After spending more than 20 years in a federal prison, a great-grandmother whose sentence was commuted by Donald Trump has finally been released. On Thursday, during a Good Morning America, interview, Alice Johnson thanked Trump for granting her clemency, but she also urged him to remember that other people could also use the opportunity she had been given:
I’d like to tell President Trump that I am so grateful for everything that you’ve done for me and my family. This moment right now is happening because President Trump had mercy on me. I'd like to tell him that, please, please remember us, the others who have been left behind because there are so many like me who need to have an opportunity, the opportunity that I’ve had.
Johnson was imprisoned in 1996 on a first-time, nonviolent drug charge, and was serving out a life sentence in an Alabama federal prison when Kim Kardashian West first took an interest in her case. Back in October, Kardashian West learned about Johnson from a video produced by Mic, and subsequently spent months trying to get a meeting with Trump.
Then, last month — after extensive back-channel talks with Jared Kushner — Kardashian West headed to the White House, where she urged Trump to sign off on Johnson's release. Just a week later, Trump commuted Johnson's sentence — and it was Kardashian West who called Johnson with the good news, according to the BBC. Soon afterward, Johnson had an emotional reunion with her family upon her release.
"When Kim told me that I was being released, I started jumping up and screaming and crying and everyone else was crying," Johnson recalled during her Good Morning America interview. "It was wonderful. I'm so glad that she was the one who was able to deliver the news. It was a perfect ending."
In the interview, Johnson also reflected on what her life after prison will be like. She said was not "bitter" about the time she spent in prison, even though she felt like she had "overpaid" her debt to society for the low-level offense that she had committed. Her goal now that she has been released, however, is to advocate for prison reform.
"I plan on continuing to work hard to use my case as an example for prison reform and sentencing reform to make a difference," Johnson said on Good Morning America. "When you see my face, you see so many other faces that I represent."
According to CNN, Johnson was one of at least 30 people for whom the White House had prepared pardoning or sentence commutation paperwork on Wednesday. Johnson has not been pardoned — so her conviction will stay on her record — but the rest of her sentence has been eliminated. In a statement released on Wednesday, the White House said that Johnson's sentence was being commuted because she was a "model prisoner," and said that despite the Trump administration's tough-on-crime stance, "those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance."
Johnson appeared on Good Morning America Thursday alongside one of her daughters, Catina, and described what it felt like to be reunited with her family once again.
"It was the most exhilarating feeling I’ve ever had," Johnson said. "I wanted to jump into their arms."
Video footage from Johnson's release, which took place at a federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, showed her checking inside cars for her family and friends until she finally saw and ran toward them. When she was speaking to Good Morning America, Johnson made it clear that she had the rest of her life ahead of her.
"This is not the end for me," Johnson said.