Over 25,000 People in Prison Await Decisions on Their Clemency Applications

Sixty-three-year-old Lazara Ordaz has spent the previous 24 years behind bars on a 35-year federal jail sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. “I’ve missed over 20 years of births, birthdays, Thanksgivings and Christmases which I’ll by no means get again,” Ordaz advised Truthout.

In 2020, as COVID-19 ripped via prisons, Ordaz utilized for residence confinement beneath the CARES Act.

As Truthout beforehand reported, jail officers advised Ordaz that her age, thyroid situation and hypertension certified her for residence confinement. Her case supervisor started her paperwork, then stopped as a result of Ordaz, who arrived from Cuba in 1980, had an immigration detainer, which meant Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would place her in detention upon her launch from jail.

Jail directors advised her that she wanted to acquire a “no motion” letter from ICE earlier than they’d proceed. ICE officers refused to challenge such a letter whereas she remained in jail. The catch-22 left Ordaz in limbo — and behind bars.

In late October, after extended advocacy from a previously incarcerated good friend, ICE lifted the detainer. Ordaz once more utilized for residence confinement beneath the CARES Act however has not obtained a response.

Now, she is hoping President Joe Biden will present compassion and grant her clemency.

Clemency technically means mercy or lenience. Within the authorized system, it could actually take two varieties — a commutation, which is a lessening of an individual’s court-imposed sentence, or a pardon, which lower the results of a felony conviction. This could embody restoring an individual’s proper to vote or eradicating the specter of deportation. For folks convicted of federal crimes, the president has the facility to grant clemency.

“I utilized for my clemency twice, the primary time in 2016 whereas Obama was within the White Home. I used to be denied. I utilized once more final yr and haven’t obtained a response,” Ordaz advised Truthout.

She’s not alone. As of mid-November, over 25,000 folks in federal prisons are awaiting a decision on their clemency applications.

A woman stands in front of blinds
Holly Frantzen at her dad and mom’ home earlier than her 2016 arrest.

“It Hits Your Coronary heart Laborious and Crushes It”

Fifty-year-old Holly Leanne Frantzen is one in every of these tens of 1000’s of individuals awaiting a call relating to clemency. In 2016, she was arrested for conspiracy to own with intent to distribute a managed substance (methamphetamine).

In a sequence of messages to Truthout, Frantzen defined, “It was all ghost dope if that issues,” she wrote Truthout in a sequence of e-messages. Ghost dope refers to an amount of drugs based purely on others’ testimony; these medication had been by no means seen or seized by legislation enforcement or introduced to the courtroom.

“It’s simply all simply folks speaking, however phrases can land you in jail for a protracted prolonged sentence,” Frantzen defined. “I’m not harmless by any means, however I’m not the king pin I used to be made out to be. I used to be an addict feeding my habit.”

She stopped utilizing medication whereas in jail. On the recommendation of her court-appointed lawyer, she pled responsible and was sentenced to 200 months (16 years and 18 months).

Frantzen was initially relieved that she had not obtained a life sentence, which she had seen the choose mete out to others dealing with related prices.

“Then it sinks in that I’m going to be in my 60s getting out of jail. That actually hits your coronary heart onerous and crushes it,” she wrote. “If you name residence and have to inform your dad, that you just love with all of your coronary heart and soul, [and] hear him say that he in all probability is not going to be round by the point you get out of jail … simply crushes your coronary heart much more.”

Whereas her oldest daughter was already in her 20s and a mom of two, Frantzen’s youthful son was beginning highschool when she was sentenced. Frantzen missed each highschool milestone, together with his commencement. She has by no means met her third grandchild

Frantzen was on the federal jail in Aliceville when Alice Johnson, then serving a life sentence for drug conspiracy, was granted clemency. The 2 cried with pleasure collectively. “That was a really emotional time and he or she advised me to place in clemency that it could actually occur for me too,” Frantzen recalled. She utilized for clemency that very same yr.

The next yr, she suffered a coronary heart assault and was rushed to the hospital, the place she remained in a coma for a number of weeks. “Probably the most scariest, loneliest emotions is waking up out of a coma and being handcuffed to a mattress with no household round you,” she wrote.

