"This Is About Mercy. Time Is Running Out."—Drug-War Prisoners' Allies Implore President Obama

Dec 12 2016

“This Is About Mercy. Time Is Running Out.”—Drug-War Prisoners’ Allies Implore President Obama

Editor’s note: The following letter originates from the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. It has been signed by the many clemency recipients, advocates and family members of incarcerated people listed below. It is being delivered to the White House.


December 12th, 2016

Dear Mr. President,

We are advocates for prisoners seeking clemency. Many of us are clemency recipients, seeking relief for brothers and sisters left behind. We have waited for every list released by the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA), hoping to see more extremely deserving names. We have remained largely silent in appreciation of your compassion to many suffering under draconian sentencing laws passed during the crack hysteria of late 1980s and 1990s. But with only six weeks of your presidency left, we must speak out.

We ask for your immediate intervention for thousands more prisoners who will continue to suffer needlessly unless a broader clemency plan is implemented.

Our foremost concern is that very few women are receiving clemency. This seems to be the result of gender bias. Women are far likelier than men to be serving long sentences because of the drugs a spouse or partner sold, due to broad application of the conspiracy law. Sadly, only 68 out of 1,023 clemency recipients to date have been women.

Melissa Trigg, for example, has perfect institutional conduct, had no prior convictions, and meets all the criteria of Clemency Project 2014 (CP14). She was previously addicted to methamphetamine, pled guilty and has served 10 years of a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. Her father is suffering with stage-four lung cancer, and her mother also has cancer. Her story epitomizes the need for criminal justice reform. Yet her application for clemency was denied.

Many first offenders and marijuana prisoners applying for clemency are also being denied. For example, Craig Cesal (a first offender) and Ferrell Scott are both serving life without parole for pot, despite having been vetted and approved by CP14. And Crystal Munoz has served almost 10 years for a marijuana conspiracy charge; she has two young daughters who dreamed of spending the holidays with their mom. She was denied.

We ask that you reconsider your decisions to deny clemency to the following women: Eva Palma-Atencio, Benedicta Arreola, Rita Becerra, Sandra Marie Bowen, Kayla Buchanan, Patricia Cass, Patricia Cooney, Odis De La Cruz, Karen Davis, Randi Dulany, LaTonya Davis, Raquel Esquavel, Vallia C. Friend, Nancy Ferneau, Kristin Goduto, LaShonda Hall, Tynice Hall, Nelly Herrera, Lenora Logan, Shanita McKnight, Eve Olivarez, Lazara Ordaz, Shanita McKnight, Barbara Pachecho, Melissa Trigg, Shannon Randall, Kimberly Robinson, Anabel Valenzuela, Bernetta Willis and Mary Ziman.

And these men: Edward Palma-Atencio, Michael Alexander, Joel Audain, Wilfredo Barrios,* Deangelo Bishop, Julio Cesar Casa, Seth Cox, Thomas Darr, Noe, Jr. Espino, Robert Garcia, Winston Griffiths, Darryl S. Hope, Clarence Jenkins, Michael Montalvo,  Reymundo Montoya, Keith Stewart, Blake Stover, William Underwood, Sagrario Valdez and Lawrence Wallace.

And these marijuana prisoners: Antonio Bascaro, Linda Byrnes, Craig Cesal, Parker Coleman, Corvain Cooper, Andy Cox, Maurice Foley, Michael David Knight, Ken Kubinski, Crystal Munoz, Aaron Sandusky, Ferrell Scott and Rohan Walters.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates recently said, “There are not many people who need to spend the rest of their lives in prison.” We agree. We should therefore address these inconsistencies and search for cases that have slipped through the cracks.

We realize OPA has a daunting task and is under tremendous pressure, yet time is running out. Federal prisoners were urged to file for clemency based on the reasonable expectation of careful, fair examination of their applications. This could best be achieved if OPA employed as many attorneys with defense backgrounds as it does former or current prosecutors.

