Read These Family Members of Current Inmates Urging Obama to Expand Clemency

With time running out on the Obama White House, activists and family members of current inmates fear the door on clemency is about to slam shut.


Protesters outside the White House urge Obama to expand his clemency efforts // CJ Ciaramella/Reason

In the final year of his presidency, Obama began commuting the sentences of hundreds of federal inmates at a time, most of them serving mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. However, the election of Donald Trump has left criminal justice activists and family members of inmates with pending clemency petitions fearing that the door is about to slam shut on Jan. 20, when Obama leaves office.

On the campaign trail, Trump called Obama's clemency recipients "bad dudes" and said, "These are people who are out, they're walking the streets. Sleep tight, folks."

All this week, the criminal justice advocacy group #cut50 has been holding rallies in Washington, D.C. urging the Obama administration to step up its clemency efforts before time runs out. On Monday night, family members of federal inmates with pending clemency petitions, as well as several former inmates whose sentences were commuted, gathered outside the White House for a candlelight vigil.

Here are three people at Monday night's vigil, in their own words.

Lavithia Howard

I'm a 33-year old disability case manager for Etna. I'm here on behalf of my mother, who's been incarcerated for the past 22 years for a nonviolent crime. She's been in prison since I was 11 years old. She had an aneurysm about two years ago, and she's been fighting through recovery. She was convicted of one count of drug conspiracy. She was also a drug abuser.

Tonight we're here to ask President Obama to take a better look at the clemency and commutations, look at the women particularly, and let those people go free who are serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes. Not only that, but, if needed, give them a lesser sentence so they can come home to their families. Because that's what this is all about, giving second chances. If we gave a second chance to Donald Trump, then we can definitely give these women a second chance. Not just mine but everybody's, because when one comes home, everyone comes home. There's a young man walking around here who got commuted by President Obama. Some would have tears in their eyes because their family members aren't home, but that gives me hope that my momma can still come home. Some people may be negative about Trump. I didn't vote for Trump, but when you think negative you get negative results. Even if you ain't got no hope in it, just have hope in your family member coming home.

We've applied for clemency, and we've been working with the president's 2014 clemency initiative. Everything's on hold. You just call and keep calling, and they won't give you information. That was the same thing that happened to my mother when she was on life support. I couldn't even get information on my mom while she was sitting up in the hospital in the ICU for 31 days. Some people will say 'Oh, they're criminals, they need to be there.' I'm not the same person I was 15 years ago, so I know my momma's not the same person that she was 22 years ago. We've recently been given the opportunity to have video visits. Her grandkids met her for the first time through a computer.

Anrica Caldwell

I'm the fiancé of David Barren. I'm a special ed school teacher for Pittsburgh public schools. I teach emotional support, so this is an extension of what I do professionally and what I do personally. My fiancé has been incarcerated eight-and-a-half years. He's serving life plus twenty years for one count of drug conspiracy and 52 counts of money laundering.

We need him home. He had never been to prison before. He has no holds to any cartel. We have applied for clemency. We're just waiting for Obama to hopefully grant him clemency to come home to his children, his mother, his father. They visit every weekend at Hazelton Prison. They're 80 and 81, respectively. Time is always running out. When I start school in September it's always a race to the state exams, and when I look at this with David, it's a race to him being granted freedom.

When Trump was elected president, it was a pit in my stomach. In fact, it was a very somber moment in my classroom. Pretty much my whole building knows what's going on, and they are rallying around Dave. When they found out Trump was going to be president, everyone was just like, wow, this might not happen.

Jason Hernandez, 39. Granted clemency on Dec. 19, 2013

To me it feel like a last battle cry. President Obama, if he wants to leave his legacy as far as clemency, he has fewer than 60, 70 days to do that because everyone feels that the door will close as soon as he leaves office.

I did nearly 18 years from 1998 to 2015 for drug conspiracy, crack cocaine. The person who supplied me ended up getting 12 years. I got life because I converted it to crack cocaine. I deserved to go to jail. I deserved to go to jail for a long time, but I didn't deserve to die in there. Luckily, the president thought the same. I wasn't a bad kid, but I was just a kid who made bad decisions, which is the same for a lot of the people with families here. They're not bad people, and they shouldn't die in there for what they've done.

It took approximately two years for my clemency petition to go through. I filed it in 2011, and right before Christmas in 2013, I was granted clemency. I had life without parole plus about 300 years. President Obama gave me an even 20, and of that I served 17.6 years. It's not like what you always assume it will be like when that day comes, where you're jumping up and down and doing flips. It was more like how I feel right now. Wow, it's over, but then again, I lost nearly two decades of my life. I can't get that back. But you know, since I've been released, I haven't had a bad day. I'm just trying to do what I can to put a face to the statistics and show that these are human lives, not just numbers, that you're dealing with.

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  1. Listen, it's quite simple: Don't want to be thrown in prison for the rest of your natural life like a thug? Don't commit malum prohibitum acts like a thug.

    1. I'm assuming this is meant ironically ...

      1. What are you? Some sort of Somalian anarchist?

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  2. "The law is the law," said the Tulpa sock.

  3. I don't see any preemptive pleas from Bubba in there.

  4. I don't know which of the inmates can vote, but I bet their families keep voting for the same drug-warrior politicians.

    1. Yeah, so fuck 'em then. 300 years for selling something that someone else wanted to buy is what you get for voting the wrong way,

    2. I've been puzzled why black voters aren't 90% libertarian. You'd think having had some of your ancestors being literally owned not that long ago would make one fiercely pro-freedom, instead of voting for statists in favor of ruling us as the fractional slaves we all are.

