Alice Marie Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate and former prisoner pardoned by President Donald Trump, shared her story Thursday night on Alpha News’ Facebook live with Devin Foley, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Charlemagne Institute.
Johnson served almost 22 years in prison on eight counts related to a cocaine-trafficking operation. Her sentence was commuted by President Trump in 2018 after Kim Kardashian came across a viral video of Johnson and intervened in order to release her from prison.
Trump observed Johnson’s story and signed the First Step Act, the first criminal justice reform action taken in over a decade, after releasing her from prison. The First Step Act uses “commonsense reforms to make our justice system fairer and help inmates successfully transition back into society.” The president then granted her a full pardon in August of this year.
Johnson was born and raised in north Mississippi, grew up going to church and Sunday school, and was a smart girl in her youth. She became pregnant at 14 years old, married at 15, and graduated high school with two children. Her marriage lasted 19 years and produced five children.
Johnson fell into a whirlwind of money and “craziness:” gambling, losing her job with FedEx, and going bankrupt. She was “trying to get off of this crazy wheel that I got myself in.” Johnson ended up with a job as a “telephone mule,” passing telephone messages between people and keeping records of conversations.
“Some people got caught, arrested, and because I had the telephone records, me who don’t know nothing about drugs, now is called their boss,” she explained. Johnson went to trial and was found guilty of attempted possession, conspiracy to possess cocaine, and money laundering. She was sentenced to life in prison as a first-time offender.
Going into the trial, Johnson didn’t have an inkling that a life sentence was even on the table for her.
Johnson, who had found her Christian faith again before being convicted, prayed to God to help her in her situation. “It was [in prison] that God showed me my purpose. And that purpose was … his lost sheep. Because he said that there are many who are not of this fold, that I got to bring in,” Johnson told Foley.
Johnson dedicated her time in prison to encouraging and uplifting other women. She wrote faith-based and comical plays, became a hospice volunteer, wrote for women’s conferences, spoke to many prestigious universities over video calls, became an ordained minister, and took pastoral counseling classes. The prison culture began to change around her. Johnson said, “If you can do good, do it.”
A video of her in prison speaking to a university went viral and fell into the hands of Kim Kardashian. Kardashian found Johnson’s imprisonment extremely unfair and reached out to help. Johnson said, “She took my case on and fought for me like a warrior woman.”
Kardashian brought in big shots like Shawn Holley, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump to be part of “Team Alice.” President Trump released Johnson from prison in 2018, and the world watched her reunite with her family.
Upon her return to her life, Johnson said, “I immediately jumped into the fight and started advocating for [prisoners’] freedom.” Referring to her faith, Johnson said, “Because that’s our redemption story, too. We didn’t deserve what we got. We didn’t deserve that grace.”
Johnson runs a campaign called Taking Action For Good, helping ex-offenders return to society successfully. She also wants to give scholarships to children of incarcerated parents.
Foley and Johnson also talked about the importance of family life, good communities and schools, and giving children the best opportunities possible to succeed. Johnson noted her own family foundation helped get her through prison. She encouraged people to get involved in prison ministry and give ex-offenders a second chance.
When asked about her interactions with the president, Johnson said he listened, asked questions, and was genuinely concerned. Referring to his involvement in her release from prison, Johnson said, “He had nothing to gain. He took a risk … that’s what I like about him. He makes his own decisions.”
Johnson just wants people to encourage one another and do what is right.
“If each one of us looks at what we can do, I mean, we can truly make a difference,” she said.