Your senior advisor Valerie Jarrett referred to protests in front of the White House, adding: “All you need to do is knock on the door—we want to hear.” This letter is our knock on the door. We respectfully request a meeting with a representative from the White House, Deputy Attorney General Yates and Deputy Pardon Attorney Larry Kupers to express our concerns about worthy candidates whose applications are either denied or remain pending.

Alice Johnson, for example, is a first offender serving life, who filed for clemency in early 2015. She has the support of three Congress members, her warden, the African American Mayors Association and others. John Knock is a first offender serving life for marijuana. He filed in 2014. They have been passed over, while people who filed as recently as six months ago have received clemency. Moreover, many non-citizens have been denied, despite their eligibility.

Clemency should not involve a labor-intensive process of determining whether people would receive less time if sentenced today. This is about mercy. The parole board used to focus on whether individuals had programmed and had reasonable conduct while in prison; that is what should be done now.  

Above all, we advocate the rapid implementation of a large-scale amnesty program, such as:

  • Amnesty for every nonviolent first offender with clear conduct who has served five years or more.   

  • Amnesty for every second-time offender with clear conduct who has served 10 years or more.  

  • Amnesty for every third-time offender with clear conduct who has served 15 years or more.

  • A reduction of every nonviolent offender’s life sentence (including cases in which violence was committed by a co-conspirator and not the applicant and reviewed on a case-by-case basis, to determine culpability or lack thereof) to a term of no more than 20 years.  

It seems certain that President-elect Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, his pick for attorney general, will not share your vision of mercy for drug prisoners. For this reason, we beg you to take the steps we suggest. Doing so will underline your legacy as the most compassionate, justice-oriented president in modern history. 

Respectfully submitted,

Clemency Recipients (Obama recipients unless otherwise noted)

Ramona Brant served 22 years of a life sentence 
Norman Brownserved 24.5 years of a life sentence
Kemba Smith – (Kemba Smith Foundation) Clinton-era clemency recipient, served 6.5 years of a 24-year sentence
Angie Jenkinsserved 18 years of a 30-year sentence
Amy Ralston Povah – (Founder of CAN-DO Foundation) Clinton-era recipient, served nine years of a 24-year sentence
Jason Hernandez – (Founder of Crack Open the Door) served 17.5 years of a life sentence
Dorothy Gaines – (Founder of Dorothy Gaines Foundation) served six yrs of a 19-year sentence
Shauna Barry-Scott – served 10 years of a 20-year sentence
Danielle Metz – served 23 years of a life sentence
Donel M. Clark – served 22 years of a 35-year sentence
Barbra Scrivner – served 20 years of a 30-year sentence
Michelle Miles (Spoke at Yale University) served 19 years of a 30-year sentence
Israel Torres – (Guest on Michael Santos program) served 17 years of a life sentence
Pauline Kay Blake – served 14 years of a 24 year sentence
Darryl Reed – served 27 years, 10 months of a 35-year sentence
Billy Dekle – served 25 years, seven months of a life sentence
Charles “Fred” Cundiff – served 26 years of a life sentence
Dickey Joe Jackson – (“Breaking Bad Truck Driver“) served 20 years of a life sentence
Donna McDaniel – served 20 years of a 30-year sentence
Gregory Liningham – served 23 years, 5 months of a life sentence
Billie Taylor – served 24 years of a 34-year sentence
Telisha Watkins – served nine years, 10 months of a 20-year sentence
Timothy Tyler – served 27 years of a life sentence
Antonio Lopez – served 17 years of a 30-year sentence
Trevis Love – served 22 years of a life sentence
Cynthia Shank – served 10 years of a 15-year sentence
Bobby Joe Young – served 13 years of a 22-year sentence
Ricky McCall – served 15 years of a life sentence
Gracie Ann Walker – served 10 years of a 24-year sentence
Donella Harriel – served 13 years of a 22.5-year sentence
Antonio Reeves – served 11 years of a 17-year sentence
Alicia Siller – served 14 years of a 21-year sentence
Carla Holte – served 15 years, 10 months of a 21-year sentence  
Philander Butler – served 18 years of a life sentence
Olynthia Louise Hinton – served 11 years of a 20-year sentence
Angela LaPlatney – served 11 years, 9 months of a 20-year sentence  
Lamont Glass – served 19 years of a 22-year sentence
Debra Brown – served 14 years, eight months of a 20-year sentence
Courtney Hurt – received a 30-year sentence
David De’Juan Wise – served 12 years of a 20-year sentence
Susan Rosenberg – (founding member of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls) Clinton-era recipient
Linda Evans – (Co-founder of All of Us or None) Clinton-era recipient
Weldon Angelos – (Weldon Angelos Foundation) served 13 years of a 55-year sentence
Larry Duke – served 24 years of a life sentence (compassionate release)


