Carrying your Voice

Post Date: June 12, 2014

I testified this week before seven men and women who are poised to make a decision that could affect tens of thousands of drug prisoners and their loved ones. Liberty is at stake. 

The federal Sentencing Commission, the lawmakers that write the rules that affect nearly every federal sentence, is trying to decide whether to lower sentences for over 50,000 drug offenders in prison. They asked FAMM’s opinion – you can imagine what we think! — and earlier this week, I had a chance to tell them in a public hearing. 

I felt, as we always do when addressing lawmakers, that I was speaking for you. 

mary and natasha

Natasha (L) and FAMM’s Mary Price

I wanted to carry your voices straight to the Commission. So, to prepare for my appearance, I spoke with some FAMM members who had left prison early when the Commission made them eligible for lower crack cocaine prison sentences in 2008 and 2010. I wanted to know about all the life that has filled the years the Sentencing Commission gave back to them; things they would have missed if still incarcerated. 

Two months after Natasha was released from prison in March 2008, she enrolled in college. This week, she received her Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Natasha served 11 years of her 15 year prison sentence. In the four extra years of freedom she gained from the Commission, besides rocking her own education, she attended the college graduations of two of her children, was there to welcome two of her three grandchildren into the world, and said goodbye to her grandmother and her beloved uncle. Today she helps potty train the babies, teaches them to walk, and volunteers in the 6th grade classroom of her teacher’s-aide daughter, where she coaches reading. 

Let me share a couple of their stories with you. Stephanie lives in Mobile, Alabama. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison, without parole, at age 23 for a non-violent crime. She spent over 21 years in prison before her early release in November 2011. Here is what she has done with the four years the Commission gave her. She is there to pick up grandchildren from day care every day and keep them close when they are sick or their parents need a break. She marvels at how these six grandchildren attached to her so instantly, as though she had been there all their short lives, instead of not at all. All were born while she was in prison. Her return home helped knit-up tears in the fabric of her family; people who had not spoken for years have rebuilt relationships in her orbit. She has celebrated 27 birthdays of children and grandchildren and of course all the holidays and family reunions. She would still be in prison today but for the Commission’s decision.

The lives of all the former prisoners I had the privilege of speaking with no longer revolve around the milestones they missed, but the ones they are they are part of.

Stephanie and Natasha are just two of the people I had in mind as I testified before the Sentencing Commissioners this week, urging them to reduce sentences for all drug offenders in prison. 

Those seven Commissioners have the power to change the lives of up to 51,000 federal prisoners – giving them a chance to spend time with grandchildren, attend graduations, walk daughters down the aisle, or hold the hand of an elderly parent.  

That’s why we fight so hard for sentencing changes at FAMM. We know that every unnecessary year – or day – in prison is time away from what makes us most human: families, communities, and social networks.

We need your help to make the strongest possible case to the Sentencing Commission, Congress, the President, and state legislators that sentencing laws must change! We’re trying to raise $25,000 this month so we can produce more case profiles to share nationwide that tell the stories of the people in prison who need relief. If you can make a donation, please do so today by clicking here. Your donation contributes to freedom for someone.

Thank you in advance for helping us bring people home sooner.  

Sincerely,
Mary

Mary Price
General Counsel
Families Against Mandatory Minimums

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