Part Amazon Documentary Series Variety

Meek MillSixers co-owner Michael Rubin speaks during a news conference on legislation aimed at reforming the Pennsylvania probation and parole system at Thomas Paine Plaza in Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Yet the show’s producers also focus on the character of the judge who oversaw Meek’s probation: the aforementioned Judge Brinkley. She is depicted as having an overly close interest in Meek’s case — even once paying him a visit while he was performing community service — and suggesting things that judges seemingly shouldn’t, including recommending to Meek that he choose a different management group and allegedly asking him to remix a Boyz II Men hit. She is also accused of being incredibly harsh on Meek, pulling him up on technical violations again and again and giving harsher probation conditions each time. Free Meek also reveals Brinkley sued Meek’s own lawyers for defamation, and is involved in almost fifty lawsuits herself.


The figure of the strong rehabilitative” judge has been touted since its inception as a progressive force, since a liberal-minded judge will purportedly abstain from vengeance and instead act in the best interest of the person on trial. As Judah Schept has written, some judges refuse to consider what they do punishment” at all, even when it involves incarceration. In Meek’s case, this arbitrary power appears in its most troubling forms, as Judge Brinkley’s bizarre and abusive relationship with Meek threatens his career, his family, and his freedom time and again. In a particularly surreal scene, Brinkley calls Meek and his then-partner, Nicki Minaj, into her chambers, for what the duo reported was a solicitation to record a cover of the Boyz II Men song On Bended Knee,” complete with a shout-out to Judge Brinkley.

Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley had kept the rapper on probation for more than 10 years over his arrest in 2007 at age 19. He is now 32 and has been called back to court repeatedly over technical violations of his parole, many of them involving travel issues as he has risen to fame under the mentorship of music mogul Jay-Z.

Williams, who had called his ordeal mentally and emotionally challenging”, became an activist for criminal justice reform after he was sent back to prison in 2017 for technical probation violations he blamed on his erratic travel schedule. He spent five months behind bars before an appeals court granted him bail.


Before last night, Meek Mill‘s “Dreams and Nightmares” qualified for all but the last part of that description. And now, its resume is complete: The 2017 Philadelphia Eagles both came out at Super Bowl LII to the song’s iconic beat switch, and spent the post-game locker room celebration after their 41-33 win over the New England Patriots rapping along with the entire song. And now, it almost has to be considered the greatest anthem that Philly sports has ever known.

Perhaps the most fascinating element of his last album, Championships,” was how boldly it managed to encompass his own struggles and newfound role as a political advocate, without letting those struggles define him as an artist. There’s plenty on the album that addresses Meek’s causes, with tracks like Trauma” and What’s Free” offering vivid, nuanced accounts of both the justice system and the larger conditions that cause so many to fall into it. But there’s also a gleefully obscene Cardi B feature, a radio hit with Drake, and plenty of wild, perfectly-timed insults that recall his teenage days as a battle rapper. For Meek, there’s no reason that his visibility as an advocate should lead him to compromise or blunt his rougher edges in the studio.

TM: Yeah, we talk to him all the time. I mean, the bulk of the work happened already, but there may be more to do, because let’s imagine that Krasner decides he wants to try Meek again, then we’d have to prepare for a trial. And that is, you know, a lot of what we’ve done already may benefit this defense team. But I can imagine there would be other witnesses to find, there’d be other documents to interrogate. You know, it’s a whole different strategy, like making a motion to get someone out of prison, who’s been put there because of probation violations, is a very different legal strategy than preparing for a trial where there are witnesses to not only attack yourself from the defense side, but to bring in support of your strategy. And to attack the concept that Meek is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Meek has been an unfortunate witness to and victim of a profoundly broken system that is marred by vast racial disparities. He has experienced firsthand the devastating and long-lasting effects of a single interaction with the criminal justice system that unfairly punishes low-income individuals and communities of color. As a result of his unjust treatment, Meek is committed to fighting for systemic reform to prevent millions of others from falling into a broken system and suffering a similar fate.

The case became a widespread cause célèbre in 2017, after Meek Mill was sentenced to four years in prison for technical violations of his probation, including two arrests that did not result in convictions. The rapper served five months before he was granted bail, setting off this latest round of appeals.

Philadelphia rapper Robert Williams, who performs as Meek Mill, broke out in 2012, after he signed with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group and released his first solo album, Dreams and Nightmares. The album, which followed a string of increasingly popular mixtapes and singles he’d been unleashing since 2006, hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and solidified his standing as one of the top young guns on the MMG roster. Meek – who was raised by his mother after age five, when his father was shot to death, also got himself on the rap mogul track by creating his own record label, Dream Chasers Records, which by 2013 had released mixtapes by rappers including Loui V. Gutta, Jahlil Beats, and the late Lil Snupe. Meanwhile, Meek is no stranger to stages, touring regularly on his own and appearing at concerts with labelmates Rick Ross and Wale. Fans with tickets can expect Meek to create a party atmosphere while generously sharing his stage with guests artists.

