Will Trump’s Inauguration Be the Day Clemency Died?

President Obama departs El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, the prison where Jason Hernandez spent six of his 17-and-a-half years incarcerated.

In the second piece in the series, “Waking Up in Trump’s America,”  Jason Hernandez discusses his anxiety that clemency will screech to a halt under a Trump administration. Jason, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonviolent drug crime, is one of nearly 1,200 Americans who have had their sentences commuted by President Obama during his time in office. 

As someone who was fortunate to have his sentence commuted by President Obama, I am frequently asked, "Do you think President Trump will carry on President Obama's Clemency Initiative?" And I jokingly say, "If Trump had the authority, I have no doubt he would put me back in prison and everyone else President Obama granted clemency to.”

But with Trump’s inauguration nearing, it feels more like a funeral to me, and the dead body being buried is clemency. During the campaign, Trump said that he would be the "law and order" president. With Trump's nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, a big fan of mandatory minimums, he followed through on his "law and order” rhetoric in form and substance.

Obama's campaign ran on hope, and I experienced it firsthand through my freedom and the hope that others like me would experience it too. But now that hope is gone.

Now the reality sets in: There will be nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom are minorities, who will die in prison. I know this because these individuals were already dying from old age and other illnesses when I was in prison, such as Ramsey Muniz, who is in his seventies and can barely walk. Many have been inside since the late ’80s because of draconian mandatory minimum sentences.

The truth of the matter is that Donald Trump, of all people, should understand the morality of clemency and the truth that we all make mistakes. Throughout his life, Donald Trump has had to defend himself against many claims — some immoral and some even subject to imprisonment. His voters, however, looked past the wrongs he had allegedly done in the past and judged him based on what he could do for this country in the future.  

When President Obama was visiting El Reno Prison, he stated that "he could have easily been one of those inmates." Indeed, based on Trump’s past actions, he could very well have found himself in prison with someone like me. Yet he is now president of the United States — the most powerful man in the world. If Americans were willing to give him a second chance, then he should give Americans in prison for nonviolent drug offenses second chances, too.

Since I’ve returned home from prison, I’ve helped obtain the release of three inmates serving life without parole through Obama's Clemency Initiative as well as assisted dozens of family members in pursuit of a second chance for their loved ones in prison. These are people who deserve clemency, such as Eva Atencio Palma and David Morris Barren. Both have turned their lives around after being sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent drug crimes.

Because of this work, I’m contacted nearly a dozen times by inmates and their family members asking for my help. For the past month, however, the calls, text, emails, and voice mails from families and inmates have increased 10-fold. And I don't know what to tell them anymore. I can't tell them that their loved one will probably die in prison, though this is the stark truth. It hurts because I know many of these individuals in prison, and I know many families with loved ones inside.

Obama's campaign ran on hope, and I experienced it firsthand through my freedom and the hope that others like me would experience it too. But now that hope is gone.

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Anonymous

What a great article by Jason Hernandez. Please,it's time these, some gravely ill seniors that dont want to die alone in prison and are no threat to society go home,their families want them too

Anonymous

It's interesting that some, not all, Christians support an Old Testament "eye for an eye" justice system instead of the one supported by Jesus of "turning the other cheek" involving forgiveness.

It's also curious that barbaric theocratic government models like Arabria and Iran are closer to some state's justice systems than the teachings of Jesus - but it seems to be some,not all, Christians that embrace these non-Christian models of Justice.

Anonymous

It will be up to jurors to grant clemency by refusing to convict on charges that trigger draconian sentences.

Anonymous

While Obama certainly gave clemency to many deserving individuals, there were thousands more he denied for mysterious reasons. Our "war on drugs" has produced an almost unimaginable number of prisoners who do not pose a threat to society and should be released. Some crimes, such as simple possession of drugs, should not be crimes at all. Perhaps we can persuade Mr. Trump by appealing to his very claim of "law and order". Tell him about the unlawfully poor court cases against some of these individuals. Tell him prison conditions are often so bad they violate the eighth amendment of the Constitution. Tell him order in society is best achieved when children do not have to grow up with an incarcerated parent. In the case of Ramsey Muniz, perhaps arguing that he was put behind bars possibly because he ran for government against the Democratic Party could convince Mr. Trump to pardon him, if only for a partisan reason. We must work to achieve clemency for prisoners any way we can. (Anyone reading this who is interested in learning more about Mr. Muniz can visit freeramsey.com and/or sign the petition at diy.rootsaction.org/petitions/freedom-for-ramsey-muniz-chicano-advocate. This man ran for governor of Texas on a third party ticket and pulled many Latinos away from voting Democratic. Many people believe his conspiracy charges were politically motivated.)

Paul P.

I am fearful that the new President will incarcerate more people than any other President has done before him. Our current elected President only cares about himself and promotes his style of leadership. Barnum Bailey isn't dead it's running our country and we should prepare ourselves for some very dark days ahead.
He really doesn't understand or maybe I don't understand what he saying most of the time because his party seems to reinterpret what he actually meant. We will have no other recourse than to pray for the 10% of inmates who have been wrongly convicted and hope his tenure is really short.

Anonymous

How is the hope gone?

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