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Rapper Meek Mill in 'Dateline' special says focus after freedom is #JusticeReform

"I had eight years of probation that turned to 16 years of probation," Mill says in his first in-depth sit-down interview. "Something is not working."

by Erik Ortiz /

In the nearly two weeks since Meek Mill was released on bail from a state prison in Pennsylvania, the rapper has found little time to himself: He was celebrated courtside at two Philadelphia 76ers games, held a news conference with the governor and state lawmakers, and continued filming an Amazon docuseries chronicling his ongoing journey through the criminal justice system.

How he got there — and the new path he's charting to reform the U.S. prison system and how it treats people of color — are the subject of NBC's "Dateline" special "Dreams and Nightmares: The Meek Mill Story, which airs at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT Sunday. Mill, who also turned 31 on Sunday, sat down for an exclusive in-depth interview with NBC News' Lester Holt after his release from prison on April 24 following an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

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"Have you slept since you got out of prison?" Holt asked Mill.

"No, I haven't slept one minute since I've been out of prison," the rapper replied. "It's actually, like, a culture shock, comin' from a small cell back into the real world."

Mill, who was born Robert Rihmeek Williams, was not quite a household name before his sentencing last November to two to four years in prison for a parole violation.

He garnered some success on the hip-hop charts, including with his 2012 debut studio album, "Dreams and Nightmares," and grabbed headlines for dating hip-hop star Nicki Minaj.

But even as his status climbed, he said, he lived in fear that one perceived misstep could send him back to prison after an initial conviction in 2008 on drug and firearms charges. His probation was extended several times, and he's now spent nearly a third of his life under the control of the court system.

"I had eight years of probation that turned to 16 years of probation," Mill said. "Something is not working."

Mill and his legal team plan to fight for his release next month when he goes back to court. Even Philadelphia prosecutors are siding with him, and said his initial charges should be vacated because of alleged corruption involving his arresting officer.

Supporters, including rap mogul Jay-Z, who is executive producing the docuseries, helped to make the hashtag #FreeMeekMill trend on social media in recent weeks. Now, Mill said, he wants a new call to arms — #JusticeReform — to take center stage.

"If I think about how much the world has changed as a result of the Me Too movement, I think Meek Mill will be to criminal justice reform, you know, in a lot of ways what's happened with the Me Too Movement," Michael Rubin, the businessman and co-owner of the Sixers and Mill's friend, told "Dateline."

"So I think he's gonna shine a giant light on this incredible problem that we have," Rubin said, "and I think he's gonna help to make it significantly better."

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