The Perlmutter Center for Legal Justice at Cardozo Law ("PCLJ") is thrilled to announce the release of Sheldon Johnson and Jerry Ruffin, two extraordinary men subjected to draconian sentences as youthful offenders. The PCLJ collaborated with Allison Haupt and Barbara Zolot at the Center for Appellate Litigation, as well as the New York District Attorney's Office, in the resentencing and release of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Ruffin. PCLJ client Bruce Bryan, who was released on April 24, 2023, was at the prison to greet Johnson and Ruffin upon their release.

Bruce Bryan (L) and Sheldon Johnson (R)

Johnson, 47, and Ruffin, 46, have served more than two decades in prison. Johnson was sentenced to 50 years for first-offense robberies that resulted in minor injuries, and Ruffin was sentenced to 40 years to life for his role in the shooting death of a drug dealer. The prosecution conceded that Ruffin was not the shooter but instead allegedly "lulled" the drug dealer into a sense of safety prior to the shooting. 

Against all odds and despite childhoods filled with soul-crushing trauma and abuse (which was never shared with the sentencing courts), both Ruffin and Johnson grew into remarkable men in prison – accomplished, hard-working, insightful, self-aware and respected by peers and prison administrators alike. 

While incarcerated, Ruffin turned his life around. He started his sentence barely knowing how to read, but he went on to earn his GED, learned to read and write Arabic and entered college, where he was on the President's List. In 2016, he became the head plumber for all of Green Haven Correctional Facility. As a correction officer at Greenhaven remarked, "It is time to let him go home to his loved ones." 


After spending an inordinate amount of time in solitary confinement, Johnson engaged in deep introspection and became determined to overcome the horrors of his childhood. His list of accomplishments is lengthy and impressive. BuzzFeed featured him in a 2016 article after the journalist, Albert Samaha, read an award-winning article Johnson wrote reflecting on generational cycles of incarceration. Samaha characterized Johnson best when he wrote, "He kept busy. He took college courses and performed in a theater group. He read whatever he could find in the library. He wrote essays and short stories. He became a model inmate,” said David Roth, the prison's social worker.

The PCLJ's collaboration with the Center for Appellate Litigation reflects its commitment to ending racial bias in sentencing. Moreover, it is indicative of its belief that those who pose no threat to society, have been rehabilitated and have redeemed themselves should no longer be locked away and forgotten--but rather, given a second chance.


The PCLJ recognizes and applauds the Center for Appellate Litigation for its incredible work in steadfastly and zealously representing Sheldon Johnson and Jerry Ruffin. The PCLJ would also like to commend the New York District Attorney's Office for joining in the application to resentence and release two men that have earned their way back into society. For more information about the Center for Appellate Litigation, click here.