by Allison Crist | Sun., Apr. 5, 2020 6:00 PM
By working with #cut50—a national bipartisan initiative that aims to reduce the number of people in prisons, jails and crime across the United States—the Keeping Up With the Kardashians star has tried her hand at everything from actual policy work to going out and consulting different inmates, lawyers and judges.
"People think because I fight for this means that I don't believe in punishment. There are a lot of people—sick people—that deserve to be behind bars. But there are some amazing people spending their lives rotting inside prison," Kim said in the documentary. "They don't deserve to have their lives just be thrown away because you have no idea what circumstances they really have been facing or living with that led them to make those decisions."
Nathan Congleton - NBC News/TODAY
This was certainly the case for Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother who was serving a life-plus-25-year sentence as a first-time nonviolent offender. Johnson's unfair situation inspired Kim's foray into criminal justice reform, and she eventually helped the White House grant clemency to the 64-year-old.
Kim explained that Johnson Alice "put a face to a major problem that we have in our country."
"I realized quickly that there were so many other people in a similar situation to Alice that I just truly was unaware of," she added.
Johnson is featured in The Justice Project, as are a number of other people whose often unrealized and unfortunate circumstances contributed to them winding up in jail. Keep reading to learn their stories and discover what else you might've missed from the Oxygen documentary.
1. Shocking Statistics and Helpful Definitions
Kim and various legal experts lay out a multitude of facts and figures from the moment The Justice Project begins. According to the documentary, there are currently 2.2 million men and women behind bars in the U.S., more than any other country in the world. Erin Haney, #cut50 senior counsel, broke down this number: "1 in 55 adults [and] 1 in 23 black men in America are under some form of community supervision. Those are really terrifying numbers."
Haney and others also took the time to explain different laws and legal terms—the latter of which included "mitigating evidence," A.K.A. "information presented to the court regarding the defendant and the circumstances of the crime which might result in reduced charges or a lesser sentence."
Kim learns of the importance of mitigating evidence starting with Dawn Jackson's case.
2. Dawn Jackson's Story
Jackson was among the many inmates who wrote letters to Kim about their situation. In these letters and the research Kim conducts, it's revealed that Jackson was sexually abused by multiple people over the course of a 20-year period. This included her step-grandfather, whom she killed when she got older.
However, when it came time for Jackson's trial, the abuse she endured was never brought up or used as mitigating evidence.
"I truly believe that had her attorney gotten up and talked about the fact that Dawn was raped at five years old, and that she continued to be raped and molested for years by people who were supposed to be caring for her, by her step-grandfather, that she would not have gotten the sentence she did," Kim said.
Jackson's situation wasn't just a lesson in the importance of mitigating evidence for Kim, but one that made her open to working on so-called "violent" cases.
"I started off being extremely judgmental and thought I will never be involved or help a situation where there has been violence—but after I read Dawn's story, I cried," Kim explained, adding that from there on, her heart had opened up.
3. From Jail to Kanye's Sunday Service
Momolu Stewart's story is another heartbreaking one, but it has a happy ending. Stewart used his time in prison to become a mentor to younger inmates, explaining that his only aspiration is to "express my repentance by the lives I help save today."
Kim wrote a letter in favor of Stewart's release, and he walked free in October of 2019. Just four days after his release, he was even able to come to Kanye West's famed Sunday Service, where he performed for a huge crowd and Kanye himself.
I’m happy David Sheppard can go home and make the most of the opportunity for a 2nd chance!!! ???? pic.twitter.com/eD6XuD9e4v— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) December 10, 2019
4. Free After 25+ Years
With the help of a friend, George Trudel—who had already gotten his own prison sentence commuted—along with assistance from Kim and her team, David Sheppard was able to walk free after 27 years in jail. He had been charged in a shooting death and received a life sentence, despite not being the shooter.
"I understand that someone that is involved in something should get time, but that you could not take someone's life and get more time than the person that actually took the person's life," Kim explained, referencing Sheppard's case. "That's what I want to wake people up to. This just isn't fair."
Kim got involved after Trudel wrote her asking for her help, and the two were able to meet and work with Pennsylvania's Lt. Governor John Fetterman to secure Sheppard's release.
5. Kim Has Contributed to the Release of 7,000 People
Toward the conclusion of The Justice Project, #cut50 co-founder and senior counsel Jessica Jackson praised Kim's advocacy efforts and revealed an awe-inspiring statistic.
"A lot of the work that Kim's doing with #cut50 is the humanization work, but another part of the work that she's doing is helping us with the policy work; actually changing those laws," Jackson said. "So when Kim decided she wanted to get involved in the First Step Act, Kim had been working on individual cases. And suddenly, when she joined onto this federal bill, because of her efforts, there, there's now 7,000 people who are home with their families."
Learn about the First Step Act from Kim herself in the clip above.
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