It's a sight that will give you goosebumps. On Wednesday, after serving 21 years in federal prison, Alice Marie Johnson was released. The video of the 63-year-old woman anxiously checking a car to find her family and then hastily running toward her loved ones is an incredibly moving visual — and even more so given Johnson's time in jail.
Johnson was released from the detention facility in Aliceville, Alabama, on Wednesday. Outside the prison, a teary-eyed Johnson told reporters, "I feel like my life is starting over again."
In 1997, Johnson was sentenced to life in federal jail after she was convicted of non-violent first-time drug trafficking. While in federal prison in 2016, Johnson penned a op-ed in CNN on her status as a federal prisoner, how she had learned from her "wrong," and how she wanted another go at life. In her op-ed, Johnson pleaded then-President Barack Obama for clemency, but he ultimately did not grant it to her.
Two years later, it seemed Johnson's prayers were heard. Her release took place as the result of President Donald Trump commuting her life sentence. Trump's decision came after meeting with celebrity Kim Kardashian West, a vocal Johnson supporter. Kardashian West told Mic in May, "When I see a story like hers I go back to maybe decisions we’ve all made that probably — maybe not at that caliber — but if you think about a decision that you’ve made in your life and you get life without the possibility of parole for your first-time nonviolent offense, there’s just something so wrong with that."
On Wednesday, the White House released a statement on the decision and said that Johnson "has accepted responsibility for her past behavior and has been a model prisoner over the past two decades. While this Administration will always be very tough on crime, it believes that those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance."
It is worth mentioning here that while Trump did indeed grant Johnson clemency, he did not pardon her. For Johnson to be pardoned, Trump would have to allow the removal of her conviction from her legal records. By commuting her sentence, she is no longer required to serve time in prison but her conviction is remains visible on legal documents.
Praising the president's decision to commute Johnson's sentence, Kardashian West tweeted on Wednesday, "So grateful to @realDonaldTrump, Jared Kushner, and to everyone who has showed compassion and contributed countless hours to this important moment for Ms. Alice Marie Johnson. Her commutation is inspirational and gives hope to so many others who are also deserving of a second chance."
Only a few hours before Johnson was released, her daughter Tretessa Johnson posted a Facebook status where she expressed her deep gratitude and joy. "Mama is coming home! Thank you, Lord, for your grace and blessings! Thanks so much, President Trump, for extending mercy towards my mother and giving her her freedom back," she said.
Johnson's daughter went on, "My heart is so full of gratitude for the beautiful inside and out Kim Kardashian West who decided to advocate for [Johnson] and essentially save the life of my mother, someone she had never heard of met."
The news of Johnson being released after more than two decades comes after The Washington Post reported that two figures within the White House were against the decision to show her clemency. According to two sources close to the situation, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and White House Counsel Donald McGahn viewed the move as counterproductive.
But it looks like Kardashian West's social advocacy paid off. Less than a week after the celebrity and Trump met, Johnson is now able to be close to her friends and family, including her grandchildren, after two laborious decades.