Gersen, 31, was sentenced in federal court Thursday to four years in prison after pleading guilty to selling wholesale quantities of methamphetamine. But the punishment for his role in a drug ring that has led to the prosecution of at least three other people will last much longer for a young man who once dreamed of becoming a public defender.
Gersen has been locked up in the D.C. jail since his arrest more than a year ago outside a boutique hotel in Northwest Washington. At the time, he was a Georgetown second-year law student with a 3.48 grade-point average and an apartment in Dupont Circle. But he was also struggling with an addiction to the drug he was selling.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton’s most pressing question during the sentencing was how someone with so much opportunity could throw it all away.
“Somebody as intelligent as you are had to have known,” Walton said of the dangers of the highly addictive drug. “It’s just perplexing.”
Standing at the courtroom lectern in a jail-issued orange jumpsuit, Gersen engaged in an unusually lengthy dialogue with the judge, sounding philosophical as he reflected on and took responsibility for his troubles. He was using the drugs to feel more carefree and have fun, he said. But his drug operation ultimately had the opposite result, leaving him increasingly anxious about the possibility of landing in the very spot where he stood Thursday.
When pressed by Walton, a former associate U.S. “drug czar,” about how he could trust that Gersen would not relapse after completing his sentence, Gersen responded: “How can you or I be sure that things won’t change in the future?”
“I can’t tell you that temptations won’t come,” he said. “But when they do, I will do what I need to do to make sure I stay on the right path.”
Two conflicting portraits of Gersen emerge in court documents. Letters to the judge from former classmates, law school officials, family and a campus rabbi describe Gersen’s deep passion for the law and social justice.
“His law school performance — remarkable under any circumstances — is truly incredible given the other things going on in his life,” wrote Gersen’s law professor, Louis Michael Seidman, who sat with Gersen’s mother in the courtroom Thursday. “The short of it is that Marc is an extraordinary young man who has made some extraordinary mistakes.”
At the D.C. jail, Gersen lectures fellow inmates on composition and punctuation in his popular writing class, offers legal guidance in the jail’s law library and tutors students seeking their general education diplomas. He has been reading Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” as part of an intensive reading program to improve his mind and to better understand his motivations, his professor said.