With one signature, elation, a life
changed. I saw it firsthand in January, 2001.
I was at Geiger Correctional
Center in Spokane, Washington to shoot the first
interviews for my documentary Perversion of
Justice, a film about women impacted by drug
conspiracy laws and mandatory sentences. That
cold January day I had interviews scheduled with
two federal inmates, Jodie Israel and Hamedah
When we arrived at the
prison, we heard the remarkable news. Israel,
who had at that point served seven years of a
mandatory 11 year, three month sentence for a
marijuana conspiracy conviction, had just
learned that her clemency request had been
granted by President Bill Clinton. She would be
free within hours.
The film crew
followed Israel to her home and listened to her
talk excitedly about her new life thanks to
Clinton's use of his unfettered constitutional
power. Baths, chewing gum and seafood
dinners were suddenly options on the table after
seven years of prison life. We watched Israel
gleefully take her first post-release bike ride.
But of course Israel was most thrilled about the
prospect of getting reacquainted with her four
children, three of whom were under five years
old when she was sentenced.
one stroke of a pen, a family reunited. A life
changed. Hope restored.
Hasan, my other interview subject, was not on
Clinton's pardon list. (She had not applied at
that point because an appeal was still pending.)
So, we conducted our interview as planned inside
her small prison bedroom. She had already been
imprisoned for seven years.
described her tragic case. Fleeing an abusive
relationship, she took refuge at the home of her
cousin who was selling crack cocaine. During the
time she lived in his home, Hasan did errands
for her cousin including wiring money for him,
enough for prosecutors to charge her as a
co-conspirator in his crack cocaine operation.
Despite the fact that Hasan was a
first-time offender and a pregnant mother of two
daughters, her judge, the Hon. Richard Kopf, was
forced by mandatory sentencing policies to
sentence her to two life sentences, two
forty-year sentences, two twenty-year sentences,
a five- and a four-year sentence (later reduced
to 27 years due to a sentencing guideline
When Hamedah, with the
help of her attorney Korey Reiman, submitted her
clemency request to President Bush a few years
ago, many of us believed that it was only a
matter of time before that request would be
granted. We reasoned that the president would
have to see that the only humane response would
to grant Hasan clemency. After all, the
pardon attorney's website says: "Appropriate
grounds for considering commutation have
traditionally included disparity or undue
severity of sentence."
How can 27 years
for a non-violent first-time drug offense not be
considered as unduly severe? Hasan's Republican
appointed sentencing judge said that had he not
been bound by mandatory sentencing guidelines he
would have given Hasan approximately ten years.
Moreover, Judge Kopf publicly advocated for the
President to grant Hasan's clemency request in
order to correct the extreme injustice in her
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