Update: On Dec. 18, 2015, President Obama commuted Sharanda’s life sentence. She will be released in 2016.
On November 2, 2015, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore devoted a segment to Sharanda’s case and the call for her release.
Taxpayers are spending more than $1.2 million incarcerating Sharanda Jones, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender, Her daughter – just eight when Sharanda was sentenced to life without parole in federal prison – had grown into adulthood without her mother.
When Sharanda herself was a child, her mother was paralyzed in a car accident. She did not meet her father until she was an adult. Sharanda’s grandmother worked, and the close-knit family relied on disability income and welfare support. Sharanda graduated from high school in 1985, having participated in the drill team and working part time. She then earned her food certification license and her cosmetology license. Sharanda maintained steady employment in the cosmetics industry and later the food industry, but still struggled to get by and to support her family.
Out of desperation, Sharanda made the bad decision to become involved in distributing cocaine and crack cocaine in the mid-1990s. In 1999, she was arrested and indicted in federal court along with several codefendants, including some family members. Sharanda was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine at trial and sentenced to life without parole in federal prison.
Sharanda’s role in the conspiracy included buying cocaine from a supplier in Houston, Texas and bringing it back to the Dallas, Texas area. The powder cocaine was turned into crack cocaine and distributed by others, including Sharanda’s brother. Sharanda was also accused of distributing crack cocaine. During her trips to Houston, Sharanda would carry a legally purchased firearm with her for protection. Though she never used it, the gun was used to enhance her sentence.
How did this first-time, nonviolent offender end up with a life sentence? Sharanda was sentenced under the harsher crack cocaine penalties because The Court found that she knew, or should have known, that the powder cocaine she brought back was being converted into crack cocaine. Furthermore, in addition to the gun enhancement, Sharanda received a sentencing enhancement because she was considered a “leader.” She also testified to her innocence at trial, which was used to further enhance her sentence. All of these factors, combined with the drug quantities, which we
re calculated based on the testimony of co-conspirators, were enough to bring Sharanda’s sentence up to life without parole. Sharanda’s codefendants ended up receiving sentences between five and 19 years.
Before her arrest, Sharanda worked as a hair stylist, managed a restaurant and cared for her young daughter. She only had $250 in her bank account when she was arrested. Sharanda has worked hard to better herself while incarcerated, despite knowing that she may never be released from prison. She receives stellar work reviews in prison and has been praised for her “vast leadership abilities.” Nevertheless, Sharanda’s daughter – eight years old when her mom was sentenced – is now a young adult, having grown up without her mother by her side. She reflects on her mom’s sentence:
I was 8 years old at the time and my world as I knew it was shattered… Being without my mother for over 13 years of my life has been extremely difficult. But the thought that she is set to spend the rest of her life in prison as a first-time non-violent offender is absolutely devastating… I know that my mother committed a crime and that she has to pay for her actions. However, after over 13 years I feel she has more than paid the price for her crime. My mother does not deserve to come out of prison in a casket.
Unless Sharanda is granted a presidential commutation, taxpayers will spend over $1.2 million incarcerating this first-time, nonviolent offender – and her daughter will continue to grow up without her mom.
The Facts: Sharanda Jones
Sentence: Life (without parole)*
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine
Year sentenced: 1999
Age at sentencing: 32
*On Dec. 18, 2015, President Obama commuted Sharanda’s life sentence. She will be released in 2016.