Joan received a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for possession of 4.5 ounces of cocaine base with the intent to distribute. Joan was addicted to cocaine and crack, and found a way to chase the high by serving as a middle-person, relaying the drugs from seller to buyer and skimming a few ounces off the top for herself. She acknowledges her crime and has taken responsibility for her actions. She even states that she is so grateful that she was sent to prison because it put a halt to a life that was quickly spiraling out of control. However, she is now seeking a commutation of her sentence so that she can do more good outside the prison walls, far more good than all that she has accomplished as a rehabilitated woman behind the bars.
Joan is a mother of five children. She serves as both mom and dad for some of her kids. One son comments, “We all hate not having [our] mother none of us have a father she was [our] only parent in [our] life”. While in prison, Joan has held steady employment that has allowed for her to provide in part for her children, even saving up for two years to purchase a plane ticket for one son to fly from California to Minnesota to spend Christmas with his siblings. Joan has also taken advantage of the educational opportunities provided through prison programs, including a parenting program. Joan looks forward to the day when she gets out so she can meet her sentencing judge again, one who stated that he hoped “maybe now you’ll become a better mother”, and show him how far she has come.
Joan broke the law. She deserved to be punished. She accepted responsibility for her actions. But I have to wonder if throwing her in prison for 10 years will actually do more harm than good? And it is sad to me that in order to find a way out of the chaos of her life — substance abuse addiction, reliance on men who used and abused her, single-parenting in a tough environment — she felt the best way was to go to prison. Surely we can find a better way as a society to help women such as Joan? Women who grew up without a father, suffered from depression at a young age, started drinking and using drugs as a young teen, and by the age of 16 was living on her own as a single mother supporting her first child.
Are long prison terms really the answer for these women, their families, and the communities they live in?
Joan asks now for the commutation so she can be with her children, restart her life, and prove to society that she is not only deserving of this second chance, but that she is more than the worst thing she has ever done.
Isn’t this the opportunity that we would all ask for ourselves? Why not for Joan, and all those women, mothers, children, families, and communities she represents?