At this moment, thousands of people safely completing their sentences at home are living in fear that they’ll be sent back to federal prison through no fault of their own. A memo issued in the final days of the Trump administration threatens to send around 4,500 people on home confinement back to federal prison after the pandemic ends. If the Biden administration doesn’t act to fix this, families like Cheryl Johnson’s will be torn apart. Here is her story.
A few years into her 12-and-a-half-year prison sentence for tax fraud, Cheryl Johnson was on the phone with her cousin. The cousin was running late to an appointment and needed to straighten her hair – but she didn’t have time to stand in the bathroom and use a flat iron. “It came to me then,” Cheryl says now, “that if she had a cordless styling tool, she could style her hair wherever she was, in the car or wherever. And that’s when I conceived of The Hot Brush.”
Home now for six months on home confinement under the CARES Act, Cheryl has wasted no time trying to make that vision a reality. “I’ve applied for a provisional patent, and I’m already working on a prototype. My family and my friends are supporting and investing in my dream.”
Cheryl has three years left on her sentence, and the fact that she may have to return to prison because of the OLC memo is deeply troubling. “Every day, you just worry. It’s awful,” she says. “But I know that I am blessed. I am just following the rules and enjoying my family.”
Life is sweet, despite the anxiety. When she left for prison, her three kids were 18, 15, and 12. “Now they’re grown,” Cheryl says. “And it’s so nice to be with them. My oldest, he lives in Miami, and he can’t stop visiting me!”
Family time is precious, including “movie nights” just like when the kids were little and they’d eat dinner on trays in her big bed and watch a movie. “We do it now,” she chuckles. “Just like old times.
“And my middle son, one day I was cooking for him – fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni – and he came home and saw it and he got tears in his eyes. He said, ‘You know how long it’s been since I’ve had my mom’s cooking?’ That was incredible.”
So for now, she’s enjoying freedom, trying to stay positive and make her business dream come true and focus on her family. “But I can’t forget that it all might go away,” she says. “I told my kids I may have to go back, and they said, ‘They wouldn’t dare do that.’ And I had to say, ‘Yeah, they might.’”
Please join us in urging the Biden administration to take action and #KeepThemHome! Add your name to FAMM’s Keep Them Home campaign to help families.