      1. I've wondered that same about (((Jews))). The large and all-powerful state tried to exterminate them, but they have nothing but the loves for it afterwards.

        1. I've wondered that same about (((Jews))). The large and all-powerful state tried to exterminate them, but they have nothing but the loves for it afterwards.

          Which is why they represent like 75 percent of the major thought-founders of Libertarianism, of course.

          1. Sadly, that didn't seem to take with the rest of the gang.

      2. Because the media covers up the message of brothers like Maj Toure.

    3. Cuz drugs ruined their kid's life, duh. It seems like even four years is longer than people's active memory for political shit, so I think the drug wari is just part of the environment to a lot of people, not something we're doing to ourselves. Humans CAN learn from the mistakes of others, but we almost never do.

  5. We send mothers of small children to prison for life because they sold drugs. If the price of saving people from themselves includes doing that, maybe we should reconsider. Our prison system and the sentences we give is barbaric. There is no defending it. It makes me sick to even think about. It is mostly drugs but it is not all drugs. We sentence people to longer terms federal prison for the crime of downloading child porn (any child porn conviction starts at five years and goes up from there) than the states send people who actually molest kids to prison. You have to be a pretty violent and sick fuck to get more than five years in state court for molesting kids. People abuse their step kids or other kids they know all the time and walk away with shockingly short sentences if they are first time offenders.

    We send people to federal prison and ruin their lives for administrative crimes like "lying to investigators". Even people guilty of real crimes who deserve to be punished are often given sentences under the federal guidelines far in excess of anything a reasonable person would deem just.

    Consider this; the reason why Congress passed minimum mandatory sentencing is because the people closest to the individual cases, judges and juries, were not giving sentences the Congress, people totally removed from the individual cases, thought were harsh enough. It was central planning and topmenism at its most grotesque and evil.

    1. John, every now and then, you give me a sliver of hope for you.

      1. I am nothing if not unpredictable. People always accuse me of being a hack and I am really not. You don't have to and probably shouldn't always agree with me, but I don't think you can say I don't think about things or are unwilling to go where I think the fact and logic takes me. I have the ability to offend the sensibility of too many people to say that.

  6. RE: Read These Family Members of Current Inmates Urging Obama to Expand Clemency
    With time running out on the Obama White House, activists and family members of current inmates fear the door on clemency is about to slam shut.

    Releasing inmates that have been convicted for non-violent drug offenses would result in releasing quite a few inmates. That would leave more room for the violent criminals, reduce prison expenditures at the state and federal levels and show the world how humane we can be.
    Oh, wait.
    That only makes sense.
    My bad.

  7. As much as I'd like to jump all in in support of these fine folks, I can't. At least not until I can find some context as to their 'crimes'.

    We all know that the D.A. generally throws a shit-storm of charges at a defendant, hoping something sticks (or they plead out). So it is entirely possible that the people mentioned herein deserve leniency. But I dunno until I can understand the complete circumstances of their original cases.

  8. So the DRUG PUSHERS that supplied the drugs to the 14 and under crowd want together out so they push some more. According to that vast right-wing paper, the NEW YORK TIMES, OVER, REPEAT OVER 47,000 people DIED OF DRUG OVERDOSES. These people that were given long sentences were convicted of DEALING. How many kids DIED from the "ONE COUNT OF DRUGS" these POS pushed? Notice they NEVER mention how much they had when they were stopped. Garbage tells half truths every time.

    1. 88,000 die from Alcohol every year, prescription drugs is one of the top causes of "preventable" deaths in the United States. Do I believe that voluntary action with no victim should be criminalized? Of course not.

      You claim 47,000 people die of Drug overdoses, do you want to know how to solve that? You legalize drugs and regulate them, meaning to sell meth on the corner, I would need a license from the government proving it's purity and authenticity. The reason most people die from Heroin overdoses recently is that there is a huge bad batch cut with fentanyl, which is extremely fatal and way more powerful. If Heroin was distributed by vendors and regulated, we could easily regulate out the bad chemicals.

      So yes, selling to children is bad, and you should be 21 before consuming drugs, but it is not worth ending people lives and careers over. DO tell me, how many kids died because of these non-violent offenders?

  9. It is scary to contemplate what Trump will do for criminal justice reform. Our only hope lies within state leadership. Let me share the story of Lenny Singleton. Lenny committed a series of "grab & dash" robberies in 1 week while high on alcohol & crack. He did not have a gun or murder anyone. In fact, no one was even physically injured & no one claimed to be a "victim." He stole less than $550 & these were his 1st felonies. He earned a college degree & served in our Navy before his addiction.

    He got 2 Life Sentences + 100 yrs. The judge sentenced him to more time than child molesters & murderers. Lenny plead guilty ? but he did not need to have his life completely taken.

    While in prison, Lenny works every day, lives in the Honor's Dorm, takes every available class for self-improvement, and he has co-authored a book called, "Love Conquers All". During the 21 yrs he has been in prison, he has not received a single infraction for anything - rare for lifers.

    Taxpayers will pay well over a million dollars to keep Lenny for the rest of his life.

    Watch Ch. 3, WTKR?

    Learn more & sign Lenny Singleton's petition at

    1. Signed the petition, best of luck to you and Lenny.

  10. My mothers neighbour is working part time and averaging $9000 a month. I'm a single mum and just got my first paycheck for $6546! I still can't believe it. I tried it out cause I got really desperate and now I couldn't be happier. Heres what I do,


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