Blog of Rights

A Letter from Behind Bars on President’s Day

By Hamedah Hasan at 1:35am

As we celebrate President's Day, one prisoner asks President Obama to exercise his clemency power to commute the remaining 10 years of her 27-year sentence, which she received for a first time, non-violent drug offense. Hamedah Hasan, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a formal commutation petition today and included a letter addressed directly to President Obama. Below is a condensed version of her letter. To read Hamedah’s full letter and learn more about her story and the President’s unique power to send her home, visit www.dearmrpresidentyesyoucan.org.

Dear Mr. President,

Today is President's Day. As the President of the United States, you have the unique and absolute power to commute the sentence of any federal prisoner. That means you could send me home today, and that is what I am asking you to do.

From everything I have observed, you are a compassionate and just man. I pray that if you learn of the story behind my sentence, you will be moved to exercise your clemency power to give me a second chance.

I am a mother and grandmother serving my 17th year of a 27-year federal prison sentence for a first time, nonviolent crack cocaine offense. I never used or sold drugs, but I was convicted under conspiracy laws for participating in a drug organization by running errands and wiring money. Had I been convicted of a powder cocaine offense, I would be home with my three daughters and two grandchildren by now. I have had a lot of time to think about where I went wrong, and I genuinely take full responsibility for my actions. But I hope you will see that over 16 years in prison is enough time for me to pay my debt to society.

When I was 21 years old, I found myself in a horridly abusive relationship with a man in Portland, Oregon, who intimidated, cursed, slapped, punched and kicked me. I had my first child, Kasaundra, when I was 16 years old, and this man was the father to my second child, Ayesha. Even though my self-esteem at this point in my life was virtually nonexistent, in my heart I knew that this life wasn't what I wanted for myself or — most importantly — for my children.

The only option I could see was to go live with my cousin, Ahad, in Omaha, Nebraska. Ahad set me up with a safe place to live, and most importantly, it was hundreds of miles away from my violent ex-boyfriend. Ahad recently wrote a letter in support of my commutation petition. In it, he accurately summed up the situation:

Her boyfriend was a gang member and his main goal in life was to be the best gang member he could be. He beat Hamedah all the time and threatened to kill her. She could not hide from him in Portland — he knew where everybody lived. He drank a lot and used drugs. It was not a good environment for Hamedah to raise her kids in, and it wasn't safe for Hamedah either. So she came to me in Omaha.

The thing is, Ahad was dealing crack cocaine. Although I never used drugs myself, it wasn't long before he asked me to run various errands and to transfer some money. He never held a gun to my head; I knew what I was doing, and I regret my poor decisions during this period of my life more than anything else. At the time, I felt out of options, and I believed that I needed to perform these tasks to show my gratitude for Ahad's help in escaping my abusive relationship.

After less than two years, I decided to move back to my hometown in order to get away from the drug operation. I wanted my girls to grow up with their mother earning an honest living and leading by example. I enrolled in a welfare-to-work program and was getting back on my feet.

But soon after I returned home, I was arrested, indicted and convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine from my time in Omaha with Ahad. I was sentenced to life in prison (later reduced to 27 years), based on the total quantity of drugs involved in the operation. I gave birth to Kamyra, my youngest child, in prison. That was one of the hardest experiences of my life.

During my more than 16 years of incarceration, I have taken long, hard looks at myself. I've done everything in my power to redeem myself and to demonstrate through deeds that upon release, I will be a community asset, not a community liability.

If you commute my sentence, I could have 10 years back on my life. Ten more years to make up for being so far apart from my daughters. Ten more years to realize my dream of starting a nonprofit dedicated to providing community services for the children of incarcerated parents. Ten more years to make a real, positive difference in the world.

I hope you will give me that chance. You have said (PDF) you believe the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity should be eliminated. I know Congress is considering legislation to equalize the federal sentences. You should understand, however, that none of the legislation being considered would apply retroactively to me.

As much as I am cheering — even from behind prison bars — for a reform in the federal laws, I don't want to fall through the cracks. I still have a lot of living, mothering and giving to do.

I would not be writing to you today unless I had no other option. I have appealed my case to the highest courts in the land, and you, and you alone, Mr. President, can send me home by exercising your executive clemency power to commute my sentence.

Sincerely,

Hamedah Hasan

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos and Huffington Post.)

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