Advocates for Clemency Applicants

Andrea JamesRecipient of Robert F. Kennedy award – 2016; Founder of Families for Justice as Healing  Co-Founder of National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls (the Council)
Topeka Sam – Co-founder of the Council; founder of Ladies of Hope Ministries
Phyllis Hardy – Matriarch of the Council
Lois Ahrens – Founding director of The Real Cost of Prisons, founding member of the Council
Vivian D. Nixon  Executive director, College and Community Fellowship
Syrita Steib-MartinOperation Restoration
Ivy Woolf TurkProject Liberation
Laura Whitehorn, Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP (RAPPCampaign.com)
Teresa Y and Laurin HodgeCo-Founder & Executive Director Mission: Launch, Inc. 
Beth CurtisLife for Pot and sister of clemency applicant John Knock
P.S. Ruckman – Pardon Power
Eric Sterling – Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
Ron Hampton – Blacks in Law Enforcement
Jonathan Perri – Associate campaigns director, Change.org
Karen Garrison – Mommie Activist and Sons
Donna Hylton – From Life to Life
Evie Litwok – Witness to Mass Incarceration
Beatrice Codianni – Reentry Central
Sharon Brooks – Founder Peace of Hope, Inc.
Denise C. McCreary-Founder/President-Hands Of Hope Outreach Ministries, INC.
Nora Callahan – November Coalition
Dawn Harrington – Free Hearts
Alexandra Chambers – Nashville Feminist Collective
Malik King – EPIC and CAN-DO Prisoner Outreach Coordinator
Anrica Caldwell – Member Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
Arlinda Johns – Guardian Angel Program
Alaine Lowell – Director of Thomas Paine Society
Stephanie Landa – Freedom Grow
Cathryn Michon Award Winning Filmmaker, actress and activist
David Borden – StoptheDrugWar.org
Stephen Downing – Deputy Chief, Los Angeles Police Department (Ret.)
Diane Goldstein – Lieutenant, Redondo Beach, CA Police Department (Ret.)
Chandra Bozelko – Winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists and Webby Awards
Kathy Morse – featured in Bill Moyers documentary – RIKERS
Stacey Borden – Founder/president of New Beginnings Reentry Services, Inc. (Boston, MA.)
Gretchen Burns Bergman – Co-founder and executive director of A New PATH and Lead Organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs
Kathie Kane-Willis – Director, Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy
Denise Angela Cullen – Broken No More
Steven Miller – Police sergeant, Canton, Michigan (Ret.)
Hon. George Eskin, Judge of the California Superior Court (Ret.)
Kimberly B. Cheney, former attorney general, Vermont
David A. Lanoie, Esq., Special sheriff/superintendent, Greenfield, Massachusetts (Ret.)
David Long – Former special agent, US Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General
Inge Fryklund – JD, Former Cook County, Illinois prosecutor
Jack Wilborn – Reserve police officer, Glendale, Arizona (Ret.)
Carrie Roberts – Former correctional officer and sheriff’s deputy, Colorado
Neill Franklin – Major, Maryland State Police (Ret.)
Allison Barker Watson – Former assistant district attorney, Tennessee
Paul J. Steigleder II – Deputy sheriff, Clackamas County, Oregon (Ret.)
Gordon D McAllister Jr. – Retired district judge, Oklahoma


