In Case You Missed It: Mothers Serving Long-Term Drug Sentences Call for Clemency
Date:  09-21-2015

Facing dying in prison, women beg for the President to reexamine their cases and sentences
Reading the stories behind the arrests of the women featured in a recent Truthout article may leave some readers scratching their heads and wondering why these women are still incarcerated. The length of their sentences are enough to make people wince, and the injustices behind their convictions will outrage many. These women, as well as thousands of other incarcerated people, are seeking clemency and hoping that they will earn the President's support in their efforts to be free. (Full disclosure: Reentry Central Managing Editor Beatrice Codianni was a co-worker of Michelle West when they both held clerk positions in the Danbury Federal Prison Lieutenants’ Office.)

Mothers Serving Long-Term Drug Sentences Call for Clemency

By Victoria Law

Friday, 11 September 2015

Michelle West walked her 10-year-old daughter Miquelle to school on May 3, 1993, just as she did every morning. They blew each other kisses just before Miquelle entered the front door. West planned to pick her up after school and supervise her homework, just like on any other school day. But she never made it back. That morning, federal agents arrested West on charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, making false statements to a bank, money laundering, and aiding and abetting a drug-related murder. Ultimately, West was found guilty and sentenced to two life sentences plus 50 years.

Unlike the nonviolent drug offenders touted by political hopefuls and media pundits, West's story is more complicated, particularly because of the "aiding and abetting a drug-related murder" conviction. At her trial, the person who committed the murder received full immunity in exchange for testifying against her. In August 2015, after 23 years in prison, West faced another disappointment: Because of the murder conviction, she does not meet the criteria set by President Obama's much-heralded Clemency Project 2014. Now, instead of being assigned a pro bono attorney, West and her family must raise money for her legal representation.

Michelle West is one of the thousands still imprisoned on federal drug charges who, without the intervention of presidential clemency, will most likely die behind bars. In 2013, 98,200 people (or more than half the federal prison population) were in prison for drug offenses such as trafficking and possession. This does not include charges such as aiding and abetting a drug-related murder. Within the federal prison system, the overall imprisonment rate for Black women, such as West, is more than twice that of white women. Latinas such as Cynthia Valdez Shank, another incarcerated woman who spoke with Truthout, are also imprisoned at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

Read more.