Cut the BS, We Should Be Thanking Kim Kardashian Not Mocking Her
Politics Should NOT Come Before Bringing People home if you believe in Criminal Justice Reform
I do not like what I know of the Kardashians, although I will freely admit that I don’t know them.
But, and I mean this very authentically, I thank her for attempting to convince President Donald J. Trump to commute the sentences of Ms. Alice-Marie Johnson and Mr. Matthew Charles.
I am no supporter of the President, it honestly hurts me to even type his name, but if I had the clout I would have been right next to her begging him for clemency for both of them (and for any other deserving candidates I could think of, and there are many).
I will not put pride or politics in front of bringing people home.
Why We Should Thank Kim Kardashian
Alice Marie Johnson is a 62-year-old great-grandmother who has been in prison for over 20 years for a first-time drug offense (Some people will say a “non-violent” drug offense but I refuse to use that term). Despite it being her first offense she was sentenced to Life Without Parole (part of the “crack” -down during the mid-90’s “tough on crime” period).
We now know that people age out of crime, that any sentence over 10 years has diminishing returns regardless of offense, and that prisons and jails — as currently constructed — do not make us safer. So, why are we keeping a woman over 60 in prison forever again? Counterproductive, cruel, and stupid.
If Kim Kardashian wants to lend her massive celebrity to helping this woman get out of prison, why are we complaining?
Matthew Charles was released from prison after serving over 20 years for a drug offense due to a technicality. While in prison he was, by all accounts, a model prisoner, never causing problems and even helping other inmates throughout his time. After returning home he reintegrated well, got and maintained a job, was making a difference in his community, and even met and started a relationship with someone special.
Despite all of this success, a random Federal Prosecutor figured out that he should not have been released early, petitioned and won the case returning Mr. Charles to custody. Last week, Mr. Charles was returned to custody. This is an example of where the letter of the law subverts the spirit of the law entirely, Mr. Charles was what we dream about in the field of reentry.
If Kim Kardashian wants to lend her very expensive time and her effort to getting Mr. Charles sentence commuted, why in the world would we mock her for it? He should come home, he should NEVER HAVE BEEN RETURNED TO PRISON.
Good is Good.
I am not saying you should like or dislike Mrs. Kardashian-West, I am saying what she was doing was a GOOD THING.
Thanks for going to bat for Ms. Johnson and Mr. Charles Kim Kardashian!
But Josh, Shouldn’t An Expert In Prison Reform Be Talking To POTUS?
First, there have been no shortage of experts in prison and criminal justice reform talking with POTUS lately.
A working group was formed that met during and up to the announcement of the President’s support for the First Step Act a few weeks ago. Experts from Cut 50, Prison Fellowship, CK Institute, Justice Action Network, and Georgetown Professor Shon Hopwood were all part of those discussions at different times. Formerly incarcerated activist Topeka K. Sam gave a speech on the dais at the White House supporting the First Step Act.
Second, if Kim Kardashian West has the clout to talk to the POTUS and wants to help people go home, why is that a bad thing again?
But Josh, Isn’t It Just A Publicity Stunt?
With respect, I don’t really care.
I could be wrong, but I doubt Ms. Johnson or Mr. Charles would care if it were a publicity stunt if they are awarded a pardon or commutation.
To me, the bottom line is, do at least some deserving folks get to come home?
Prison is a terrible place (I have been there, I know). People get attacked for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person.
The public is ill-served by Ms. Johnson or Mr. Charles remaining in prison and justice has nothing to do with long sentences or brutality.
But Josh, the Politics
Look, if people give the President some credit for commuting these sentences but choose to forget that he:
Crushed healthcare in the United States
Tried to rollback LGBTQAI protections across the board
Ripped well-integrated immigrants from their families (ripped asylum-seeking children from their parents)
Tried to destroy SNAP (food stamps)
Allowed states to introduce work requirements into Medicaid
Rolled back environmental protections across the board and ended our participation in trying to contain carbon emissions
Passed the most regressive tax-reform bill in the history of the country
And, of course, the racism.
Well, if they forget all of that because of a few commutations, we have much bigger problems than Kim Kardashian-West.
Oh, and let’s not forget he also commuted the sentences of the vile Joe Arpaio and Dinesh D’Souza. So, if he can commute those two, I am all for him letting a few people who actually deserve relief too.
Last but not least, I have full confidence POTUS will do something that will erode more political capital than these commutations could ever build (and let’s not forget there is a Mueller report coming too).
Regardless, why should these people’s freedom be held hostage to the politics of the moment? Let’s stop sacrificing people at the alter of politics. These are human beings and they should be at the center of what we care about.
My only criticism is Mrs. Kardashian-West’s use of the term “Non-Violent” as a reason to prefer Ms. Johnson’s commutation. “Non-Violence” is really not very helpful as a reason to pick and choose between who get relief and who doesn’t.
Don’t take my word for it, here is what Bruce Western, a Professor of Sociology at Harvard, said about the relative utility of the term in his recent book “Homeward.”
“We also know from the reentry interviews and a considerable body of research that the “non-violent drug offender” is largely a mythic figure. The street trade in drugs is a dangerous business that must be protected from robberies and rival dealers. Guns and a willingness to use them are part of the business…The Fiction of the “non-violent drug offender” denies the violence of the drug trade for people entangled in the criminal justice system. Because violence is so prevalent in the social world of incarceration, the good and the bad, the wicked and the innocent, cannot be neatly differentiated. Instead victims and perpetrators are often one and the same. Violence flares in contexts of family chaos, untreated addiction, and poverty. Having grown up in this context, people in prison have histories of trauma and abuse that date from early childhood…The great moral challenge is not to find the innocent among the guilty, but to treat with decency and compassion even those who have engaged in violence.”
I totally understand that Mrs. Kardashian West was likely trying to make the best possible case for clemency, but it is better not to use categories that don’t help as much as hurt those left behind by reforms.
What Can We Do?
Even if you disagree with me about Mrs. Kardashian, you should still help out in getting these two people commuted.
Sign the Petition
Donald Trump: Grant Clemency to Alice Marie Johnson Serving a Life Sentence
I hope you will sign the petitions and help make a difference, even if you don’t thank Kim Kardashian (or even if you think I am nuts).
For my part, I am always thankful to anyone who is willing to stand up and help bring people home from our prisons or jails.
Josh is the co-host of the Decarceration Nation podcast, formerly incarcerated, a blogger, and a freelance writer. Please consider following him on Twitter, throwing a tip into his hat on Patreon, showing your appreciation using Paypal.me, or adding OnPirateSatellite to your feeds.