In 2018, President Trump has granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson a week after Kim Kardashian visited the White House to discuss prison reform and petition for her pardoning. Johnson was released from prison soon after, marking Trump's sixth act of clemency since taking office. Kardashian shared her excitement over the news at the time, tweeting, "BEST NEWS EVER!!!"
BEST NEWS EVER!!!! 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼 https://t.co/JUbpbE1Bk0— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 6, 2018
Since then, Johnson has made use of her platform to advocate for prison reform and to share her own experience of what life was like inside. Here’s what to know about Johnson’s case and what she has been up to since her sentence was commuted.
Johnson was serving a life sentence.
The 63-year-old great-grandmother was given a life sentence in prison for a nonviolent drug-related crime and was not eligible for parole.
Johnson was convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts stemming from a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation involving more than a dozen people. She was sentenced to life in prison in 1997. Today, she's spent more than two decades behind bars.
As one of Johnson's lawyers, Brittany Barnett, told The Daily Mail, "The message to the president is that Alice Johnson, the 21 years she has been in prison, represents a punishment that more than pays her debt to society and that to keep her prison the rest of her life is morally and economically unjustifiable."
I am honored to accompany @KimKardashian to The White House today to advocate on behalf of Alice Marie Johnson. Kim has spent her time, money & energy for this incredibly worthy cause. Please give credit where credit is due.— Shawn Holley (@theshawnholley) May 30, 2018
Johnson became "involved in drug trafficking" during a difficult period in her life.
Johnson became "involved in drug trafficking as a way to make ends meet following a particularly rough period in her life: She lost her job at FedEx, where she had worked for 10 years, due to a gambling addiction; she got divorced; and then her youngest son died in a motorcycle accident," Mic reports.
According to Johnson, this series of events led her become involved with drugs. As she told Mic:
"I felt like a failure... I went into 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."
Memphis attorney Michael Scholl, who filed the latest court documents appealing for Johnson's sentence reduction, said she wasn't the leader of the cocaine operation. Instead, Bustle reports, "Johnson gradually became involved in a drug trafficking operation in Memphis, Tennessee. She says that she never brokered any deals or handled drugs, but was responsible for relaying coded messages over the phone."
The meeting with Trump, which was initially reported by @VanityFair, marks the culmination of months of @KimKardashian West's behind-the-scenes efforts to free #AliceMarieJohnson. pic.twitter.com/EyGwQ2vct1https://t.co/We2L0m6bFV— Mic (@mic) May 30, 2018
This was Johnson's first offense, but she was given a life sentence without the chance of parole.
Even though her arrest in 1993 was her first offense, Johnson received a life sentence, which she began serving in 1996. During the trial ten of her co-defendants testified against her in exchange for a reduced or dropped charges, Mic reports. Johnson, however, did not receive the same mercy, despite having not previous drug charges.
Johnson's children have long petitioned for her release.
Speaking in a video for Mic, Johnson's daughter, Tretessa, said of her mother, "She’s made some serious mistakes in her life, but she is not this monster. I mean, she’s really turned a very negative situation to as positive of a situation as she can."
Of Kardashian's involvement in the situation, Tretessa told BBC News, "We are praying for mercy in my mom's case… that this nightmare is finally coming to an end."
Johnson's family and supporters say she's a "model inmate" who's active in "many programmes including working at the prison hospice," BBC News reports.
Amy Povah, who founded the organization CAN-DO Clemency, started advocating for Johnson in 2014, and even collected a "letter of support from the retired warden of Johnson's prison" on her character, which will be given to Trump.
Povah told BBC News that Johnson has "always stood out to me as being exceptional. She's not bitter or angry, she's this ray of sunshine."
Johnson submitted an application for clemency to the Obama Administration on three occasions.
President Obama pardoned 231 individuals in December 2016, "many of whom had similar Mic reports, but Johnson was not one of them. According to BBC News, Johnson "fit all of the criteria" for the former president's clemency project, but was rejected just days before Obama's term ended. The reason why is unclear."
