Save Donald from a Life Sentence for Non-Violent Drug Offenses

Save Donald from a Life Sentence for Non-Violent Drug Offenses

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Sia Henry started this petition to President Donald J. Trump

My name is Sia Henry and I am an attorney dedicated to creating a racially and socioeconomically just society, one that affirms and celebrates the inherent value of every individual rather than profiting from the systemic criminalization of low-income, communities of color. I currently work at a national, criminal justice reform non-profit organization where we are leading efforts to collaborate with communities across the country to establish pre-charge restorative justice diversion programs for felonies and serious misdemeanors.

Ten years ago, while an undergraduate at Duke University, I was researching the psychosocial and racialized impacts of the criminal legal system in the South when I met Donald Stanton Shealey. Although he was already incarcerated at the time, he was willing to correspond with me to answer my endless questions and advise me on the direction of my research. We have since become friends and have stayed in touch over the past ten years.

I am now fighting for Donald to be granted clemency by the President of the United States of America. Given the major disparities between Donald and his Co-Defendants' sentences, despite all having been charged with the same non-violent drug offenses and having similar criminal records, Donald remains the only defendant from his case who is still incarcerated. In fact, he has been sentenced to spend his life in prison. Undeterred by this grave reality, he has engaged in several rehabilitative efforts and made a number of meaningful contributions to his community over the course of the 12 years he has been incarcerated thus far. 

Donald was arrested when he was 30 years old. He is now 42 years old and while he cannot change his criminal history, he has done the work to truly understand the impact of his past actions. He has used that very understanding to ground his quest towards becoming a better father, grandfather, friend, and force of positive change for his community. In a letter addressed to the court overseeing his case, Donald detailed his rehabilitative journey and described how difficult yet transformative it has been for him to come to terms with the person he used to be and accept responsibility for all of the ways he has hurt others.

Despite his life sentence, over the past 12 years, Donald has finished numerous educational, vocational, and life-skills courses including ones centered on parenting, leadership, personal success, real estate, algebra, culinary arts, safe food handling, computer literacy, basic cognitive skills, and semiautomatic machine operations. He has completed Drug Education and Victim Impact classes and participated in Victim Impact groups. In addition, Donald successfully participated in a release preparation program, which included learning how to complete job applications and create resumes. He also engaged in mock job fairs, receiving mock job interview ratings of "Good" and "Excellent." He is currently employed by Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) as a Quality Inspector and has spent time mentored incarcerated young men.

The depth of Donald's personal growth is patently evident in his role as a mental health and suicide companion, working under the close supervision of a psychologist to offer peer support services to other incarcerated individuals struggling with mental illnesses. Relying on his own personal experiences, treatment, and training, he has taught wellness skills, modeled positive behaviors, and created safe spaces for others to talk and feel heard. Through these efforts, he has aimed to support other incarcerated people in their own self-improvement journeys and show they how to avoid the kinds of mistakes he made in his youth.

As evidenced by his many accomplishments, Donald has proven he can work alongside others, follow rules, and contribute positively to a community. He has had no disciplinary infractions in nearly a decade and poses no threat to the public. Moreover, he has a strong reentry plan that will ensure his successful reintegration into the free world. For instance, he has already secured an offer of employment to work as a caregiver, which will provide a consistent salary and the opportunity for Donald to continue serving others.

Rehabilitation is one of the goals of our current criminal legal system. That goal cannot be met if a person has nothing to look forward to beyond incarceration. Hope is therefore a necessary factor for encouraging and maintaining rehabilitation. Hope, however, is fleeting. It can be destroyed when a person is forced to serve a life sentence despite having realized an extraordinary personal transformation while witnessing significant changes in the laws.

There is no societal interest in continuing to incarcerate Donald for the remainder of his life. In fact, doing so would be only deprive his community of the gift that he has grown into and the skills he has nurtured and developed.

I ask everyone to fight for Donald Stanton Shealey to receive clemency from the President of the United States by signing this petition and sharing it widely with others.

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