After making drug deliveries for her boyfriend, Jaquale received a mandatory 10-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine base. Because she and her daughter’s father were codefendants, her daughter has two parents in prison.
When Jaquale Clark pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine in 2012, she knew it was serious, but didn’t fully grasp what she was facing. “I had no clue what conspiracy was and no clue that I could spend 10 years in prison automatically if I got charged with it,” she now says.
Just a few years earlier, she had been working as an office administrator in her Texas hometown, building a life with her boyfriend, and preparing to welcome her first child into the world. Things took a turn in 2009, when she began making drug deliveries for her boyfriend. “I helped him out occasionally, by making drop-offs,” she says. “I was pregnant at the time and I didn’t even want to sell dope. I felt, at that time, that I had to prove that I was ‘down for him,’ so that he wouldn’t leave me while I was pregnant.”
Even at Jaquale’s sentencing, the idea that she, as a first time nonviolent offender, could serve prison time for what she’d done didn’t yet feel like an inevitability. Jaquale was unfailingly polite: she apologized to everyone she’d hurt, and thanked everyone who’d helped her, including the prosecution. “During this time, we as defendants view y’all as bad guys…however, in the end you have done your job and I truly thank you.”
And when the judge asked her where she’d like to spend her time, Jaquale, still not fully understanding the gravity of situation, didn’t ask for a prison close to home, as most people in her position do. She asked him to allow her to enlist in the military.
The judge explained that it was not a matter of mercy.
“The Congress of the United States and the laws signed by the President of the United States have said that because of the amount of crack cocaine that was involved, your minimum sentence is 120 months,” Judge Robert Junell said at sentencing. “That’s ten years. I can’t go beneath that unless the Government files a motion that would allow the Court to do that.”
In court proceedings, Jaquale was forthcoming about her role: she first gained law enforcement’s attention in 2009, when she tried to pass a counterfeit bill. Police stopped her, searched her car, and found crack cocaine. She was frightened, but in need of money and with few other options, she continued transporting drugs.
In March 2011, a maintenance man, who was working on the AC unit inside of the apartment that Jaquale and her boyfriend shared, found a bag of what appeared to be crack sticking out of a shoe and reported it. Shortly after that incident, she and her boyfriend were arrested.
While court documents attributed just 37.2 grams of crack to Jaquale, she was held responsible for the entire amount of crack in the conspiracy, more than 280 grams. Court documents reveal that her conspiracy was a sophisticated operation in name only: at the time of her arrest, she had a zero balance in her checking account and owed bank fees, medical bills, traffic fines, and had defaulted on a $14,000 car loan.
Although Jaquale was open about her actions, she was reluctant to speculate about her boyfriend’s role, which is not uncommon in such situations. The prosecution believed she was protecting him; she said she just didn’t know enough about any of his dealings to give useful information, and the idea of her sending her daughter’s father to prison because of a mistake she might have made in speculating about his activities was too much for her to bear. “I’m afraid to say ‘yes’ and it’s not true,” she said at sentencing, explaining her hesitation. Because of this, the government objected to Jaquale receiving the safety valve. In the end, she received the same sentence as her boyfriend: 120 months. Had she been eligible for the safety valve, she would’ve likely served a sentence of 37 to 46 months, rather than 10 years.
Because Jaquale and her daughter’s father were codefendants, her daughter has two parents in prison. Jaquale hopes they will be able to be a family again after she has served her time, but in the meantime, Jaquale’s grandmother is taking care of her little girl. “This has had a huge impact on my family, because the only support that I have is my grandmother and my daughter,” she says. “My grandmother, who is 70 years old, is taking care of my 4-year-old daughter. She is retired and should be living her golden years, but she is now raising a baby, something that she hasn’t done for 50 years.”
Jaquale sees her daughter about four times each year—once at the beginning of summer, once at the end of summer, around the time of her daughter’s birthday, and then once more around the holidays. However, even those four trips a year have become difficult. Jaquale is eight hours away from her hometown, and her grandmother recently totaled her car when a driver hit her in an accident. Until she can replace the vehicle, she has no way to bring Jaquale’s daughter for visits.
Jaquale has stayed busy in prison, taking classes, maintaining a spotless disciplinary record, and even tutoring other women to help them obtain GEDs. Still, she is less than halfway through her sentence, and because she has no history of drug abuse, has a high school diploma, and was enrolled in college when she was arrested, she is concerned that there is little prison programming left for her.
But she says that the naive young woman she once was has disappeared, and although she believes she received too harsh a sentence, she is determined to use her time productively and come out of prison ready to work hard and raise her daughter. “I have learned that money isn’t everything and family shouldn’t be risked,” she says.
The Facts: Jaquale Clark
Sentence: 120 months (10 years)
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine base
Year sentenced: 2012
Age at sentencing: 24
Projected release date: 05/04/2020