Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Books: "After Life" By Alice Marie Johnson

After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom
By Alice Marie Johnson, with Nancy French; Foreword by Kim Kardashian West
Harper; hardcover; $26.99

The criminal justice reform movement was given a major boost last year when Kim Kardashian West lobbied President Donald Trump, his daughter Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, on behalf of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for non-violent drug trafficking.

Johnson's sentence was commuted by President Trump, and now, in the honest, faith-driven memoir, After Life, Alice explains how she held on to hope and gave it to others, from becoming a playwright to mentoring her fellow prisoners. She reveals how Christianity and her unshakeable belief in God helped her persevere and inspired her to share her faith in a video that would go viral, and come to the attention of celebrities who were moved to action.

When asked how she hold on to hope after more than twenty years of imprisonment, Alice Marie Johnson says the answer lies with God.

For years, Alice lived a normal life without a criminal record—she was a manager at FedEx, a wife, and a mother. But after an emotionally and financially tumultuous period in her life left her with few options, she turned to crime as a way to pay off her mounting debts.

Convicted in 1996 for her nonviolent involvement in a Memphis cocaine trafficking organization, Alice received a life sentence under the mandatory sentencing laws of the time. Locked behind bars, Alice looked to God. Eventually becoming an ordained minister, she relied on her faith to sustain hope over more than two decades, until her sentence was commuted last year by the president.

Johnson writes of the events in spring 2018 which gave her clemency case momentum, "In April, I was watching the television in prison, which was tuned to CNN. An attorney, Mark Osler, was appearing as a guest. To my surprise, he mentioned me in the interview. He was talking about Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, for whom many were advocating a posthumous pardon. 'If the president pardons Jack Johnson, he should also pardon Alice Johnson,'  Osler said. What a surprise to see this man advocating for me on national television!
"Also in April, Kanye West tweeted support for the president, which caused the media to go into an absolute frenzy. I believe that Kanye's support of President Trump paved the way for Kim to get the audience with him that she'd been asking for. The very next month, the conversations started picking up in intensity and frequency.
"On May 1, 2018, MIC broke the news that  Kim was speaking to Kushner, which created another news cycle surrounding me, and the story began to swell. Every news outlet began reporting this development, and people all over American began to pray for my release.
"On May 9, the Judiciary Committee approved Kushner's bill, also known as the First Step Act, by a vote of 25-5. This bill aimed to allow ex-offenders to enter back into society in a meaningful and productive way through job training, mental health assistance, and drug treatment.
"On May 18, the White House hosted a prison reform summit at which President Trump and Vice President Pence both spoke. The president described the First Step Act as being able to 'restore the rule of law, keep dangerous criminials off our street, and help inmates get a second chance on life.' Of course, Ivanka and Jared attended this event, as well as other activists like the CNN commentator Van Jones, Topeka Sam, and representatives from the American Conservative Union and Right on Crime. Topeka spoke at this summit and even mentioned my name. Ivanka and Jared made it clear that they were on Team Alice. But most important, President Trump said that if this bill passed through Congress, he would sign it into law.
"On May 25, President Trump pardoned Jack Johnson - at the request of actor Sylvester Stallone. That was a good sign. Was that Kim's chance to get in?
"Invigorated by this news, my team continued to fight tirelessly for me. Kim assured me that the second Trump said she could get an audience with him, she would drop everything and go straightaway. We developed a friendship, and my attorneys kept me abreast of everything going on...
"Momentum was growing, so I decided to do what I could do, even though I was behind bars. The article I'd published on CNN back in December 2016 hadn't persuaded President Obama to grant me clemency as I'd hoped. However, I updated it to explain to America why Kim Kardashian West was fighting for me.  I began, 'Some refer to prison as a place where hope dies. Some days I've found that to be almost right. But at the beginning of my time here I made a pact- that I wouldn't give up hope. Each time that I've come close, God has restored my faith. So when the unlikely voices of Kim Kardashian West and Jared Kushner came together to shine a spotlight on my case, I could only thank God, for He works in mysterious ways.'"

Today, Alice is an icon for the prison reform movement and a humble servant who embraces gratitude and God for her freedom. In this powerful book, she recalls all of the firsts she has experienced through her activism and provides an authentic portrait of the crisis that is mass incarceration. Linking social justice to spiritual faith, she makes a persuasive and poignant argument for justice that transcends tribal politics. Her story is a beacon in the darkness of despair, reminding us of the power of redemption and the importance of making second chances count.

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