By: Martha MacCallum


Alice Johnson spent nearly 22 years in prison. 22 years. A third of her life.  

One of the first things she noticed today – since the last time she walked freely outside was 1996 -- was that everyone was walking around looking at their phones! Hilarious and true – clearly one of the biggest changes in life on the planet earth and perhaps one thing she may even come to miss about the 'inside.'  

But perhaps the smartphone saved Alice, in part.  She was after all, ultimately freed by the Queen of the Selfie, reality is always stranger than fiction. 

As Americans, we believe in justice, redemption, and that the punishment should fit the crime.  There is no doubt that Alice Johnson was guilty. 

The mom of five and now grandmother and great-grandmother, lost her job as a Fed-Ex manager, her husband in a nasty divorce and her youngest son in a tragic motorcycle accident. 

A gambling addiction added a relentless pressure to this desperate downward spiral.   

She then fell in with a group of drug dealers who promised her some easy cash if she would act as intermediary in their deals to buy and distribute.  She did it. She was caught and convicted on multiple drug, conspiracy and money laundering charges. 


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For this, she got life. Her crimes were substantial.  Her punishment was excessive.  Can a message for this non-violent crime be sent effectively to others with a 5 year sentence, a 15 year sentence. What would have been 'just'?

The Obama Justice Department looked at Alice Johnson’s case and passed.  President Trump at the urging of Jared Kushner and ultimately Kim Kardashian, freed Alice Johnson without taking the usual path through the DOJ commutation consideration process.

By doing so, the president has taken a leap of faith on Mrs. Johnson.  We will see if the now ordained minister lets him down or confirms his faith in her. She says she will not waste her second chance at life.  She wants to help what she says are thousands of others like her.  She does not want to leave them behind.

Prison sentence reform is a bi-partisan issue.  Alice Johnson, and perhaps to a greater extent, the pardon of Kristian Saucier, convicted of taking pictures of his submarine while in the Navy, and those perhaps to come -  Rod Blagojevich and Martha Stewart -- raise larger questions about the nexus of politics and justice.

The statements that are made by sentencing under different eras at DOJ, reflect in part their thinking about justice and punishment. 

Often they can reflect other realities of the moment and as a result, some unlucky convicts are made to bear the “message” that is being sent. 

This is something we need to reflect on as a nation. The law must be applied ‘by the book.’  Everyone is entitled to blind justice.

That is the promise of the blindfolded lady who stands watch on the steps of the Supreme Court.  Justice must be equal.  Sentencing must be just.

The president is looking to make his mark on what he sees as the egregious wrongs of the past, while sending a message perhaps of his own about those currently under judicial scrutiny.    

Alice Johnson says her freedom is a miracle, and that she will not waste her second chance at life.  America loves a second chance. 


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