The woman that President Donald Trump granted clemency after Kim Kardashian West advocated for her release from prison made a powerful push for criminal justice reform during her speech on the final night of the Republican National Convention.
Alice Marie Johnson, 65, said early in her remarks on Thursday that, while imprisoned, she thought she would only "be reunited with my family as a corpse."
"I stand before you tonight and I assure you: I am not a ghost. I am alive, I am well and, most importantly, I am free," Johnson said.
Johnson became the face of Trump's efforts on criminal justice reform in 2018 — later appearing in a Super Bowl commercial on the issue — after Kardashian West spent months campaigning for her release from prison. On Thursday, Johnson praised the president for his role and for his "compassion" but spent much of her time urging people to stay focused on future changes.
"I pray that you will not just hear this message but that you will be inspired by my story and your compassion will lead you to take action for those who are forgotten," she said. "That’s what our president, Donald Trump, did for me and for that I will be forever grateful."
"I’m using my voice to tell their stories and I pray that my face reminds you of those forgotten faces," she said.
She said that "the nearly 22 years I spent in prison were not wasted. God had a purpose and plan for my life. I was not delayed or denied, I was destined for such a time as this."
A great-grandmother, Johnson had spent decades in prison for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. After hearing about her story, Kardashian West pushed for her release and met with Trump at the White House in May 2018.
He commuted Johnson’s sentence and she was released from a federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, that June.
Now an advocate for criminal justice reform, Johnson wrote a memoir about her life last year.
Kardashian West has stayed in contact with her since her release, writing the forward for her 2019 memoir and recruiting her to model the celebrity's shapewear collection last August.
Her appearance at the RNC comes as Trump, 74, seeks to win over Black voters ahead of the November election between him and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Criminal justice reform has been a rare bipartisan priority for the White House and is often cited as key to Trump's pitch to minorities.
However, a CBS poll earlier this month showed that about 90 percent of Black voters say they are likely to vote for Biden.
The survey comes after months of nationwide protests over racial injustice, following the killing of George Floyd in police custody in late May.
In response to the president, the Democratic National Committee circulated a press release Thursday night asserting that Trump “wants to take us backward on criminal justice.” The DNC noted that Trump, before he was president, criticized President Barack Obama for doing the same thing Trump did for Johnson: commuting sentences of low-level drug offenders.
The DNC statement also quoted Trump calling for increased mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and opposing restored voting rights for felons who have served their sentences and been released.
Trump has been accused by critics of stoking racial tensions in the U.S. through divisive rhetoric in recent months, including his labeling of protesters as "thugs" and tweeting that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."
That post was flagged by Twitter soon after for violating its policy on the "glorification of violence."
Trump has also been criticized for repeating a baseless conspiracy theory that suggests Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris is not eligible to serve in the White House because her parents are immigrants.
Harris responded to the Trump-promoted conspiracy theory earlier this month, telling The Grio: "They're going to engage in lies, they're going to engage in deception, they’re going to engage in an attempt to distract from the real issues that are impacting the American people."
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