At last month’s hearing before the U.S. Sentencing Commission about proposed changes to compassionate relief guidelines, an unlikely voice joined the testimony. As returning citizen Adam Clausen was testifying about his own recent compassionate release, his two-year-old son Christian started vocalizing loudly, as toddlers do. The audience chuckled, and Adam wasted no time in connecting the point he was making about second chances unlocking great potential to the moment. “What you hear over there,” he told the Commission with a smile, “That’s my son, that’s the potential!”
In fact, little Christian would not be alive today if it weren’t for Adam’s second chance. Adam was 20 years into a 213-year sentence when passage of the First Step Act enabled him to apply for compassionate release under broader criteria. His motion was granted, and he walked free in August of 2020.
As for the outcome of the March hearing—and Christian’s first foray into advocacy!—on April 5, the Commission voted on a number of changes to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, including changes to compassionate release. These amendments will substantially expand compassionate release (also called “reduction in sentence”) criteria—meaning more people in prison will be able to come home, just like Adam did.
Describing the dark path that landed him in prison, Adam says, “It was one terrible mistake after another, which piled up to a mountain of remorse and regret that still towers over me all these years later.” His childhood and teen years were tumultuous. Then at age 24, he violated his parole for using drugs and was immediately remanded to the county jail. Ninety days later Adam was released with no phone, no car, and no place to call home in the middle of winter. All he had were the clothes on his back—plus a bill for the cost of his incarceration. That’s when he committed a string of nine armed robberies. The use of firearms and his priors landed him back behind bars with a sentence of more than two centuries.
Facing the rest of his life in prison, Adam focused on his personal health and fitness and developed a sense of purpose through sharing that passion with others. He qualified as a certified personal trainer and life coach, leading hundreds of classes and working on programs to help men inside with him.
Adam thinks about those people every day, feeling the second chance he got not just as a blessing for him and his family, but also as a responsibility. “That’s why I keep telling my story, to the Commission and to others, and why I won’t stop fighting for reform. There are so many others who are equally if not more deserving of the same second chance that I got. I’m grateful to have any opportunity to speak on their behalf.”
Adam now serves as the Director of Innovation and Social Impact for the NPO Social Profit Corrections and he is on the Advisory Board for the National Diversity Coalition, among other service work.
“I want to be remembered as someone who helped to transform our criminal justice system to a more humanistic approach that focuses on the best that everyone has within them,” he explains.
Having stared down the barrel of a lifetime of imprisonment, Adam intimately knows the desperation of those facing long sentences. In his testimony before the Sentencing Commission on compassionate relief, he advocated setting a standard for release “for those on the inside to aspire to, that will instill hope, where there is currently little more than despair.”
As for Christian? “He’s the boss of the family,” Adam jokes. “A bundle of energy and enthusiasm and wonder. I keep myself energized and inspired by simply waking up every morning and seeing my son’s face. He’s a reminder of all that I have to be grateful for, specifically the second chance, the new lease on life that I’ve been given.”
Looking for more “good news” stories about criminal justice reform, like Adam’s? Look no further!
Plus: Listen to Adam talk about what a teacher told him in the fourth grade, and what he’s up to now: