The Vast Majority Of America's Prisoners Won't Get The Mercy Obama Gave This Single Mum

Eugenia JenningsScreen shot via KSDKEugenia Jennings got two decades in prison when she was 23.

The Justice Department has
taken the huge stepof reforming America’s draconian drug sentences, but President Barack Obama has shown mercy to just one prisoner during his time in office.

Obama’s lone commutation cut short the 22-year prison sentence of single mum Eugenia Jennings. (He’s also issued relatively few pardons, which are given to people who have already served their time.)

It’s not entirely clear why Obama has been loath to grant mercy to prisoners, especially since so many people are serving long sentences for drug crimes. The one person whose sentence he did commute had an incredibly sympathetic story, though.

Eugenia Jennings, 36, got more than two decades behind bars in 2011 for selling 13.9 grams of crack cocaine, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Jennings, who was abused horribly as a child, became addicted to crack by the age of 15. She later had three kids and started selling crack to support them.

The judge who gave her two decades behind bars at the age of 23 acknowledged the tragedy of her situation. Here’s what Judge Patrick Murphy said when he handed down her mandatory minimum sentence, according to Congressional testimony from Jennings’ brother Cedrick Parker.

Your whole life has been a life of deprivation, misery, whippings, and there is no way to unwind that. But the truth of the matter is, it’s not in my hands. As I told you, Congress has determined that the best way to handle people who are troublesome is we just lock them up. Congress passed the laws.

Jennings took classes and beat her drug addiction during her decade in federal prison, according to FAMM. She spoke to students about drugs. She also developed a rare form of leukemia, one of her attorneys from the prestigious law firm Crowell & Moring told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Crowell’s pro bono work likely had some impact on Obama’s decision to grant her clemency in 2011 after she served 11 years.

The support of powerful Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin probably helped, too, as did her illness. Jennings’ lawyer told the Post-Dispatch that Durbin personally wrote Obama a letter asking him to release her.

Her case seems like a no-brainer. It’s hard to imagine why the president wouldn’t grant clemency to every nonviolent drug offender sentenced under mandatory minimum laws. Sadly, the many people in prison for nonviolent crimes — some of whom got life sentences — won’t get the same mercy Jennings did.

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