What Brought Kim Kardashian to the White House? A Look at the Alice Marie Johnson Case
The reality star has taken up the cause of a great-grandmother who wound up behind bars with a life sentence.
Kim Kardashian West attracted numerous headlines around the world as she met with President Trump this week in the Oval Office to discuss pardoning a great-grandmother serving life in prison.
Alice Marie Johnson, 63, has spent more than two decades behind bars for a nonviolent drug-related crime. The great-grandmother was convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts stemming from a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking scheme that involved more than a dozen people.
Johnson was sentenced to life in prison in 1997 and is not eligible for parole.
The great-grandmother has said she became involved in the drug trafficking operation after coming down on hard times. A gambling addiction cost Johnson her job of 10 years at FedEx, and after divorcing and losing her youngest son in a motorcycle accident, Johnson said she had nowhere else to turn.
"I felt like a failure," Johnson told Mic. "I went into a complete panic and out of desperation, I made one of the worst decisions of my life to make some quick money. I became involved in a drug conspiracy."
An attorney for Johnson has said she never brokered any deals or handled drugs, and was responsible for relaying coded messages over the phone.
Her arrest in 1993 was her first.
“If you think about a decision that you’ve made in your life and you get life without the possibility of parole for your first-time nonviolent offense, there’s just something so wrong with that," Kardashian West said in an interview earlier this month.
The reality star and business mogul first became aware of Johnson’s case after she came across the story on social media. Since then, Kardashian West has dedicated herself to seeing Johnson's release.
“My family has been thrilled that someone with her celebrity status has decided to come in and truly help her," Johnson’s daughter, Catina Scales, told Inside Edition.
Kardashian West has paid for Johnson’s legal team and involved her personal attorney, Shawn Chapman Holley, in Johnson’s case. Chapman Holley worked alongside Kardashian West’s father, Robert Kardashian, during the O.J. Simpson trial.
Kardashian West has also advocated for Johnson’s case and the need for overall sentencing reform in the U.S.
“Where I’m at in my life right now, just like, to go and spend my money buying material things just doesn’t satisfy me the way that it used to," she told Mic. "To save someone’s life and do that once a year, then that would make [my] heart fuller."
Kardashian West reportedly reached out to Ivanka Trump about the case, and the president’s daughter connected her to Jared Kushner.
“I’ve been in communication with the White House and trying to bring her case to the president’s desk and figure out how we can get her out,” Kardashian West told Mic earlier this month. "That’s such a huge step from where we started with that not even being on their radar.”
On Wednesday, Kardashian West met Trump at the White House to discuss the issue, seemingly at odds with the administration’s own policies, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded an Obama-era memo that increased leniency for low-level drug offenders. Sessions also instructed prosecutors to bring punitive charges that could elicit the sort of sentencing with which Johnson was met.
Kardashian West was not expected to bring the camera crew for her reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, nor were her sisters or publicist expected to attend the meeting, Vanity Fair reported.
Trump took to Twitter after their White House summit, writing: "Great meeting with @KimKardashian today, talked about prison reform and sentencing."
Kardashian West also wrote about the meeting on social media, tweeting Wednesday: "I would like to thank President Trump for his time this afternoon. It is our hope that the President will grant clemency to Ms. Alice Marie Johnson who is serving a life sentence for a first-time, non-violent drug offense.
“We are optimistic about Ms. Johnson’s future and hopeful that she — and so many like her — will get a second chance at life."
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