Criminal justice reform advocate and former federal prisoner Alice Marie Johnson praised President Trump on the final night of the Republican National Convention for pushing criminal justice reform and giving her “a second chance.”
“I was once told that the only way I would ever be reunited with my family would be as a corpse,” Johnson said. “But by the grace of God and the compassion of President Donald John Trump, I stand before you tonight, and I assure you, I’m not a ghost!
She added: “I am alive, I am well, and most important, I am free.”
Johnson had been serving a life sentence without parole for her role in a nonviolent federal drug case, until Trump commuted her sentence in June 2018.
At 63 years old and after serving more than two decades behind bars as a first-time offender, Johnson was free to reenter society.
“I had never been in trouble. I was a first-time, nonviolent offender. What I did was wrong,” Johnson said. “I made decisions that I regret.”
She added: “We’ve all made mistakes, and none of us want to be defined forever based on our worst decision.”
Johnson said that during her more than 20 years in prison, she became “a playwright, a mentor, a certified hospice volunteer, an ordained minister, and received the Special Olympics Event Coordinator of the year award for my work with disabled women.”
“Because the only thing worse than unjustly imprisoning my body, is trying to imprison my mind,” Johnson said. “I never stopped fighting for my freedom. My Christian faith ‒ and the prayers of so many ‒ kept hope alive.”
Johnson touted Trump’s “compassion,” saying that he “saw me as a person.”
“Free in body thanks to President Trump. But free in mind thanks to the almighty God,” she said. “I always remembered that God knew my name, even in my darkest hour. But I never thought a president would.”
Unlike a pardon, the commutation did not erase Johnson’s convictions but did end her sentence.
Johnson’s story gained national attention after reality star Kim Kardashian West advocated for her release from prison.
Six months after commuting her sentence, the president signed the First Step Act into law, which passed with bipartisan support. The law gives federal judges more leeway when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It also reduces life sentences for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” to 25 years.
Another provision of the legislation allowed about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty.
The law also incentivizes prisoners to participate in programs designed to reduce the risk fo recidivism, with the reward of getting an earlier release to either home confinement or a halfway house to complete their sentence. That provision, however, is not available to offenders who were also convicted of violent firearms offenses, sexual exploitation of children, or high-level heroin and fentanyl dealing.
The bill also expands eligibility for elderly or terminally ill prisoners to secure compassionate release.
Johnson, on Thursday night, called the First Step Act “real justice reform.”
“It brought joy, hope, and freedom to thousands of well-deserving people,” she said. “Imagine getting to hug your loved ones again. It’s a feeling I will never forget.”
She added: “And to think, this first step meant so much to so many. I can’t wait because we’re just getting started.”
Johnson said that she prays that Americans will be “inspired” by her story to “take action for those who are forgotten.”
Since her release, Johnson has become a senior fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Right on Crime initiative, and is now a published author. Johnson has said that she is committed to fighting “for criminal justice reform and for the women and men who are still incarcerated.”
In 2019, the president invited Johnson to his State of the Union address where she received a standing ovation.
Fox News’ Daniella Genovese and the Associated Press contributed to this report.