He is now free of the close scrutiny of Judge Brinkley, who convicted him after a short nonjury trial in 2008 and called him back to court repeatedly during a decade of court supervision. Brinkley frequently complained that Williams was “thumbing his nose” at her, and once visited a homeless shelter to check up on his community service efforts. She later reprimanded him for sorting clothes rather than serving meals as she had ordered. He said he was directed to the job.

Mill and Jay-Z are the faces of the movement, Rubin said. Mill has spoken out publicly numerous times for probation reform, even with a packed schedule. Meek is really involved,” Rubin said.

While probation and parole are sometimes touted as alternatives to incarceration, roughly one-third of those held in Pennsylvania’s prisons are former probationers and parolees — and the majority did not commit a new crime. In 2016 (the most recent year on record), 52 percent of new admissions to state prison were parole revocations. Judges and probation officers use the threat of incarceration to coerce probationers to comply with both formal and informal rules and expectations. The ACLU goes so far as to say probation and parole drive Pennsylvania’s mass incarceration crisis rather than alleviate it.

ESQ: That’s interesting that it came off as a small thing at first. It’s a wild line in the documentary when you talk about how Meek’s friends and family would tell you that every minute you don’t find something, the more time Meek’s going to be in jail.

Social media might have helped Meek reach international stardom, but it also created problems for him in regards to the conditions of his probation. For example, the docuseries highlights how a few Instagram posts from a video shoot — which depicted women shooting Meek and his friends with replica guns filled with water — caught the eye of the authorities. However, it was an incident after appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2017 that landed Meek in the most trouble.

He spent five months in prison before the state Supreme Court ordered him to be released in April 2018 after prosecutors said there were “credibility issues” with the officer who testified against the rapper in the 2008 case.

Meek Mill has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge in a deal that will spare him additional prison time, resolving a case that followed the rapper most of his adult life and turned him into a high-profile activist for criminal justice reform.

Moreover, the charges that led to his current violation, were subsequently dropped and the stiff sentence was handed down despite the recommendations of both his probation officer and the District Attorney. Meek’s efforts to change his image while still remaining true to his artistry and who he is as a man went unnoticed as well.

Meek Mill, who spent time in prison and on probation after he was convicted on drug and gun charges in 2008, will face no other penalties as part of his plea agreement with prosecutors, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, citing a court hearing.

Still, Krasner could not ignore the fact that Williams acknowledged having a gun, though he denied pointing it at police or selling drugs. The defense also accused the trial judge, Genece Brinkley, of bias for sending the entertainer back to prison over minor probation violations.


How is it that there’s as yet no public consideration over Brinkley’s fitness to serve? Just recently, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Review Board moved to suspend Common Pleas Court Judge Lyris Younge for an alleged pattern of civil rights violations and for her impatient, discourteous, disrespectful, condescending, and undignified” demeanor while presiding over Family Court cases. Well, the same description could conceivably fit Brinkley’s conduct in the Mill case; yet, I’m told, the Review Board hasn’t acted on complaints against her because, unlike in Younge’s case, there’s no multi-case pattern of judicial intemperance.

In February 2011, Rick Ross announced the signing of Mill along with fellow American rapper Wale to his Maybach Music Group (MMG) label. In March 2011, Mill was included in XXL ‘s “Freshman Class of 2011″. 16 Later that year, he released his debut single , ” Tupac Back “, featuring Rick Ross , from his label’s compilation album Self Made Vol. 1 (2011). That same year he released his second single, ” Ima Boss “, also take from the compilation and featuring Ross. The song was later remixed , featuring T.I., Birdman , Lil Wayne , DJ Khaled , Swizz Beatz and Rick Ross. The remix charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #51, becoming Mill’s most successful single at that time. In August 2011, Mill released Dreamchasers , a well received mixtape featuring his urban hit “House Party” and guest appearances from Rick Ross, Yo Gotti and Beanie Siegel among others.

On a balmy Chicago night, standing over a crowd of suburbanites buzzed off too much Bon & Viv spiked seltzer and cheap weed, Meek Mill was buoyantly free from the systemic strictures that have plagued the bulk of his adult life. In late July, the Pennsylvania Superior Court threw out a 2008 drug and gun conviction that has reared its head again and again, granting him a new trial and judge It’s a complicated situation, but lately there have only been positive steps as of late.

While Mill’s case has drawn the most notoriety, criminal justice reform advocates say too many people on probation are going to jail for technical violations, such as being late for an appointment with a probation officer or traveling outside their home county.

MEEK MILL: Thank you to the McSilver Institute for honoring me. All the honorees—my first time finding out about a few of you guys and I’m happy to be a part of a reform situation. I’m from North Philadelphia, where most people know me as a rapper, but I’m a young man that grew up in a bad environment where I decided to put most of my time into making music and coming up, it was a long way. We come from conditions that you talked about with violence every day. I heard (Erica Ford) speak on school shootings: Philadelphia, people die everyday that look like me and come from where I come from. I fought my way and I’m very honored to be in a position where I can use my platform and actually do something for other people and make change in this world.

