A New Orleans woman granted clemency by former President Barack Obama in 2016 has plenty to celebrate these days, and now she’s getting praise from former POTUS himself.
At the age of 50, Danielle Metz enrolled at the Southern University of New Orleans to study social work and earned a spot on the dean’s list with a 3.75 GPA.
In an recent interview with The Heschinger Report, Metz said she’d like to tell Obama, “You don’t know what you did for me. I am finally coming into my own. I made the honor roll.”
Days after her story went viral, Obama congratulated Metz on her success in a handwritten letter.
“I’m so proud of you, and am confident that your example will have a positive impact for others who are looking for a second chance,” Obama wrote, according to a copy of the letter published by USA Today. “Tell your children I say hello, and know that I’m rooting for all of you.”
The Louisiana woman was just 26 years old when her life was suddenly upended. A jury handed her three life sentences plus another 20 years in federal prison, for her involvement in her husband’s cocaine distribution ring. Metz, who was enrolled in beauty school at the time, spent much of her time at home raising her children, as her husband did not like her out of the house.
When she wasn’t holed up at home, however, Metz would deliver a few packages to Houston with a relative at her husband’s instruction.
He and his several members of his crew, who prosecutors said distributed more than 1,000 kilos of cocaine and killed 23 rivals, were indicted in the summer of 1992. Metz fled with her two children to Jackson, Mississippi, where police arrested her the following year.
The possibility that she could face jail time hadn’t hit her just yet. Because Metz never had so much as a traffic ticket and wasn’t caught in possession of any drugs, the single mom figured prosecutors would let her off with a warning.
At trial, prosecutors presented witnesses who testified Metz had “driven packages to Houston for her husband and, on occasion, accepted cash payments and wired money to suppliers,” according to the report. A jury found her guilty on drug charges and she was sentenced to prison.
“I hope that by the sentence you receive, others who might be tempted to follow your path of crime will have second thoughts,” U.S. District Judge A.J. McNamara told her at the time.
Metz said her dreams of becoming a nurse or a beautician were instantly shattered.
“It was as if I died right then and there,” she told the newspaper.
If Metz had been sentenced to prison 10 years earlier, she might have been able to earn a college degree while inside. Shortly after her sentencing, however, then-President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, written by then-Sen. Joe Biden, which, among many other measures, barred incarcerated people from using Pell grants to pay for post-secondary education.
Metz didn’t let that deter her. She spent her time at FCI Dublin, a federal women’s prison just outside San Francisco, taking computer and general education courses. She would go on to earn her GED in 1996.
“I never thought I’d be in prison serving a life sentence, but I am,” she wrote in her journal at the time. “And I never thought I would get my GED, but I did. Now I’m in prison fighting, trying to win my freedom back. I don’t know how I will do it. All I know is it will be done.”
Obama, who was first elected in 2008, repeatedly spoke out against unduly harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offences and, in his final act as president, commuted the sentences of 330 federal inmates. The act secured his legacy as having granted more commutations than any other president in U.S. history.
According to The Heschinger Report, Obama would go on to green light a pilot program allowing a small number of inmates to use Pell Grants to pay for college. The program made it possible nearly 600 incarcerated people to earn degrees.
Metz finally got her day in the sun in 2016 when Obama commuted her sentence. Now she says she’s living her best life and looks forward to having a college degree under her belt.
“I love the fact that I can just ride down the streets of New Orleans and get me a hot sausage sandwich or yaki mein,” said Metz. “But what I value most is my education.”