Medium interviews Amy Povah on prison reform and Alice Johnson’s clemency

Amy Ralston Povah served nine years in prison before President Clinton commuted her sentence.  She is now one of the most knowledgeable and effective advocates for executive clemency, and for sensible reform of our criminal justice system. Her group, CAN-DO recommends candidates for clemency (sentence reduction), including Alice Johnson, whose sentence was commuted following Kim Kardashian West’s meeting with President Donald Trump. In an interview, she talked about the impact of the drug wars’ mandatory sentences and her priorities for change.  Read the entire story here


Why was Alice Johnson’s story so compelling?

Alice was #1 on the CAN-DO Top 25 women for a reason. She was a low level first offender with a life sentence. But it was her inner spark that captured my attention. The warden appreciated her so much she was given special privileges — other prisoners aren’t allowed to Skype into the public domain. I knew Alice could Skype because she is a playwright and the outside community would come in to watch them. I now serve on the board of the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girlsand they tried to Skype Michelle Miles into Columbia University but she got into trouble for Skyping (she later got clemency from President Obama). I only knew of one person in the federal prison system who might have that privilege — Alice Johnson. She was approved and we started Skyping her into Yale, Wash State, NYU, and posting on social media. Van Jones’ #Cut50Skyped her into Google and Topeka Sam, co-founder of the Council and Director of the Dignity Act for #Cut50 connected Alice with MIC, which caught the eye of Kim Kardashian West. Kim Kardashian West’s attorney, Shawn Holley, found Alice on the CAN-DO site and called at Kim’s behest, asking to be connected to Alice. Then Kim assembled the legal team; Jennifer Turner, Brittany Barnett, and Michael Scholl.

As part of Team Alice, I thought Kim should reach out to the White House because last November, the White House reached out to [Georgetown law professor and former prisoner] Shon Hopwood seeking info on Alice. Hopwood called me asking if there was any violence in her case, but said not to tell anyone about the White House inquiry. He assumed they were looking for a case to emphasize the need for prison reform, since that was being debated and some folks in the administration were not on board with it. I made an executive decision and reneged on that promise because we were strategizing what Kim’s next move would be. I alerted Kim’s attorney that the White House was aware of Alice’s case and the decision was made for Kim to contact Ivanka. Seven months later Alice was set free! I now call Alice the 8th Wonder of the World.

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