East Tennessee entrepreneur, criminal justice reform advocate receives presidential pardon

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — He’s waited more than two decades to get the phone call he received on Wednesday morning; well, multiple phone calls from friends and colleagues who wanted to be the first to say, “Congratulations.”

Joshua Smith was one of more than 140 presidential pardons made by President Donald Trump in his last hours in the White House. Those calls Wednesday morning, unexpected for Smith.

“My mind is still coming up with new ones, every few minutes,” said Smith.

He’s referring to the things he can do now — like vote, own a firearm, or get his real estate license. The list, he says, hasn’t sunk in as of Wednesday and likely won’t for a while.

“In prison, so much is stripped from you. So when you lose that, it creates in you a drive to have more. Unfortunately, that entire time is that voice in you that it can’t happen,” said Smith.

He served a 5-year sentence in a Kentucky Federal Prison for his involvement in marijuana and cocaine trafficking. Before that, he had been raised by a single mother and was sent away from his home when he was 11 years old due to abuse and was convicted of 10 felonies by the time he was 16.

He entered prison at age 21 as an 11th grade dropout with no plans to exit it any differently than how he entered.

“I was fortunate enough to be in a prison with a lot of white collar criminals,” said Smith.

What he meant: He read in prison and learned from those around him. He said he learned about real estate, business, and finance while incarcerated. When he got out, he wanted something different than what he had before.

“There’s so few of us who make it out, there’s so few of us who make it to a position of success,” said Smith.

WATCH: Extended Interview with Joshua Smith

Smith started a business, Master Service Companies, and was the only employee. “I did all the jobs,” Smith said, and grew the business to 180 employees.

He sold the company in 2019, with the money made from the sale, started a nonprofit 4th Purpose Foundation.

The goal of the nonprofit: To help offenders transform their lives after incarceration. Described as, “after retribution, incapacitation and deterrence — should be transformation.”

It’s because of criminal justice reform, that Smith says he believes led him to the pardon. Smith said he has not spoken to anyone within the Trump administration.

“I look forward to expressing my appreciation to them for that. I’m not connected at that level, I don’t know anybody, but I’ll make sure to reach out and say thank you,” Smith said.

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