TN Woman Wins Freedom, But What About Others?

While President Trump commuted the mandatory minimum sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who ran a cocaine ring, a Tennessee columnist doubts that the president will take similar action in the cases of other women who were caught in the drug war.

Alice Marie Johnson of Memphis was a casualty of the war on drugs. Like thousands of other women whose desperation ensnared them in the drug trade, she was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 after confessed drug dealers testified that she was the ringleader in a multi-million dollar Memphis-to-Houston cocaine ring. Johnson said struggles to find work, as well as a divorce and her son’s death in a motorcycle accident, pushed her to become part of a drug operation that authorities  tied to the Cali drug cartel. After spending 22 years in prison and behaving herself, she caught a break when President Trump commuted her sentence on Wednesday, writes columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Johnson got a life sentence on her first offense despite having no record of violence. It happened when the crack cocaine epidemic ramped up the drug war, and Congress enacted mandatory minimum terms. Those punishments often targeted women like Johnson, whose convictions fueled a 700 percent increase in women incarcerated between 1980 and 2016. Johnson caught the attention of reality show star Kim Kardashian, whose husband, rapper Kanye West, caught Trump’s admiration. Weathersbee says it would be better for Trump to end the drug war “that lands too many women, like Johnson, in prison with ridiculously long sentences.” Weathersbee doesn’t expect that because Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that instructed federal prosecutors to avoid pursing charges against low-level offenders that could lead to mandatory minimum terms. Meanwhile, Weathersbee says, Trump is handling out pardons and commutations “like party favors to people lucky enough to get an invite – or who can score an invite.” (Cable television is becoming the government’s new pardons office, the Washington Post reports. On Thursday, former CIA officer John Kiriakou became the latest person to make a direct appeal to the president to wipe clean his conviction for leaking the identity of a fellow CIA officer.)