That near-brush with loss of life triggered her to vow “to place as a lot love and positivity out on the planet,” she advised Truthout, including: “I wish to affect as many lives as I can. I spent the primary half being egocentric in my habit and the second half goes to be crammed with love and positivity.” She tries to mentor youthful ladies coming into jail, sharing her story and inspiring them to not lose hope.

“I did miss all of my mothering, and I want I may have children once more to do the mothering a part of my life,” Frantzen mirrored. “If I may I might open up a spot the place children may go and work together with different children who their dad and mom are in jail or off in habit; I might simply love them till their dad and mom obtained higher. I simply love children and have an actual mushy coronary heart for the youthful era that has by no means had an opportunity in life. It’s an awesome feeling to make a distinction in a constructive method in somebody’s life.”

A woman in graduation robes and a mortarboard holds her diploma while standing in front of an American Flag.
Tien Hsiang Mo graduates from Feather River Faculty, Central California Girls’s Facility, in 2018.

Sentenced to Die in Jail

In California, Tien Hsiang Mo’s solely hope is clemency by the state’s governor. In any other case, she is going to spend the remainder of her life behind bars.

In 1999, Mo, then age 18, stole jewellery from her classmate Eric Liu.

To maintain him from reporting the theft, she, her then-boyfriend and three different mates attacked and kidnapped him. They put him within the trunk of his automobile and drove it to a vacant lot. Liu was nonetheless aware, calling Mo’s title and pleading for assist.

“I ignored him,” Mo advised Truthout. “I’ll always remember him calling for me to assist him.” However, she recalled, “my concern of getting in bother with my dad and mom was extra scary than Eric dying in entrance of me. My dad and mom had been such imposing figures in my life and I used to be so afraid of letting them down, that I had no regard for one more human life.”

As soon as on the vacant lot, they set the automobile on hearth. Police later discovered Liu’s charred stays contained in the trunk.

Trying again on her teenage self, Mo, now age 41, advised Truthout, “As an 18-year-old, I used to be egocentric, my life was unmanageable. I used to be with out empathy, somebody you wouldn’t wish to befriend.”

The subsequent yr she was arrested and, in 2001, convicted of first-degree homicide. She was sentenced to life with out the potential of parole. She was 20 years previous.

“My coronary heart dropped after I heard my sentence,” Mo wrote. “I’ll always remember what my mother advised me proper afterwards. She stated she wished they’d simply kill me (sentence me to die) reasonably than see me imprisoned for all times.”

At first, Mo continued avoiding accountability. However 10 years in the past, she started engaged on being trustworthy about herself — and her function in Liu’s loss of life. She started going to jail applications, pushing herself to work via unacknowledged childhood points and the results of her actions. She started serving to and advising different ladies — each these new to the jail and people battling the numerous points that include being locked away from household.

However with a life with out parole sentence, she will be able to by no means seem earlier than the parole board to display the strides she has made.

Mo utilized for clemency in 2017, two years after her father’s loss of life. Her mom is now 76 years previous and her brother 51.

“However,” she added, her software for clemency “isn’t about them. It’s about Eric and the way I may be an asset to society and make my life a residing amends on the market, not in right here. I can achieve this rather more on the market and provides again to a society I took from for thus lengthy now. I harm folks on the market and wish to give again to my group now.”

A man embraces his daughter in a studio photo
Lance Sessoms and his daughter Danielle Moore throughout a 2019 go to.

Clemency as a Final Hope for Parole Earlier than 97

In New York, clemency can be Lance Sessoms’s final hope. The 57-year-old has been imprisoned for the previous 34 years and, with out the governor’s intervention, is not going to see the parole board till he’s 97 years previous.

In 1988, Sessoms was a 22-year-old residing in Brooklyn together with his spouse and three kids, together with a daughter born two weeks earlier. That evening, he was bathing his new child, his first time doing so, when the telephone rang. It was his good friend Richard Chalk, who requested him to drive to Albany with him, his nephew Roy Bolus, and three different males. Their plan was to rob some drug sellers.

On the home, Sessoms was tasked with holding two of the boys at gunpoint. When one advised Sessoms that they might see his face, he panicked. Each males had been concerned in critical drug and weapons dealing they usually had been from Brooklyn, the place his household lived.

