Presidential Pardon Brought Justice to Kemba Smith

By · Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

On Wednesday, 17 December 2008, the USA Today published an article in its forum section by Kemba Smith entitled The Wisdom of Pardons. Kemba Smith had been a federal prisoner who was serving a 24-year sentence for her role in a drug conspiracy. During the final days of Clinton’s Presidency, Kemba Smith walked out of prison because the President commuted her sentence. Since her release, Ms. Smith has graduated from college and completed a year of law school. She now runs a foundation to help adolescents make better choices and avoid decisions that could lead to imprisonment.

A week after the newspaper published Ms. Smith’s article, it published a letter to the editor by an individual who identified himself as Walt Samuel, of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Mr. Samuel called Ms. Smith’s piece on pardons “blatantly self-serving, disingenuous, and an insult. Mr. Samuel, who has all the compassion of a rattlesnake, asserts that Ms. Smith belongs in prison because a court had once sentenced her to serve 24 years.

I do not understand the vengeance that seethes inside of people like Walt Samuel. He holds that society can only achieve justice by ensuring that an individual lives locked inside prison boundaries for every day of a term that a judge imposed. Despite mountains of empirical evidence that show how long-term imprisonment breeds continuing cycles of failure and costs to society, Mr. Samuel expresses the position that society must extract its pound of flesh, regardless of the consequences.

Ms. Smith, an African-American mother of a 13-year-old child, served six years locked inside a federal prison. During that time she took steps to educate herself. Upon her release, she earned a university degree and shows that she is eager to work with others in a continuous act of redemption. Mr. Samuel objects that Ms. Smith is an unrepentant convicted felon, yet her actions of volunteering and leading a foundation that contributes to society undermine Mr. Samuel’s ridiculous assertion. Clearly, Ms. Smith is doing more to pay for the bad decisions that led to her confinement than she could if she were languishing inside a prison cell. Why does justice require her continued imprisonment? In an enlightened country such as ours, a country that holds family values in such high regard, citizens should feel proud that Ms. Smith worked hard to earn her freedom so that she could nurture the life of her child.

Rather than condemning the hard work of Ms. Smith, citizens should applaud the efforts she made to earn her freedom. We need prison reforms that will make an example of her success. We need to expand the use of the pardon power so that more people in prison will work toward earning freedom and living as law-abiding, contributing citizens.

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