Waiting, Worrying, and Grasping for Hope: Families of Those Seeking Clemency
Date:  04-05-2016

BBC news highlights daughters whose mothers will die in prison if the President denies them clemency
On May 6, 2011 Reentry Central published an article A Daughter’s Poignant Plea to the President: “Please Release My Mother,” in which Chandra Garraway pleaded with President Obama to honor her mother Jillian Van de Cruze’s clemency petition. Van de Cruize, a first-time, non-violent drug offender had already served 16 years of a 19 year, 7 months sentence when Chanda wrote to Obama detailing how difficult life without her mother had been for her family. Van de cruize was finally released in May 2012 and was able to spend time with her daughter until Chanda died in a tragic boating accident in 2014.

Too often the stories of children of parents who face harsh sentences are not told by the media. Reentry Central was happy to see the BCC choose to feature an article about Michelle West and Alice Johnson whose daughters are hoping their mothers won’t die in prison. Both women are listed on the Can-Do Foundation’s Top 25 Women Who Deserve Clemency from Federal Prison list.

Time is running out for these women and the anxiety they feel is taking its toll as each list of people receiving clemency is announced and their mothers’ names aren’t on them.

Inmate families hope for the mercy of a president

By Jessica Lussenhop

BBC News Magazine

4 April 2016

For families of federal inmates who have asked President Obama for executive clemency, the wait has been excruciating. For both the administration and the prisoners, time is running out.

Standing in front of a mirrored closet in her hotel room, Miquelle West considered two outfits to wear to an invitation-only event at the White House: a Christian Dior dress or a custom dark suit. West - a celebrity stylist living in Los Angeles - knew what her grandmother would have said: dress "like a proper lady". But unlike most civilians whose invitation to the White House marks a happy occasion, West was not there to celebrate.

"I just feel like I need to be more business savvy," she said. "This is an important conversation. It's probably one of the most important conversations I'll ever have in my life."

She chose the suit.

Miquelle's mother, Michelle West, was given a double life sentence plus 50 years for her role in a drug operation in Flint, Michigan, in the 1990s. Though it was her first offence, a man was murdered by West's associates. The triggerman received immunity for testifying against the others in the ring and West got a much heftier sentence by choosing to go to trial.

At this point, Michelle West will spend the rest of her life in prison unless she receives a presidential commutation. Past presidents have used this unique executive power extremely rarely, but the Obama administration has already commuted the sentences of 248 individuals, more than the last six presidents combined.

The creation of Obama's Clemency Project 2014 - which aimed to be a comprehensive review of the cases of first-time, nonviolent drug offenders who had served a minimum of 10 years - sent a shockwave of new energy and hope through the federal prison system, resulting in 36,000 applications for clemency.

However, according to Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St Thomas School of Law who represents several inmates in their bids for clemency, those newly raised hopes are a double-edged sword. Since its creation two years ago, CP2014 has shown its weaknesses and the clock is running down on the Obama presidency. It's unclear how any of the possible incoming administrations might treat the program. Read more