On Wednesday, Kim Kardashian West went to the White House to talk to officials from the Trump Administration about prison reform.
Though she is not an expert on the topic, the reality start became interested in the issue after hearing about Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison for a non-violent drug crime.
While Kardashian West typically spends her time snapping selfies and running her business empire, hearing about Johnson’s story prompted the reality TV star to act.
“When I see a story like hers I go back to maybe decisions we’ve all made that probably--maybe not at that caliber--but if you think about a decision that you’ve made in your life and you get life without the possibility of parole for your first-time nonviolent offence, there’s just something so wrong with that,” she explained in an interview with Mic.
After learning of Johnson’s ordeal, Kardashian vowed to fight for her release, and this week she got her chance.
Accompanied by her personal lawyer, Shawn Chapman Holley, Kardashian West met with White House Senior Advisor (and Donald Trump’s son-in-law) Jared Kushner to discuss inequities in the prison system. During her visit, she even got a few moments to plead Johnson’s case directly to the nation’s chief executive.
While many questioned Kardashian West’s motives, others wondered about the woman at the center of this unlikely meeting. So here are 5 things to know about Alice Marie Johnson.
Who is Alive Marie Johnson?
Alice Marie Johnson was born on May 30, 1955 and grew up in Olive Branch, Mississippi. At 24, she relocated to Memphis, Tennessee where she was later tried and convicted of federal drug charges. Johnson is the mother of four and the grandmother of six. While in prison she’s worked hard to make the most of her time and is a published writer, ordained minister, and GED volunteer.
Why was Johnson sent to prison?
After hitting rock bottom in her personal life--divorcing her husband, losing her youngest son to a motorcycle accident, and filing for bankruptcy and losing her house--Johnson got involved with a group of people who were transporting cocaine. In 1993 she was arrested along with 15 others, and later convicted of conspiracy to sell cocaine and money laundering. Though she said she never actually sold drugs, instead working as a “telephone mule” passing messages between people, Johnson was labeled as the leader of the ring and sentenced to life plus 25 years in federal prison. It was her first office.
How long has she been in prison?
Johnson has been in federal prison for over 21 years. In an op-ed for CNN, she wrote, “I was given a death sentence without sitting on death row.” Though laws around mandatory sentencing have changed since she was convicted in 1996, thanks in part to the Obama Administration, she remains incarcerated and will die in federal prison unless she’s granted clemency or a full pardon.
How did Johnson become a national story?
While Kardashian West first heard about Johnson’s story through a video, by Mic, prison reform activists have been advocating on her behalf for years. The Can-Do project, an organization that lobbies for clemency for non-violent drug offenders, added Johnson to their Top 25 list, and the American Civil Liberties Union highlighted her story in its report on the harshness of life sentences for non-violent offenders.
How does she feel about Kim Kardashian West advocating on her behalf?
An avid writer, Johnson penned an op-ed for CNN in 2016 after hearing about President Obama granting clemency to hundreds of non-violent offenders before he left office. Unfortunately, she was not one of them. Though she admitted that “it's hard to keep the hope of freedom alive” after spending over two decades behind bars, Johnson said her “faith in God has carried me this far” and she believes one day she will be free.
With renewed interest in her story, Johnson has called Kardashian West her “war angel.”
“Kim is truly my war angel who will stop at nothing or leave no stone unturned to bring me home,” Johnson said in an email to Mic. “She is genuinely committed in her quest and has the sweetest heart for me.”
Though many were skeptical of Kardashian West’s meeting with Trump, Johnson said the gathering has given her hope.
“To hear of how President Trump spoke of America’s belief in giving people a second chance in life at the prison reform summit gave me so much hope that one day I might be given that second chance too,” she said.