer class. This lack of patience and empathy was wrong, and I am overjoyed that a U.S. District Judge ordered Gwen’s release this afternoon. I look forward to welcoming Gwen to City Hall in the near future and encourage everyone to keep fighting to build a government that truly sees the good in its people.”

On July 6, U.S. Representative Kweisi Mfume also released a statement on Levi's release.

“Today, mercy and compassion has won the day. Gwen Levi has been granted compassionate release from prison," said U.S. Representative Kweisi Mfume. "Her case has captured imaginations far and wide because of the way in which she was returned to confinement during the tail end of this COVID-19 crisis for an alleged violation of her parole."

Congressman Mfume added, "Writing a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland last week expressing my concerns and speaking to colleagues about Ms. Levi’s case was just a small contribution I could make to the overall effort by advocates, federal public defenders and those who believe in second chances and redemption."