How to Enhance Your Chances for Clemency

CAN-DO - Activism Assistance Malibu, CA

CAN-DO White House Vigil – Five clemency recipients advocating for prisoners they left behind. From left to right; Jason Hernandez, Barbra Scrivner, Norman Brown, Israel Torres, Amy Ralston Povah.

Executive Clemency Petition in Malibu, CA

Tips Prisoners Can Use to Enhance Chances at an Executive Clemency Petition in Malibu, CA.

If you are going to file a clemency petition please do not re-hash the particulars of your case. This is not the time to re-litigate, rather a time to accept responsibility, express remorse, and be honest about your participation in the crime for which you were convicted. You do not have to admit to things you did NOT do, but don’t minimize your actions or culpability.

TIPS FOR PRISONERS:   (Written during the Obama Clemency Initiative 
so some of these tips are not in line with the current administration which has been willing to take petitions that have not been submitted to the Office of the Pardon Attorney).

If your petition has already been filed…please consider the following “TIPS” to enhance your chances for clemency:

  1. STOP WAITING – Some prisoners are waiting to hear whether they are going to win that lottery ticket home. If you are not actively doing something to enhance your chances of winning the lottery, you may be waiting a long time. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but you have to want this more than the air you breathe – your LIFE is at stake. There is nothing in prison that is more important than your freedom – no tv show, hobby, book, or card game is more important than going home.  Once you file your petition, do not sit back and wait for a response. Now is the time to write letters, garner support and prove how much you want your freedom.
  1. GET INVOLVED – Turn your cell into a “war room” or “ground zero.” Put a calendar on the wall (if you can) or keep one to write in. Every day, there should be entries of people you’ve written or asked to write a letter supporting your clemency. I realize that by this time, family and friends may be tired of writing letters, but now is not the time to give up. Every time a staffer at the Pardon Office (or the White House) has to return to your file it will bring their attention to YOUR case out of ten thousand applications which is a GOOD THING. They are looking for strong cases and the more attention YOUR file gets, by way of support, the stronger it gets, but it also doesn’t get forgotten in the shuffle. Focus heavily on your family members, including cousins, uncles, aunts, step-children, in-laws, etc. Send them our “Dos and Don’t’s” and “Tips” or appoint someone in your family who is the lead person that we can send that info to by email, so they can share with others via email.
  1. MAKE A LIST – of everyone who might write or send a letter to the Pardon Office supporting your clemency. We realize some prisoners have been down for a long time and lost contact with many friends, but you’ve probably made new friends, too. Think of anyone who has a title – or letterhead that can make a strong impression. I got my high school principal to write a letter and the current high school principal wrote (he used to be one class ahead of me in school.) What about a school teacher or minister of a church? What about school friends who have grown up and may be in a position to help or write? Also, if there are people you have lost contact with, ask your family to do a Google or Facebook search. Example; a long-time friend of someone on the Top 25 contacted me because she saw her friend on my website and wanted to help her. She had gone to college to study criminal justice and wrote to her Judge. They are back in touch after all these years.
  1. MAKE IT EASY – for others to write letters of support. Create a template for people to sign and for us to put on your bio page or share on Facebook. For personal friends and family members, consider writing the letter for them because everyone is busy or might not know what to say. If it was a high-school friend, provide details, like, “Amy and I played basketball together in high school…” to establish a healthy imagine/connection. Or, just provide a few suggestions and, again, include our CAN-DOs and DON’Ts when you contact them. If you do send a sample letter, encourage them to personalize it. Regardless, at the very least, come up with a template that provides basic information for others to refer to, such as how many years you have served, some of your accomplishments, why you deserve clemency, etc. Make it easy for people to help!
  2. POLITICAL SUPPORT – is critical. It seems harder than it may actually be.  Start off by determining who the Congressperson is in the district where your case was tried; then the Congressman of the district where you once lived; where the conspiracy took place; where the prison is located; and congresspeople in districts where you have family members.  Politicians can write letters of support, even though some have said it’s against the rules.
  1. SUPPLEMENT – your petition. Don’t hesitate to send the Pardon Office additional information about yourself, your progress in prison, additional accomplishments, certificates if you complete a new program, and if someone is willing to confirm they will give you a job, have them write, but you can also write and notify the OPA of this. If you never provided the information about where you will live – send it in. If a family member is dying, notifying the pardon office, especially if you get confirmation from a doctor. If you have major health issues, send that in and provide proof, but don’t over-dramatize or sound whiney. Also, explain how you will support yourself when you get out. If you write a letter, please have someone proofread it, to make sure your spelling and grammar is correct because it makes a difference. Do your best – that’s what is important and there is always someone in prison willing to help if you ask.  BOP staff may claim they can’t write letters, but we have seen many.  If they are unwilling, maybe they can write a glowing report on some program you completed that you can submit.  Don’t be shy.  Ask.
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