Since Mic released its video feature in late-Oct. 2017, the case of Alice Marie Johnson has begun to shine an intense light on her unfortunate situation while calling for legal reform.
With people like Kim Kardashian-West – who per the publication spoke to current White House Advisor, Jared Kushner, regarding the case – in support of Johnson’s pardon, here are a few things one should know about the life and incarceration of this 62-year-old great-grandmother.
1. Not only did Alice Marie Johnson receive life in prison for a nonviolent offense, it was also her first offense ever.
After losing her job and husband, Johnson made what she describes as the “worst mistake of (her) life” and fulfilled a communications role in a multi-million dollar drug operation. This resulted in her being found guilty of money laundering and conspiracy in 1997 when the “mandatory minimum law” forced the state of Mississippi to sentence the single mother to life in prison.
2. 10 of Johnson’s 15 co-defendants testified against her.
The “mandatory minimum” is an inflexible sentencing law that came as the byproduct of the “War on Drugs.” It resulted in many disproportionate prison sentences like Johnson’s. Yet, in most cases, the mandatory minimum can only be enacted by those who exercise their right to a trial. Because of this, 10 of Johnson’s co-defendants decided to evade this harsh penalty by taking plea deals that forced them to testify against her in exchange for a lighter sentence. This not only created an illusion that Johnson was more than a liaison, it also punished her for exercising her constitutional right to a trial by jury. She received life in prison without parole, plus an additional 25 years, while her co-conspirators received sentences ranging from probation with no time served to 10 years.
Still, it appears the only clear path for Johnson’s release would be a presidential pardon or clemency — which could come at odds with Trump’s recent proposal to impose the death penalty for certain drug dealers. #AliceMarieJohnson pic.twitter.com/pJJE28Rbet
— Mic (@mic) May 2, 2018
3. Barack Obama denied her clemency.
In 2014, then-President Barack Obama launched his CANDO project where his administration sought to find justice through clemency. Shortly after its establishment, Johnson was added as the number one woman in American prisons deserving of a pardon. But, despite this addition, Obama denied her petition for clemency with no explanation given. This decision made her one of the four initial top 25 CANDO entrants to still be in prison.
4. Prior to her incarceration, Johnson’s youngest son was killed.
In addition to losing her job of ten years, a divorce, bankruptcy, and gambling addiction, Johnson’s youngest son, Cory, was killed in a scooter accident in 1992. This personified a low point in her life as Johnson’s – who became a mother at 15 – only motive for involving herself in crime was to provide for her children.
5. Johnson’s story is unfortunate, but not unique.
Since entering prison in 1997, the 62-year-old became a grandmother and a great-grandmother. While her fight to be released to her family is still ongoing, her situation is not an outlier. According to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union, people of color fall victim to the mandatory minimum more than their counterparts. Through studies conducted in nine states and the federal system, the ACLU concluded that 80 percent of the 3,200 prisoners serving life without parole are black or Latino with most being convicted of nonviolent offenses.