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Alice Marie Johnson’s prison release shines light on other drug offenders

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A Memphis woman is officially walking free after President Trump granted her clemency.

Alice Marie Johnson had been behind bars for over two decades for her role in a cocaine drug ring.

She was a nonviolent and first time offender sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The decisions Johnson made over 20 years ago aren’t ones she’s proud of.

“It was a desperate situation," she said. "I’m not making an excuses for what I did. What I did was wrong, but to pay for it with my life is not right.”

She got involved in a cocaine-distribution ring in Memphis that landed her a life without parole prison sentence.

Today, she’s a free woman after President Trump commuted that sentence.

“She was swept up along with tens of thousands of other Americans and thousands of Memphians into a failed war on drugs, and so good for her to be able to come home to her family and get on with her life," said Josh Spickler with Just City.

Spickler says roughly a fifth of Tennessee prisoners are there for drug charges.

There are more than 600 people listed on TBI’s drug offender registry in Shelby County alone. Many of which were given harsh sentences.

“Two decades, three decades, a life sentence for a first-offense anything is pointless and it’s a waste of money," he said.

Although happy for Johnson, he says more needs to be done in addressing the harsh penalties drug offenders face, especially when they’re often non-violent offenders.

“Very, very few people that come through our criminal justice system are drug kingpins, are the ones calling the shots.”

U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant released the following statement:

“As United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and to faithfully execute and enforce the laws of Congress. Included in our Constitution is the absolute power and authority of the President to grant Executive Clemency relief, and I understand and respect the President’s decision to grant a commutation of Ms. Johnson’s sentence. Vigorous and consistent federal prosecution of violations of the Controlled Substances Act, including major drug trafficking organizations and money laundering schemes, are a top priority of this office and the Department of Justice, and we will continue to promote public safety and enforce the rule of law in the Western District of Tennessee by aggressively pursuing such cases.”

Spickler just wants this spotlight on Johnson to spread to all the others in similar situations.

“Hopefully it’ll show the rest of the country and this community that long sentences are not the answer. Accountability is important and holding people accountable when they break the law is always something we should do.”

Saying accountability should also mean productivity.

Alice Marie Johnson has also stated she now wants to help others who are in similar situations as hers.