It was full circle moment for Alice Marie Johnson who was pivotal in helping a 40-year-old Texas woman get clemency from President Donald Trump in the same way Kim Kardashian aided her release from prison.
Crystal Munoz was a former federal prisoner in Fort Worth, Texas, who was sentenced to nearly 20 years on drug charges. Johnson had affectionately come to know Munoz on the inside as “one of my prison daughters.” Johnson had been serving a life sentence in the same facility as Munoz for a nonviolent drug offense before Trump commuted her sentence in 2018 after she’d served 21 and a half years.
During the criminal justice conference last October at the historically Black Benedict College in South Carolina, the grandmother said Trump asked her to come up with a list of names she thought he should consider for clemency.
Last week, Trump granted at least a dozen people clemency, and Munoz’s name was among those he considered and ultimately included, thanks to Johnson.
“Kim made a difference going to the White House fighting for me,” Johnson said last week to The Associated Press, “so if I can fight for something, I definitely wasn’t going to turn that opportunity down.”
In 2007, Munoz was convicted for her role in “conspiring to distribute marijuana.” However, she argued that an unreliable lawyer did not properly defend her, and she claimed that she only drew a map of the route that the drugs would allegedly be moved from Mexico to Texas, according to court filings.
While in prison, Munoz gave birth and was shackled to a bed during labor, according to Amy Ralston Povah, an advocate for Munoz who founded the nonprofit Clemency for All Non-Violent Drug Offenders Foundation group. Now the landmark First Step Act, a criminal justice bill that was signed into law in 2018, has prohibited the act of shackling pregnant women in federal custody while they are giving birth.
Johnson said she could not stop thinking about Munoz and many other women once she was released from prison.
Since gaining her freedom, Johnson has become a criminal justice advocate championing for the release of inmates who were hit with what many consider to be heavy-handed sentences for nonviolent crimes.
But Trump has been heavily criticized as using Johnson as a pawn and exploiting her to promote his criminal justice reforms, as seen in an ad that was aired during Super Bowl LIV.
Former Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-SC) slammed the commercial and referred it as a “I freed a Negro ad.”
Others on social media tore into the ad, saying it was an attempt to mislead white voters into thinking he was giving Black people a helping hand.
“Y’all, the Trump ad wasn’t to win African-American voters,” someone tweeted. “It was to give cover to white voters. ‘See? We are letting Black folks out of jail!’ It’s the advertising equivalent of ‘I have a Black friend.’”