Johnson told Mic, "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."
Kardashian has hired a new team of lawyers on behalf of Johnson.
Back in November, Kardashian's Los Angeles-based attorney, Shawn Holley, told New York Daily News, "Kim asked me several weeks ago how she could help Alice Johnson in her fight for justice. We then began corresponding with Alice and her team of lawyers."
Holley is a renowned celebrity attorney whose past clients include O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and Lindsay Lohan, according to TMZ.
Kardashian visited the White House on Johnson's birthday.
The reality star made the announcement on Twitter just hours before meeting with President Trump in Washington.
Happy Birthday Alice Marie Johnson. Today is for you 🙏🏼✨— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) May 30, 2018
One of Johnson's lawyers, Brittany Barnett, told The Daily Mail, "Today's her birthday, so no greater gift than freedom on her birthday."
Kardashian met with Donald Trump regarding prison reform.
Kim had been speaking with Jared Kushner, the president's senior advisor and son-in-law, regarding Johnson's case for months. Kushner has been working on The Prison Reform and Redemption Act which aims to reduce the rate of recidivism, and prepare prisoners to reintegrate into society.
Hours after the reality star being spotted walking into the White House, POTUS tweeted a photo with her in the Oval Office. "Great meeting withtoday, talked about prison reform and sentencing," he wrote. The president didn't clarify if he will grant clemency to Johnson as a result of his meeting with Kim.
Johnson is grateful that Kardashian is attempting to help her case.
Johnson publicly thanked Kardashian in a letter obtained by TMZ. She said:
"There are no words strong enough to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude. Ms. Kardashian, you are quite literally helping to save my life and restore me to my family. I was drowning and you have thrown me a life jacket, and given me hope that this life jacket I'm serving may one day be taken off."
Kardashian and her legal team hope that Johnson's case will start a wider conversation about prison reform.
Johnson's lawyer, Barnett, told CBS News, "We are grateful that Kim is using her platform to raise awareness and hope that everyone looks beyond Kim and sees that there is a woman about to die in prison."
Barnett added that Kardashian "was not only moved to tears, but moved to action" after she watched a Mic interview about Johnson. The KKW Beauty founder first tweeted about Johnson's case back in October 2017.
Soon after her release, she began to advocate for an end to mandatory minimum sentencing.
"These mandatory minimums must be struck down," she told Hill.TV's Buck Sexton and Krystal Ball on Rising in July 2018. "There must never be a time that a non-violent first offender like myself can receive the harshest sentence next to the death penalty...life without the possibility of parole. You're saying that my life is not redeemable."
She attended Trump's State of the Union address.
On February 5, 2019, Johnson attended the president's State of the Union. When Trump asked her to stand, members of Congress gave her a standing ovation.
President Trump introduces his #SOTU guest, Alice Marie Johnson — a prisoner whose sentence he commuted last year after urging by Kim Kardashian West https://t.co/EXZ8FU2DXV pic.twitter.com/ji2x61HyrM— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 6, 2019
She spoke at the White House's 2019 Prison Reform Summit.
The president invited Johnson onstage to deliver a few remarks. She thanked both him for commuting her sentence and the advocates who worked for her release.
"I'm an example of a woman who has been given a second chance in life. There are so many others who deserve that same second chance," she said. "And so I'm grateful for platforms like this, for events like this today, that magnifies that need—because somehow, when you see a face, when you see another human being like me who has been separated from their family almost 22 years, that changes things, that changes heart."
She published a memoir.
With Nancy French, Johnson released After Life, a book that details her journey through incarceration, prison life, and freedom. The foreword was written by Kim Kardashian West.
She made her modeling debut with the launch of Kim Kardashian West's SKIMS.
Johnson posed in the SKIMS sculpting bodysuit. In an Instagram video promoting the new shapewear line, Johnson also talked about how much her life has changed since she was released and after Kardashian West's advocacy on her behalf.
Associated Press contributed reporting.
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