How a life sentence without parole turned into a second chance at life

July 19, 2018

min read

During her two decades in an Alabama prison, Alice Marie Johnson became a grandmother and a great-grandmother. Serving a life sentence for charges related to cocaine distribution and money laundering from a quarter century ago, she was ineligible for parole. There was little hope for freedom.


But Johnson never gave up hope. Her family never stopped working for her release, and earlier this year, persuaded by a varied host of criminal justice reform advocates that included Kim Kardashian West, President Donald Trump commuted her sentence. After more than 21 years behind bars, Johnson was a free woman.


Johnson says she felt especially moved by the involvement of so many people on her behalf, including White House senior advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Now, Johnson wants to help others receive the same mercy and forgiveness.


“It’s a fire in my belly. There’s no way that I can walk away after being incarcerated almost 22 years and just forget about the people who have been left behind. I have to continue to advocate,” Johnson said.

“It’s something that, I don’t believe that … this has happened to me for nothing. Because I am a woman who is committed to working for others who are still behind bars.”


A little more than a month after her release, Johnson is thankful for her supportive family and others who helped get her to this point.


“I’m a woman of strong faith. That’s what I can tell you about myself,” Johnson said. “So, even though there were some days that I felt a little hopeless, something would always come to renew my hope.”


Even so, Johnson said she would have “never” thought that the likes of Kardashian West and the president of the United States would rally to her side.


“I know that it was divine intervention. There’s no way that this all just came together,” Johnson said. “Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump teaming up … no one saw that coming. Definitely not me.”


Koch Industries has consistently advocated for criminal justice reforms at all levels. Where there is “common goal and vision,” the company would be proud to work with anyone to improve people’s lives, including Kardashian West, Koch Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mark Holden told BuzzFeed News following Johnson’s commutation.


A good place to start, Johnson says, is eliminating mandatory minimum rules, which led to her life sentence without the possibility of parole for a first-time drug-related offense.

“Just as hearts can be changed, you can’t continue to do the same thing when you see that something is cracked, that something is broken,” Johnson said of her message to the president on continuing justice reform efforts. “Reexamine the policies that are in place. Reexamine what you’re doing to people and families.”


Although Johnson had a support network of family and others for her reentry to society, she acknowledges that not everyone is as fortunate. That’s why, she says, it’s important to support legislation that will support reentry for prisoners.


See more coverage of Koch’s continued support for criminal justice reform.


This story originally appeared as a Freedom to Flourish segment, sponsored by Koch Industries, on Hill.TV’s Rising with Krystal & Buck.