Hamedah with her children
February 11, 2010 -- ACLU Drug Law Reform Project (US)
Grandmother Will Mark President's Day By Petitioning Obama To Commute Her 27-Year Prison Sentence For Non-Violent Crime
First Time Offender Is Victim Of Disparate Sentencing Laws For Crack And Powder Cocaine
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON -- Hamedah Hasan, a mother and grandmother serving her 17th year of a 27-year federal prison sentence for a non-violent crime, asked President Obama today to commute her remaining sentence. Hasan's petition was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Pardon Attorney, and was accompanied by almost 50 letters of support from prison chaplains, community members, advocates, friends and family. The American Civil Liberties Union represents Hasan in her commutation petition.
"As our nation prepares to celebrate President's Day, I am keenly aware that you -- and you alone -- Mr. President, have the power to reunite me with my family," said Hasan. "My intention is in no way to diminish the seriousness of my past criminal actions or to deflect responsibility, but simply to ask for a second chance. From everything I have observed, I believe you are a compassionate and just man. I pray that you recognize my redeeming qualities, see my 27-year sentence as excessive and grant me and my family another chance to be together."
Hasan was convicted in 1993 for a first time, non-violent crack cocaine conspiracy offense. Had Hasan been convicted of the same crime involving the powder form of the drug, she would have completed her prison sentence by now. This is because, under federal law, it takes 100 times the amount of powder cocaine as crack cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence. The impact of this disparity falls disproportionately on African Americans. Although Hasan never used violence, never used drugs, had no previous criminal record and played a peripheral role in the operation, the United States Sentencing Guidelines at that time prescribed a sentence of life in prison. Changes in the Sentencing Guidelines later resulted in a reduction of Hasan's sentence to 27 years, over 16 of which she has served with an outstanding behavior and work performance record.
"Hamedah's case is a textbook example of how our nation's crack sentencing laws have produced racially skewed and unfairly harsh sentences," said ACLU attorney Scott Michelman. "Rarely does a commutation petition offer the president the chance to redeem not just one person but also a larger aspect of our nation's justice system."
In an unusual display of support for a commutation petition by a federal judge, the Honorable Richard G. Kopf, U.S. District of Nebraska, who sentenced Hasan in 1993, wrote a letter to the Department of Justice Pardon Attorney's Office. In it, Judge Kopf said, "I can say, without equivocation, that Ms. Hasan is deserving of the President's mercy. I have never supported such a request in the past, and I doubt that I will support another one in the future. That said, in this unique case, justice truly cries out for relief."
In June 2009, the Honorable Laurie Smith Camp, U.S. District of Nebraska, called Hasan's 27-year sentence "unreasonable and excessive" and issued a dramatic downward departure to 12 years, time served, which would have freed Hasan. Five days later, Judge Smith Camp reluctantly reversed herself "with profound regret and sincere apology to Defendant, Hasan," ruling that recent changes in sentencing law did not apply to Hasan.
President Obama, Vice President Biden and Attorney General Holder have publicly called for equalization of federal sentences for crack and powder cocaine, and the U.S. Sentencing Commission has called for reform of the crack-powder sentencing disparity four times. President Obama's "Blueprint for Change," published soon after he was elected in 2008, stated, "...the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated."
"By granting Hamedah Hasan's petition, President Obama can signal to Congress and to the nation that he's serious about restoring fairness to our criminal justice system," said Michelman.
Legislation is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act, H.R.3245, introduced by Representative Robert Scott (D-VA), and the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, S. 1789, introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), would greatly reduce or completely eliminate the sentencing disparity between the two forms of the same drug. Even if the proposed reforms pass into law, however, Hasan's sentence will remain intact because the legislation does not explicitly guarantee retroactive application to current prisoners.
Hasan's petition is the first of several in a larger project, dubbed "Dear Mr. President, Yes You Can." The Dear Mr. President Project brings together civil rights advocates, legal scholars, law school clinics, pro bono counsel and others to urge President Obama to depart from the practices of his immediate predecessors and use the pardon and commutation power in a principled way, consistent with his administration's position that the crack Sentencing Guidelines have been far too harsh. The Project also aims to promote the president's clemency power as a means to correct historical injustices.
Baylor Law School professor and former federal prosecutor Mark Osler, who is a founding member of the Project, noted, "President Obama has gone 387 days (and counting) without granting a single pardon or commutation. This makes him one of the slowest-acting presidents in history to exercise the power of forgiveness. Thomas Jefferson employed the pardon power to eliminate the sentences of those convicted under the shameful Alien and Sedition Acts. President John F. Kennedy granted over 100 commutations in less than three years in office. President Lyndon Johnson commuted 226 sentences. It's time for President Obama to revive the noble and necessary function of executive clemency in Hamedah Hasan's case."
Hasan is the mother of three daughters, Kamyra, 16, to whom Hasan gave birth in prison, Ayesha, 21, and Kasaundra, 26. Hasan also has two grandchildren.
Hasan's commutation petition materials are available at: www.dearmrpresidentyesyoucan.org
November 26, 2008 -- AlterNet (US)
27 Years In Prison For A Nonviolent Offense
Hamedah Hasan Tells Her Story
By Hamedah Hasan, The Women's Media Center
Whoa! Talking about sleeping in the bed you made. Imagine trying to turn over and your bedding is so tight you can't move. Your mind is heavily sedated with a strong dose of sleep. You try turning to your right side from your left. You lay there fighting between sleep and fixing your bedding. Your bed is pure 100 percent concrete with blankets of steel. No kiss good night, no bedtime story. You have just been tucked in by Uncle Sam.
