JeDonna Young

JeDonna YoungJeDonna was arrested in 1978 when police targeting her boyfriend found nearly three pounds of heroin in her car. Although both JeDonna and her boyfriend maintained that she knew nothing about the heroin, she was sentenced to life without parole under Michigan’s 650 Lifer Law. She was released in 1998 after Michigan passed sentencing reform.

A young mother with no prior convictions, JeDonna Young was arrested in 1978 when police targeting her boyfriend found nearly three pounds of heroin in her car. Although both JeDonna and her boyfriend maintained that she knew nothing about the heroin, she was one of the first people to be sentenced to life without parole under Michigan’s notorious “650 Lifer Law.” JeDonna did not despair—she concentrated on earning her bachelor’s degree in prison and became one of FAMM’s best known cases illustrating the need for sentencing reform.   

When JeDonna heard that the 1998 reforms making her eligible for parole had passed in Michigan’s legislature, she couldn’t believe it. “I had been fighting this for so long and gotten my hopes up so many times,” she explains. “I thought, ‘When I get to the other side of the fence I’ll know it’s happened.’” One of her most memorable experiences was an interview she gave to Dan Rather for 60 Minutes II on the day she left prison, almost a decade ago.   

Since she was released, JeDonna has earned her master’s degree in social work, worked as FAMM’s Midwest Coordinator, FAMM’s Detroit coordinator, and with at-risk school children.

“Mandatory minimum drug laws have a devastating impact on society,” JeDonna says. “When women and men go to prison, their families, their children are affected for a very long time. The effects of long prison sentences just don’t go away.”