He had already served about two years in prison in the case, and a judge decided he won’t have to spend any additional time behind bars or on probation.

Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and walking out of Center City’s Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice to the “Rocky” theme song, Mill declared “Meek freed.” For the first time in 12 years, he does not have to return to court.

In regards to the harsh, undeserving sentencing of Robert Rihmeek Williams (Meek Mill), I felt the need to create a petition asking that the Board of Pardons closely review Meek’s application for Pardon and have his unjust prison sentence remedied. We also call on Governor Tom Wolf, who has spoken out in support of rehabilitation and criminal justice reform, to immediately look into this matter.

PHILADELPHIA – Rapper Meek Mill pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge on Tuesday and won’t serve additional time in prison after reaching a plea agreement in a case that’s kept him on probation for most of his adult life.

Yeah, we have come across it before. I mean, not on this scale, right? It was really revelatory to us, and I hope it’s revelatory to others who either read about the saga or watch the show, because I think it does a good job. While I think many people have this sense that punishment for crime is often limited to either paying a fine or serving time in prison, but in fact, such a huge percentage of what people are required to do or are sanctioned by the government is essentially being put on surveillance. They watch your movements, they restrict what you can do. It’s almost like people are set up to fail. And, although we didn’t have any direct ability and don’t, as private investigators, to directly change that system, what we’re hoping is that this will help shed light on exactly that issue that you’re addressing.

The rapper spoke with Access Hollywood just days after a Philadelphia appeals court overturned his 2008 conviction on drug and gun charges. Meek shared how the groundbreaking development in his case has been an emotional adjustment as he prepares to move forward after 11 years on probation.

The status quo for community supervision is expensive and ineffective — and things are getting worse. The number of people on probation and parole supervision in the United States has tripled in the past three decades. It is time to refocus supervision on public safety and civic stability rather than aimless and excessive punishment.

At one point we’re taken to a 2013 gig where a struggling Meek is seen barely able to rap: he’s in the grip of a prescription drugs addiction. What initially started with a wisdom tooth operation spiralled into taking ten Percocet a day, as well as drinking lean (a mixture of codeine-based cough syrup and lemonade). Interviewees describe the stress that Meek was under during this period, with the pressure of having to financially provide for family and friends being exacerbated by being placed under house arrest, preventing him from touring and making money off music. In Meek’s own words, it allowed him to feel mentally numb. Fortunately, he entered drug rehabilitation and now appears to be clean.

We humbly ask for the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons to grant relief in his sentence and call on Governor Tom Wolf to closely look into this matter and address why Meek, and thousands of other young, black men throughout the state are unnecessarily incarcerated for minor parole and probation violations.

He took up the cause after clashing repeatedly with the trial judge who ordered 10 years of probation and sent him back to prison in 2017 for technical violations. He spent five months locked up before the Pennsylvania Superior Court granted him bail and removed her from the case.

Mill previously called the 12-year ordeal “mentally and emotionally challenging,” but said millions of people face the same issues. He became an activist for criminal justice reform since he was sent back to prison in 2017 for technical violations he blamed on his erratic travel schedule as his career soared.

The second episode of our podcast, Deep Dive with Laura Arnold,” explores America’s probation and parole system through the lens of chart-topping hip-hop artist Meek Mill, whose experience being sentenced to prison for minor probation violations — including popping a wheelie on his dirt bike — led him to co-found the REFORM Alliance, a group fighting injustices in the criminal justice system.

Nearly half of prison admissions in America are due to supervision failures, according to a new study by The Council of State Governments Justice Center. And in 20 states — including Pennsylvania — it’s more than half. In Utah, for example, 79% of prison admissions are the result of supervision failures; in Missouri, 77%. What’s more, a quarter of all state prison admissions stem from mere technical violations of supervision. The research shows that people routinely go to prison for breaking even the most innocuous regulations, such as missing appointments with a parole officer. And the cost of this hair-trigger system that punishes people for small slips? State taxpayers pay $2.8 billion each year.

As more people hear stories of lives broken by the probation system, there’s greater support for change, Rubin said. He cited a Philadelphia Inquirer story published last week which profiled a Delaware County man who was imprisoned for a probation violation; he couldn’t pay $1,900 in court fines.

The list of actions that count as probation violations is long: failure to pay fines, missed or late arrival to a probation meeting, failed urine test, unemployment, travel out of state, jaywalking, missed court appearances, missed classes (like Meek’s court-ordered etiquette” course), speeding, graffiti, writing a bad check, and other minor offenses. In neighborhoods where police regulate daily life, police encounters are very common and represent a fast track to violations, and thus to incarceration.

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