“I didn’t assume, I simply reacted,” he wrote in a letter to the state’s clemency board. “So, I grabbed a pillow and shot them each.”

The media known as the boys — all of whom are Black — the “Brooklyn Six,” a reference to the “Central Park 5,” 5 younger Black males who had been falsely accused, convicted and sentenced to a long time in jail based mostly on police-coerced confessions for the rape of a white jogger.

In Albany, Sessoms and 4 co-defendants had been convicted and sentenced to a number of a long time in jail. (The sixth, Charlemagne Jean-Pierre, was acquitted of all charges except weapons possession, for which he was sentenced to 7.5 to fifteen years.) The choose, Joseph Harris, was recognized for competing with another local judge for the distinction of toughest judge. Sessoms obtained 82.5 years to life. Upon attraction, his sentence was decreased to 75 years to life.

Regardless of this digital life sentence, Sessoms has decided to vary his life. He accomplished quite a few jail applications, earned a school diploma, inspired others to pursue their schooling and continued to mum or dad his three kids (and now eight grandchildren) from behind bars.

Now, Sessoms is the final one behind bars. In 1995, one in every of his co-defendants died whereas in jail. Jean-Pierre was launched from jail after 10 years and deported. In 2018, then-Governor Cuomo granted clemency to two of Sessoms’s co-defendants — Roy Bolus and Alphonso Riley-James. In August 2021, he granted clemency to Richard Chalk.

“I used to be comfortable for all of them as a result of they put in quite a lot of work in reworking their lives over time,” Sessoms wrote in an e-message to Truthout. However he additionally puzzled, why not me?

“I then thought perhaps it’s not my time but. So, I simply did what I’ve been doing the previous 20 years … mentoring the boys who I work with, and the others who I are available in contact with. I targeted on those who’ve psychological [health] challenges,” he continued, referring to his ongoing work as program assistant within the jail’s psychological well being items.

“I’m right here for them morning, afternoon, night and on weekends,” he wrote. “That is what retains me going … serving to those that generally can’t assist themselves.”

Sessoms’s daughter Danielle Moore was 4 years previous when her father made the fateful resolution to drive to Albany. She is now in her late 30s and a mom of two.

When she examine Bolus’s and Riley-James’s clemencies, she reached out to their lawyer, Steve Zeidman on the Defenders Clinic’s Second Look Project at CUNY Law School, for assist. Zeidman helped Sessoms apply for clemency in 2019. His is one in every of practically 800 clemency functions awaiting a call from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Moore additionally related with the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) campaign, collaborating in foyer days urging legislators to move elder parole legal guidelines permitting older folks an earlier alternative for a parole listening to, and talking at rallies urging the governor to grant her father — and so many others — a second likelihood.

Her father’s 75-year sentence, she advised Truthout, “is a sentence that we, as a household, need to face too.”

Kids With Incarcerated Dad and mom Dream of Clemency

For Ordaz, receiving clemency would enable her to reunite together with her household, together with her daughter who was 2 when she was arrested. That daughter (additionally named Lazara, or Lala for brief) is now 26.

“Visiting her in jail are the one recollections I’ve of her,” Lala advised Truthout. However her household has crammed in these early childhood years — together with how a lot Ordaz doted on her solely youngster, throwing her a lavish birthday celebration when the lady turned 1. “Everybody talked about how good her meals is,” Lala recalled. “However I can’t style it.”

Whereas Ordaz was imprisoned on the federal jail in Danbury, Connecticut, her household took Lala to go to annually. However in 2013, the jail was transformed to a males’s facility and Ordaz was transferred first to Aliceville, Alabama, after which to a sequence of Florida prisons. Lala has solely been in a position to go to her mom as soon as since then.

Nonetheless, neither mom nor daughter has given up hope.

“I wish to make some lasagna collectively,” stated Ordaz, who by no means had the possibility to cook dinner together with her daughter. “Additionally, I wish to make her some bake fish and I wish to make her some Cuban meals.”

In 2020, Lala bought her first residence, a single-family home in Philadelphia, with the hope that the 2 can reside collectively and cook dinner all of the dishes they by no means had collectively as soon as Ordaz comes residence.

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