Understanding Executive Clemency
When authorities arrested me, on August 11, 1987, I understood that my life had changed. I made the wrong decision. Instead of accepting responsibility for the crime I committed, I proceeded through trial. A jury convicted me. And the Honorable Jack Tanner sentenced me to serve a 45-year prison term.
Until the jury convicted me, I wasn’t ready to acknowledge the harm that I had caused. I only wanted to get out of prison. Then, once the judge sentenced me, I wanted to learn every possible avenue that, in time, could potentially advance my release date.
I didn’t anticipate that an appeals court would grant me relief. Given the sentencing laws at the time, I reasoned my best hope would be to prepare a petition for executive clemency.
This would be a heavy lift. I understood that I would have to build an “extraordinary and compelling record.” Without working to reconcile with society, I would not have a chance of prevailing through Executive Clemency.
I focused on the first ten years that I anticipated serving in federal prison. During that time, I would work to:
- Earn university degrees,
- Contribute to society in meaningful, measurable ways, and
- Build a network of supportive mentors.
That strategy, I hoped, would advance me as a candidate for relief.
Ronald Reagan was in the White House when I began serving my sentence. During the buildup of mass incarceration, US presidents did not spend a lot of time thinking about Executive Clemency. Each year, the prison population grew, but few people walked out of prison through commutations. Typically, when presidents granted clemency, it was to well-connected, powerful people.
That changed with President Obama and President Trump.
It’s my hope that President Biden will reform access to Executive Clemency, but as of this writing, it’s still a long shot. If a person wants to apply for clemency, preparations should begin early.
Start by understanding Executive Clemency.
Understand the Types of Clemency
Executive clemency can take two main forms: a commutation of sentence, which reduces the length of a sentence but does not expunge the conviction, and a pardon, which forgives the crime and restores rights. It’s vital to understand which type of clemency is applicable to your situation.
Clemency is typically considered for individuals who have demonstrated good conduct in prison, shown remorse for their actions, and contributed positively to their community or society. Ensure that you meet the basic eligibility criteria before proceeding.
Gather Supporting Documentation
Your petition should include documents that reflect your rehabilitation and good character. This may include certificates of completion from educational or vocational programs, records of any counseling or therapy, letters of support from prison staff, volunteers, community members, and evidence of your plans post-release.
Craft a Compelling Narrative
Your petition should tell your story in a compelling and honest manner. Explain the circumstances that led to your conviction, express genuine remorse, and highlight your efforts towards rehabilitation. Detail how clemency would positively impact your life and contribute to society.
Submit the Petition
Clemency petitions are submitted to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Ensure your petition is complete, includes all required forms, and is free of errors. Adhere to the submission guidelines strictly.
Stay Patient and Hopeful
The clemency process can be lengthy and outcomes are uncertain. Stay patient and maintain a positive attitude. Continue to engage in positive activities and keep building your case for why you deserve this chance at redemption.
Petitioning for executive clemency is a challenging but potentially life-changing process. It requires a clear understanding of the system, thorough preparation, and a narrative that genuinely reflects your journey of transformation. While not all petitions are granted, each one tells a story of hope and the human capacity for change and redemption.
Critical Thinking Question:
- In what ways do you anticipate a person in prison could advance prospects for relief through executive clemency?