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December 18, 2008

A clemency recipient makes case for the good clemencies

Sadly, the specter of ugly pardons past (Marc Rich) and ugly pardons future (possible preemptive torture pardons) is giving the historic Presidential clemency power a bad name these days.  Fortunately, some of the tales of good clemencies present are getting told, as in this USA Today op-ed by Kemba Smith in titled "The wisdom of pardons: For me, clemency was the only path to justice."  Here is how it begins:

The nomination of Eric Holder as the next U.S. attorney general has renewed concerns about the end-of-term clemencies granted by President Clinton.  High-profile names such as Marc Rich grabbed headlines at the time, but many other people with no political influence benefited from the president's mercy.

I am one of those people. If I had not received a commutation, my first-time conviction for a non-violent offense would have kept me in prison until 2016 (with good behavior) because of the harsh mandatory sentencing laws for crack cocaine.  My 1994 prison sentence grew out of my boyfriend's trafficking in crack.  After he was murdered, the government charged me with conspiracy to distribute the crack that his drug ring distributed.  During my court hearings, prosecutors acknowledged that I never sold, handled or used any of the drugs involved in the conspiracy.

Today, I could be in federal prison still serving my 24-year sentence.  Instead, I've been raising my now 13-year-old son, graduated from college in 2002 and completed a year of law school.  I own a home and speak to youth about the importance of their choices and the consequences that can affect their lives forever.  My own experience led me to create a non-profit foundation that focuses on providing children of incarcerated parents with a mentor, and collaborates with other organizations on justice-reform initiatives.

My story of redemption does not need to be an anomaly.  Thousands of petitions for executive clemency are pending before President Bush with a month left in his term.  The majority of those are unknown to him or the public. Many are people of color caught up in the war on drugs and serving long mandatory minimum sentences, often for low-level offenses.  The president should expedite such applications and grant them clemency.

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December 18, 2008 at 01:45 PM | Permalink

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