LANSDOWNE, Pa. – George Martorano served 32 years of a lifetime prison sentence for non-violent offenses before being released as part of then-President Obama’s initiative to reduce prison overcrowding.
Seven years after finding his freedom, Martorano is at the center of a Main Line Television documentary, “Life Without Parole,’’ and will share more of his story in a public appearance with the filmmakers in Lansdowne on Oct. 8.
The film by Jill Frechie and John Ricciutti focuses on prison reform and the United States justice system by delving into the reasoning behind Martorano’s incarceration and his ability to remain hopeful in the face of oppression.
Before his conviction in 1983, federal authorities alleged that Martorano was at the head of an organized crime business worth more than $75 million a year. What happened next sent him into the darkest years of his life: He was caught with a truckload of marijuana by the FBI and charged with 19 drug-related offenses.
In 1984, following the advice of his attorney, Martorano pleaded guilty to multiple drug charges including drug possession and distribution. While under the impression that if he had taken the plea deal a life sentence would have been off the table, he agreed. On Sept. 20, 1984, expecting to receive the 40 to 54 months the prosecution had initially recommended, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The judge handed down the longest prison term ever imposed on a first-time non-violent offender in American history.
While incarcerated, he filed over 30 unsuccessful appeals, and lived five years in an underground solitary confinement area for not providing the FBI with crucial information on the Philadelphia mob scene, of which they suspected he and his father had a been a part.
And yet, Martorano became an example of the model prisoner. He famously prevented the hijacking of an aircraft by prisoners from Philadelphia to Oklahoma, an event the FBI termed “extraordinary.”
Martorano sought ways to assist his fellow inmates. He taught yoga and started a creative writing course, “The Write to Life,” which guided numerous inmates to receiving their GEDs and developing their writing skills. He became a certified suicide watch counselor. He was considered one of the most prolific writers in the Federal Prison System, having authored over 31 books and numerous short stories, screenplays and poems.
Since his release from Florida’s Coleman Prison, George has continued in his attempt to better the lives of others as a motivational speaker and TEDx Talks presenter. He’s a cannabis advocate, speaker at Seattle Hempfest, and founder of Hip Hemp Cafe. He has become an intervention specialist for those who’ve depleted all other options and has taken time to mentor students from local grade schools to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Life Without Parole” is a FirstGlance Film Festival Audience Choice Winner for both Best of the Fest and Best Documentary and a Bronze Telly Award Winner.
“Life Without Parole” screens on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Vinyl Revival, 35-37 N. Lansdowne Ave., Lansdowne, Pa, as part of Delco Arts Week. The screening is 4 to 5 p.m. A Q&A with Martorano and the filmmakers will follow. For more information, visit vinylrevivalrecords.com.