Free to Succeed: Mandy Martinson - FAMM

Free to Succeed: Mandy Martinson

When a second chance means a chance to work hard to regain a profession lost and be there for a dying father

Mandy Martinson never thought she’d see the day when her father would be walking her down the aisle at her own wedding. In fact, she never thought she’d get married at all, especially after she was arrested for drug possession in 2004.


The judge who sentenced her didn’t believe Mandy would commit crimes in the future, and observed that she had broken the law only because she was subject to her boyfriend’s “direction and control.” Nonetheless, he had no choice but to hand down a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years—three years more than the boyfriend who testified against her.

A former honor-roll student, Mandy never gave up hope in prison. But her ambitions were modest. “I thought that I would be a dental hygienist again. That’s all I wanted to do. The whole time I was in prison, I just kept saying, ‘I’m going back to hygiene,’” she recalls, with an irrepressible smile. “I didn’t picture myself married. I just pictured it being me and some cats and my dental hygiene job, and that’s that.”

When Mandy’s sentence was commuted by President Obama in 2016, she made good on her pledge to return to the work she cherished. But she also found love. She met her future husband, Bill, through a work connection, when she was first released. When he asked her out to lunch, she initially demurred. “I was like, ‘Why does this successful person want to be with me? I just got out of prison.’ He was like, ‘I want to be with you because you’re good and genuine.’”

The two had been dating for several months when, in the summer of 2019, Bill popped the question. Mandy remembers thinking, “Well, I don’t want to wait forever. And I want to get married outside.” So she “threw together a wedding” and held the ceremony in October of that year. “My dad walked me down the aisle,” she recalls. “We went to the park, and there’s this little gazebo, so it was really beautiful.”

In many ways, Mandy’s life felt blessed. Through hard work and determination, she had won back her job as a dental hygienist, in the same office where she used to work. She had settled into married life, quite happily.

But then last year her father died after a long, difficult battle with cancer, the same illness that had taken her mother’s life when Mandy was incarcerated. This time, at least, Mandy was able to be the primary caregiver. She saw her father through multiple medical emergencies. “I literally stood by him while the nurses and doctors did their stuff. I was there with him the whole time, and he knew I was there.”

Mandy’s voice is full of emotion when she speaks about her father’s death. But the feelings, she says, aren’t just grief. There’s also gratitude at the fact that she’s been able to persevere, to rebuild her life, and to enjoy the blessings of her second chance—her work, her unexpected marital bliss, and, most of all, the chance to spend time with her beloved father before his passing.

Listen to Mandy talk about her life now:

Mandy In Her Vegetable Garden
Mandy in her vegetable garden

Issue: Sentencing