I am one in thousands of American POWs. I know I'm not the kind you think of first when you hear those words. I'm a prisoner of America's Drug War, currently serving a 27-year federal prison sentence based on laws established in the late 80s. In 1991, at age 24, I was indicted, arrested and subsequently convicted, and sentenced -- initially to natural life -- for cocaine and crack cocaine related offenses. While I am responsible for my own criminal behavior, being a first time, non-violent offender makes my sentence of decades in prison impossible to accept quietly.
This experience has taught me that not one choice, action, or lack thereof is without consequence. This includes making laws without a sense of redemption -- that diminish the worth of human lives and attack the very foundation of the family unit. Struggling to help raise my three daughters and instill in them useful bits of wisdom has by far been my greatest challenge. I have often wondered at the end of a 15-minute phone call, sometimes split three ways: Did she get it? Will she learn from my mistakes? Am I giving her enough? No matter the answers, I knew I must continue to do my best.
My daughters and I have experienced many obstacles along the way. Prison is the type of situation that magnifies things on the outside. No matter how "bad" something actually is, not being there makes it worse. Learning my daughter was pregnant at age 14 was definitely a moment I seriously questioned my effectiveness as a parent. I felt as though I let her down. Having been a teenage mom enabled me to eventually put my daughter's needs and those of her unborn child in perspective. Unconditional love, communication, guidance and support were of far greater value than anything else.
Despite the limits to which our bond has been tested, I feel very blessed to share such a loving relationship with my daughters. I believe communicating frequently and openly about things that affect us individually and collectively has helped keep us close across the many miles. The most significant lesson my daughters have taught me is that whatever I pass along to them, they are still going to have their own experiences. So when I give them space and watch them like a mom with her tot learning to walk, I celebrate their courage, intelligence and resilience.
I did not walk into prison with a plan for how I was going to survive the next week, much less how I was going maintain the family bond. Among other things, I had been labeled angry, defiant, militant and poorly educated. I felt those labels were somehow meant to diminish my self-worth and justify my sentences; a notion I readily rejected. I remember reading a quote: "it's not what people call you, but what you answer to." I used that as motivation to do the best I could despite my situation. I began by building upon the commitment I made to God, learning what that meant, and trying to maintain a sense of balance. Throughout the years I've tried to fill my "basket" with as many skills as possible.
My case has been the subject of several newspaper and magazine articles. Reading some of those articles taught me not everyone interested in my "story" has my best interest in mind. So in 2000 when first approached by Melissa Mummert about being the subject in a film on women in prison I was a bit hesitant. Also, I didn't know if my daughters were okay with that type of exposure. After discussing it with my family, praying and getting a better understanding of Melissa's vision, I took her up on her offer. As I have gotten to know Melissa over the years, the thoroughness, dignity and respect in which she told my family's story came as no surprise.
To share my mistakes and humiliations with strangers, as I knew participating in Perversion of Justice would do, I felt very vulnerable. The fact that I learned from those mistakes enabled me to realize the importance of sharing my journey regardless. There are thousands of federal prisoners that are in similar situations, many whom have no voice. Whether Perversion of Justice has a direct impact on my release is an expectation I refuse to put upon my dear friend and filmmaker. Sometimes amidst our best-laid plans and greatest efforts, God has something different in store. Perversion of Justice has already educated masses beyond "the walls," served as a tangible reminder of injustice to policy makers and given a voice and hope for change to the thousands of America's drug war prisoners. An extraordinary accomplishment.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently passed and made retroactive an amendment to the sentencing guideline for crack cocaine offenses. Currently I have a motion pending before the district court seeking relief. The original judge had to recuse himself since he had already ruled that my sentence should be shorter. Consequently my case was re-assigned to another judge. In the still of the night, lying in this warehouse-style dormitory, I wonder if I'll serve the remaining eight years of my sentence. The knowledge of that lies with God. My family, friends and I remain hopeful for the extended hand of mercy.
Perversion of Justice is an award-winning 30 minute film about Hamedah. A short version of it can be viewed online here.
Life in Prison - Crack Conspiracy
I am a 28-year-old African-American woman serving two natural life sentences, two 40-year sentences, two 20-year sentences, plus a five-year and a four-year sentence for cocaine related charges. My sentences are to run concurrent for a minimum of the longest term given - LIFE. I have three young daughters; Kasandra, 12; Ayesha, 8; and Kamyra, 2 1/2. I was 25 years old and six months pregnant when I began serving this sentence in October of 1993. I had no criminal record, and I am considered a nonviolent, first-time offender. I had never been arrested for possession, purchase, and/or sale of any drugs, but I was convicted of these crimes.
I know that I was prosecuted for these crimes because I did not testify against a family member for the government. I was offered a 'deal' to have all charges dismissed had I been willing to commit perjury for the prosecution in obtaining a conviction against a family member. The man originally arrested in possession of the only drugs seized in my case was given a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for his 'cooperation'. Despite the fact that he was arrested with an amount of cocaine that carries probation to five years according to the sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums, myself and my codefendants were sentenced to life, life and 10 years respectively. This was justified because the government alleged that the powder cocaine was to be converted into the 'crack' form. In addition to the drugs seized, we were held accountable for drugs testified to by government witnesses that were facing or imprisoned for drug related charges and seeking immunity, leniency or sentence reductions.
I do not condone the possession, use, or sale of any illegal drugs; I would only like to bring out the fact that many of us who have been convicted and sentenced to these life sentences were never found with any amount of drugs. I ask: Where is the justice in that?
I strongly encourage the masses to educate themselves in the laws being implemented which vastly affect the communities in which they live, and to demand complete investigation and overhaul of the judicial system. Time is of the essence.
Back to the Wall
Next Prisoner of the War on Drugs