Michael Thompson was freed last week after spending more than two decades behind bars for a conviction related to a marijuana sale, and now, the 69-year-old will have a new home thanks to the work of thousands of online supporters.
The Michigan man had been convicted after a 1994 marijuana sale to a police informant led to a search of his house, which uncovered 14 weapons. As CNN reported, the weapons found included antiques, and most were safely locked inside a gun case. Thompson's wife testified at trial that the guns belonged to her, but he was still found guilty and Michigan's habitual offender law allowed the judge to hand down an enhanced sentence that put him behind bars for between 42 and 60 years.
Thompson's case drew national attention, with many calling for his release. In August, the state's attorney general joined in speaking out against the "unduly harsh" punishment.
"The sentence imposed on Mr. Thompson is the product of a different time in Michigan legal history," Attorney Dana Nessel wrote in a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "And it is a time that has passed."
Whitmer announced in December that Thompson and three other people imprisoned for nonviolent offenses were granted clemency, and he walked out of prison at 4 a.m. on Thursday a free man.
While Thompson's family was organizing a welcome-home party for him, supporters across the internet were helping him make a transition back into society. A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money for him to buy a new house and quickly attracted viral attention.
As the fundraiser noted, Thompson had his sentence commuted rather instead of him receiving a pardon, which meant that his conviction remained in place but with a lesser punishment. That made his transition more difficult, as individuals with past drug or felony convictions were usually ineligible for public housing.
But that may no longer be an issue. As the Grassroots Law Project explained on Twitter, more than 8,000 people donated to the campaign, collectively raising more than $260,000 that will be used to allow him to buy a home.Thompson also left a message thanking donors for their generosity.
"I am well aware many of you are going through hardships of your own, so please know how extremely grateful I am to every one of you for helping me at this time of transition," he said in a statement posted to the GoFundMe page. "My heart is full of gratitude for those who have offered their assistance. May God bless you as you have blessed me."
Activist Shaun King, who has been regularly promoting the campaign to his social media followers, reported on Instagram that Thompson had made an all-cash offer on a new house using the funds that had been raised.