Alice Marie Johnson is a 62-year-old grandmother serving life for a nonviolent first offense. Johnson, who is featured in the American Civil Liberties Union’s campaign to end mass incarceration, is sharing her story and calling for prison reform.
In a video op-ed published on Mic.com Monday (Oct. 23), Johnson explains the effect that prison has had on her family, and how one of the “worst mistakes” of her life landed her behind bars.
“One of my family members one time, and I’ll never forget this, they said that coming to visit me in prison is like visiting a gravesite,” she said. “They said that they can see the place where my body lay but they could never take me home again.”
In the late ‘90s, Johnson was a single mother of four when she lost her job in management, and set out to make some “quick money” to feed her family. “I struggled financially,” she recalls. “I couldn’t find a job fast enough to take care of my family. I felt like a failure. I went to a complete panic and out of desperation I made one of the worst decisions of my life to make some quick money. I became involved in a drug conspiracy.”
Johnson was charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine, attempted possession of cocaine, and money laundering. She is currently incarcerated at the Aliceville Correctional Facility in Aliceville, Ala.
Johnson, a mother, grandmother and now a great-grandmother, will mark 21 years in federal prison next Monday (Oct. 31). The Mississippi native has lost both of her parents since she’s been incarcerated, and was unable to be with them in their final days. She has also missed the births of her four grandchildren and a great grandchild. But if there’s one thing that she’s “most proud of,” it’s becoming a playwright.
“The plays that I write have been viewed by literally thousands of women,” Johnson proudly said.
In 2016, President Obama made history by commuting more sentences for non-violent drug offenders than any other president in history. But while Johnson has been a model prisoner, she was not approved for release.
“When the criteria came out for clemency, I thought for sure — in fact, I was certain that I’d met and exceeded all of the criteria. I had 100 [percent] clear conduct, for the entire time my entire time in prison. No disciplinary infractions,” Johnson said revealing that receiving letters of support from members of Congress, the public, and prison staff didn’t help her get released “I had so much support. I was denied again with no explanation given, so it leaves me wondering what more I could have done.”
Johnson is one of thousands of nonviolent offenders serving life for drug-related crimes that come with mandatory maximum sentences. More than half of said offenders are black.
Johnson’s daughter has launched a Change.org petition to encourage President Donald Trump to grant her clemency. The petition has received more than 100,00 signatures.
Hear more of Johnson’s story below.
Alice Marie Johnson has been in prison for 21 years for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. pic.twitter.com/VFe29D2ve8
— Mic (@mic) October 23, 2017