In 2018, Kim Kardashian West made headlines for something unexpected. The reality TV star visited the White House to advocate for Alice Marie Johnson, a first-time nonviolent drug offender who had served 21 years out of a life sentence. A week after the much-publicized visit, President Donald Trump commuted Johnson’s sentence. She was free.
West has since helped as many as 90 inmates with similar offenses receive commuted sentences. It’s all part of her ongoing financial support of prison reform initiatives, and two Dallas lawyers have been spearheading the projects that have garnered West ample press coverage.
Lawyers Brittany K. Barnett and MiAngel Cody were responsible for the legal legwork that resulted in 17 inmates being freed from draconian sentences late last week. Through a three-pronged approach of litigation, legislation and humanization, Barnett’s Buried Alive Project seeks commuted sentences and releases for inmates serving life without parole sentences handed down under federal drug law. West supports the organization financially, while Barnett and Cody represent incarcerated offenders and conduct the legislative work necessary to reunite the inmates with their families.
In a passionate call for donations posted to Facebook last week, Barnett wrote, “In 90 days TWO black women lawyers freed SEVENTEEN people from LIFE W/O PAROLE sentences — the second most severe penalty permitted by law in America. Only two of us.”
To be sure, Barnett is grateful for West’s financial support and that of other donors. In the same Facebook post, Barnett took the news media to task for their “negativity” about West and praising the celebrity for her assistance.
“Kim linked arms with us to support us when foundations turned us down,” the post reads, in part. “We and our clients and their families have a lot of love for her and are deeply grateful for her.”
But Barnett also appeals for a heightened focus on the recently released inmates and their families.
“We are ELATED 17 people will not die in prison,” Barnett wrote. “We are ELATED 17 families are restored. Instead of negativity about Kim, why don’t y’all reach out and see if the 17 people we helped free need anything. Welcome them home. Give them jobs. Send a care package. Amplify their voices without the sharecropping.”
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The post also mentions the journey Barnett and Cody have taken to get to this point, citing opposition from prosecutors and the struggles they and Buried Alive have faced while seeking funding for their initiatives. While Barnett could not be immediately reached for comment for this story, it is clear from her post and Buried Alive’s website that their work is only getting started.
The legal project’s website shares a statistic showing that nearly 4,000 people have been sentenced to life for federal offenses since 1988. The website also breaks down the previous three presidents’ records on executive clemency for drug offenses. President Bill Clinton did not grant a single inmate clemency, President George W. Bush granted one inmate clemency and President Barack Obama granted 568 inmates clemency. Thus far, Johnson is the only inmate to whom President Trump has granted clemency.
“Life without the possibility of parole is, short of execution, the harshest imaginable punishment permitted by law in America,” the website reads. “It screams a person is beyond hope, beyond redemption. It rips away any chance of reconciliation with society and gives no chance of fulfillment outside of prison walls.”
You can read more about Barnett’s work and Buried Alive on their website, where you can also donate to support the project’s efforts.