MIAMI - Alice Marie Johnson was sentenced to life in prison, plus 25 years, without the possibility of parole.
"I was told I would only leave prison as a corpse — that I would take my last, dying breath in prison," Johnson said. "But, I'm here now, and I'm breathing."
Johnson served 21 years of a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug conviction.
She said three previous requests for clemency were denied. But an unexpected advocate heard her story.
"She tweeted out, this is so unfair," Johnson said. "Seven days later, the world watched as I ran across the street into the arms of my family and friends."
The "she" Johnson was referring to is Kim Kardashian West. At Kardashian West's urging, President Donald Trump commuted Johnson's sentence in June 2018.
"No one expected that I would be granted clemency under the new administration," Johnson said. "I think that's a signal for all of us: No matter who's in office, we've got to keep fighting."
Johnson sat down with Local 10 News' Layron Livingston inside Dragonfly Thrift Boutique in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.
The store not only supports, but is *operated by formerly incarcerated women.
"This gives them a resume — that pride of having honest work, getting honest pay," Johnson said.
She is now using her platform to share her second-chance story. She wrote a memior entitled "After Life." The foreword was written by Kardashian West.
"I represent the faces of the women that you don't see," Johnson said. "I represent the voices of the women you will not hear unless I speak on their behalf."
Johnson is also an activist for criminal justice reform. We spoke with her a day before she was scheduled to speak at the ReformHer Symposium, organized by the New Florida Majority and Dignity Florida. The symposium is one of a series of events across the state that discuss criminal justice reform from the perspective of women's rights.
"How many other ‘Tammy's stories' are there out there that you've never even heard about," Johnson said, recalling how Tammy Jackson, a former pregnant Broward County inmate with a mental illness, gave birth in isolation while in Broward County custody.
"Sometimes we've got to get mad, we've got to get angry, and let that anger turn into something positive to fuel change," Johnson said. "Everyone, to me, has the right to be treated with dignity and respect."
When asked if she had anything to say to President Trump a year after her own pardon, Johnson had one request: "Release some more people. Let some more of my sisters go home. Let some more of my brothers go home."
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