Rapper Meek Mill arrives at the criminal-justice center in Philadelphia on Nov. 6, 2017.
Photo: Matt Rourke (AP Images)

Anyone who’s been following the Meek Mill case by now knows that it has taken on the feel of a Greek tragedy. The details that have emerged—Meek’s arrest when he was 19 for a bogus crack charge by a crooked cop, the ensuing years of probation under the eyes of a petty and overbearing judge, the returns to prison under the slightest infractions—might beggar belief: How could such bad luck befall one man?

But it’s not bad luck. It’s simultaneously intentional and random, the damage of one unlawful, violent arrest compounded over a decade. As Rolling Stone lays out in an exclusive interview with the incarcerated rapper, Meek is fighting a daily struggle to keep his mind and spirit free as his lawyers fight for his release on the outside. Writer Paul Solotaroff also burnishes receipts, capturing in excruciating detail 15 years of aggressions committed against Robert Rihmeek Williams by the Philadelphia legal system.

Below are some of the highlights.

Meek on letting his family visit him in jail:

“I won’t let them come,” he says of his family, a huge and intensely close tribe in Philadelphia, about 15 miles east of these walls. “If they see me like this – fucked-up beard, hair all ganked – then it’s like I’m really in here. Which I’m not.”

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About Meek’s initial arrest:

There’s no forensic proof that Meek was in court that day, but at least he has witnesses. That’s more than can be said for [officer] Reggie Graham, who either didn’t lab-test the crack “seized,” or the lab test never made its way to court. All he had was his word that the alleged substance was coke; Graham claimed he’d done a “field test” at the scene. According to multiple legal experts, that missing evidence should have been grounds for an instant mistrial; it was the basis for the warrant and Meek’s arrest. 

Officer Reggie Graham, of course, would later be revealed as having his name on a blacklist, compiled by the Philadelphia district attorney, of cops considered too dishonest or corrupt to take the stand at criminal trials.

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On that first conviction:

Meek waived a jury trial – it costs thousands more in legal fees – so [Judge Genece] Brinkley decided the case. She acquitted Meek’s co-defendants, then found Meek guilty of seven charges – four involving the gun. There’s no arguing that Meek had a gun on him; he took the stand and admitted so himself. But in Philly, illegal carry is a misdemeanor, typically punished with a fine and house arrest. Instead, he got two years in a county prison and eight years of strict probation – all because Graham swore he’d seen him sell drugs and aim a weapon at cops.

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On how Judge Genece Brinkley responded to Meek’s success:

Incensed about the change in Meek’s travel plans, Brinkley hauled him in for a drug test. At a violation-of-parole hearing three weeks later, she ordered a second drug test. (Both screens came up clean.) Nevertheless, she barred Meek from touring, which cost him “$7 or $8 million,” says Clint Saunders, Meek’s booking agent. Next, she replaced his probation officer. Meek’s dealings with his PO’s had always been cordial, but his new one, Treas Underwood, was a “dragon.” “Straight out the gate, she hated me, talking to me like I’m some kind of rapist,” says Meek. “She would follow me around and pop up at my house, looking for some way to do me dirty.” “Before her, we would fax Meek’s schedule once a week,” says Smith. “Now, we had to tell her every hour of our day: ‘Meek’s check-in is at so-and-so; we leave Miami at midnight.’ Man, that ain’t the way the rap game works. Half the time, you don’t know when you’ll go onstage.”

On the strange relationship between Brinkley, Meek’s parole officer and his former manager:

An odd theme emerged in the hearings that followed: Brinkley bashed Roc-Nation, Meek’s management firm, and raved about Charlie Mack. “I don’t know how or when you all got involved,” said Brinkley, but “he didn’t have no problems with the other manager.” Underwood, the probation officer, joined the chorus: “Working with Charlie Mack, hands down, he is phenomenal. [Your management people] are a problem for you.” Meek was perplexed. He’d made pennies with Mack, and more money than he could spend under Roc.

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Records would later show that his former manager Charlie Mack and probation officer Treas Underwood had “dozens of long phone calls” with each other during that time, and Underwood had spoken candidly about Meek’s case to her boyfriend. On those grounds, Meek’s lawyers were successful in moving her off his case.

On Brinkley’s history of aggressive legal action:

[Detectives] searched state databases for Brinkley’s name on cases overturned by higher courts. Instead, the shocker find was dozens of civil lawsuits, the great bulk of them brought by Brinkley. A 61-year-old Tennesseean who’d won her Philly court seat in 1993, Brinkley has owned and rented a number of properties in North Philly, and has sued, or been sued by, many tenants. Brindle-Khym and his staffers spoke to some of those tenants; they heard horror stories about Brinkley, the landlord.

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Among the complaints: that Brinkley raised rents midlease, that she aggressively pushed out a family who had just lost their infant son, and that she encouraged a contractor to lie under oath against another contractor she had requested do work on her home.

On that bizarre 2016 request Brinkley made of Meek and his then-girlfriend, Nicki Minaj:

“The judge said, ‘I’m not really the monster you think I am. In fact, a lot of people look up to me.’ “ Then she asked them to do a song for her, a remix of the Boys II Men hit “On Bended Knee.” “Fucking Nicki busts out laughing, but I grabbed her leg, going, ‘Yo, this is my life here,’ “ Meek recalls. “I tried to tell the judge, ‘All respect, but that ain’t me. I’m a Philly street rapper, not a bubblegum dude.’ She says, ‘Fine, then,’ in a real sarcastic way. ‘Suit yourself.’”

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On how Meek makes sense of it all:

To keep from going mad, he’s made an inventory of wrongs he means to address when free. “I want to speak on this system and what it does to black people – on both fucking sides of the fence.” It’s not lost on Meek that the people who harmed him were black – the judge, the cops, his probation officer. “Straight self-hate, man, it makes these people crazy.”