Formerly Incarcerated and Impacted Family Members

Patricia Williams – Graduate of Wharton School of Finance, formerly incarcerated and advocate for clemency applicant Michael Montalvo, serving life
Miquelle West – Daughter of clemency applicant Michelle West
Brenda Sirois – Sister of clemency applicant Michael Pelletier, serving life for marijuana
Aicha Bascaro – Daughter of clemency applicant Antonio Bascaro, denied
Tretessa Johnson and Catina Scales – Daughter of clemency applicant Alice Johnson
Clarissa Brown – Daughter of clemency appellant Lavone Roach
Veda McNeil Ajamu – Sister of clemency applicant Robert Shipp
Vincent Holmes – Brother of clemency applicant Michael Holmes
Beth Cronan – Formally incarcerated, advocate for clemency applicant Terry Anderson
Collin Kavitz – Son of clemency applicant Lori Kavitz
Kyndia Riley – Daughter of two clemency applicants: Santra Rucker and Darryl Riley  
Lavithia Howard – Daughter of clemency applicant Cheryl Howard
Susan Kemble – Mother of Melissa Trigg, denied
Brigitte Barren-Williams, Gina Stephenson and Heather Nunley – sisters of clemency applicant David Barren
Janika Bostick – Sister of clemency applicant Rose Summers
Jerri Vega – Daughter of clemency applicant Geraldo JerryVega
Skyler and Serrell – Daughter and son of Ferrell Scott, denied
Doretha Hall – Son of clemency applicant LaShonda Hall, denied
Arlinda Johns – Formerly incarcerated, advocate for Tynice Hall, denied
Jane and Nick Scarmazzo – Parents of Luke Scarmazzo, serving 20 years for marijuana
Carol Yohe and Clifford Burgoon – Parents of clemency applicant Clarissa Burgoon
Makayla Garron and Christian Davis – Children of Clarissa Burgoon
Jodi Loretta – Mother of Michael Chancellor, serving 15 years for marijuana
Bette Herman Davis – Advocate for clemency applicant Nancy Ferneau, denied
Santa Christina – Advocate for clemency applicant Schearean Means, served life
Cheryl Ward – Formerly incarcerated, advocate for Rhonda Turpin, Andrea Joy James
Sarah Zaba – Formerly incarcerated, works at Vera Institute of Justice and graduate student at Columbia University
Doug Stover – Brother of clemency applicant Blake Stover, denied
Anna Marie Clausen – Mother of clemency applicant Adam Clausen
Georgean Arsons – Guardian Angel for Angela Wright and Ricardo Montes
Jazzmin Brianne – Daughter of clemency applicant Roberta Bell
Markia Sykes – Daughter of clemency applicant Clinton Matthews
Christine Edwards – Formerly incarcerated, advocate for clemency applicant Crystal Mattern
Helen Jones – Mother of clemency applicant Rita White  
Maruenne Griese – RN, mother of incarcerated daughter
Sandra Moore – Wife of clemency applicant Sherman Moore
Cheneace Harris – Fiancée of clemency applicant Gregory Anthony Collins
Melyssa Olier – Fiancée of clemency applicant Jamel Gregory (first offender serving life)
Tikka Mitchell – Daughter of denied clemency applicant Solomon Montagueo, serving life, sentenced under the old 100 / 1 crack/powder cocaine ratio
Debi Campbell – Formerly incarcerated, advocate for clemency applicant Chad Marks
Yvonne and Walter Mosley – Mother and step-dad of clemency applicant Christopher Holyfield
Jane Byrne – Formerly incarcerated
Carrie Tyler – Sister of Tim Tyler  
Elizabeth Bishop – Sister of Jimmy Romans, serving life for marijuana
Sam Spellman – Formerly incarcerated, brother of clemency applicant Phyllis Hood
Andrea Lister-Pierce – Formerly incarcerated
Karen Taylor – Formerly incarcerated
Rita Juarez, Vanessa, Angel and Maurillo Lopez – Family members of clemency recipient Antonio Lopez
Bianca Ochoa-Hernandez – Daughter of clemency applicant Aurelia Ochoa-Hernandez