Sharanda Jones, who will turn 48 next week, is serving a life federal prison term in Texas. She is one of the 35,000 inmates who have applied for clemency but didn’t get it from President Obama this week, says the Washington Post. She was a first time, non-violent offender, but because of her role as a middle woman between a cocaine buyer and supplier, she was accused of being part of a “drug conspiracy” and should have known that the powder would be converted to crack, triggering a greater penalty. The Post tells the story of Jones, which began in 1997 near Dallas, when a sheriff conducted a large drug sweep, netting more than 100 people, all of them black.
A couple who was arrested told investigators that over several years, they bought about 30 kilograms of powder cocaine, each for about $18,000, from Jones, who they said had purchased the cocaine from a drug dealer in Houston. Ronald Weich, a special counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission in the 1980s, said that mandatory minimum sentences like the kind Jones received were all about math, not about people. “These laws forced judges to look at their calculators instead of into the eyes of the defendants they were sentencing,” said Weich, now the dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law. “They weren't allowed to ask, 'How did they get to this point in their lives?' and 'Who were they going to be in five or 20 years?' “