When asked to write a clemency support letter to enhance a marijuana prisoner’s clemency petition, a lot of people feel at a loss with no idea what to say in order to be effective and help. Fear not! I am here to put those anxieties to rest and show you how YOU, yes even YOU, can significantly help a prisoner serving a life sentence for marijuana. It will take not more than 15 minutes of your time and the cost of a piece of paper, an envelope, and postage stamp.
Why Clemency Support Letters Are Important
Taking the time to write a letter in support of a prisoner’s clemency is one of the most important things you can do to help them, even though it won’t cost you much time or money. Why? Because each support letter is logged and recorded, and this makes a difference when it comes time for the pardon attorney to decide which petitions to support. Also, the more a given prisoner’s name comes up in front of the pardon attorney and their staff, the more they are likely to notice them. Keep in mind the pardon attorney’s office sifts through tens of thousands of clemency petitions, if you want to keep your prisoner’s chances high, it’s a good idea to send something in at least every month or so.
Clemency/Commutation/Pardon: Understanding the Terms
The terms can be confusing. I will try to explain:
Commutation – This means a reduction in sentence. Usually a sentence commutation comes when a prisoner is granted clemency. In most cases, a reduction in sentence is all that a commutation does, it does not restore other rights such as voting. It also does not exempt the prisoner from terms of parole and it does not get rid of any fines or forfeitures, although there are rare exceptions to this rule.
Clemency – Means leniency given in the form of a reduced sentence or in some cases a chance at parole. It may or may not include a full pardon.
Pardon – A full pardon not only releases the prisoner, it restores their full rights, such as the right to vote; it would also eliminate any parole restrictions.
Some Basics About Clemencies and Pardons Before We Get Started
In order for Clemency Support letters to be effective, the prisoner in question must have a clemency petition filed. If you write a support letter for a prisoner who has not filed, the pardon attorney’s office will not know what to do with it and return it.
- The Letter writing strategies and tips in this article will be effective, in theory, for any prisoner charged with any crime, be they federal or state. Know that a case is one or the other, never both. Federal cases, like all the prisoners I work with, must petition the President of the United States and the US Pardon Attorney. State cases, must petition the governor of that state.
Clemency Support Letters Do’s
DO: Include your name and address
- DO: Use spell check and proof read your letter.
- DO: Address the letter to the United States Pardon Attorney, the President of the United States, or better yet, both! It is OK to send a letter to one and cc the other.
- DO: Establish your relationship to the prisoner, whether you are a family member, friend, or just a citizen concerned about injustice.
- DO talk about how the prisoner’s incarceration affects you personally (if in fact it does) as well as how it affects society as a whole.
- DO: Talk about how the prisoner’s incarceration affects the inmate’s family and any hardships it causes them.
- DO: Talk about how long incarcerations for nonviolent crimes puts a financial burden on society.
- DO: Use a letter format, single-spaced:
Name and address of person you are addressing (the pardon attorney and/or President in federal cases, the governor in state cases)
Body of letter
Clemency Support Letter Don’ts!
As difficult as it may be to not get angry and political, resist the urge if you really want to help the prisoner. These don’ts are perhaps even more important then the do’s:
- DON’T: Claim the prisoner is innocent. When writing clemency support letters it is important to remember who the audience is, and this audience is comprised of legal wonks. As far as they are concerned this case has been tried and the defendant is guilty. That is no longer up for debate in any way, shape or form. Now is the time to ask for mercy, compassion, and leniency.
- DON’T: Re-try the case – – now is not the time to talk about the details of the case or what you may feel was wrong about it or how it was handled. None of that is important at this stage.
- DON’T: Get on a soapbox about how you feel the prisoner’s sentence was unjust or how the drug war is unjust, or how you feel nobody should be in jail for a plant. You can point out the trend towards legalization, the number of states that have done so for medical or recreational purposes, and the changing tide of public opinion, but do not start debating the wisdom, or lack thereof, of the drug war.
How to Write a Clemency Support Letter Step by Step
Here is a basic guideline of how to write a letter, for those who are stuck on how to begin. Of course you can change the order and make it your own. You can also take more than a single paragraph to make the points below, but try to keep the letter to a single page if possible or two at maximum.
1. Paragraph 1: State why you are writing:
I am writing to ask for clemency for prisoner NAME and ID NUMBER. You can also talk about how long the inmate has served and how and why you think it is society’s best interest for the inmate to be granted clemency.
2. Paragraph 2: Establish your connection to the prisoner — you can simply be a concerned citizen who wants to see justice served, or you may be a friend or family member of the person who is incarcerated, or a friend of their family. Whatever it is, let the President or Pardon Attorney know your connection and why you were inspired to write on their behalf.
3. Paragraph 3: If you know anything about the inmate, like any classes they have taken, awards they received or degrees they have earned, or other ways they have worked to better themselves while in prison, mention it now. Maybe they have never been written up for disciplinary action, or they have maintained a job in the prison factory. If you personally know them and know their character you can also talk about that.
4. Last Paragraph: Summarize your letter in last paragraph and again repeat your request for mercy, leniency, and clemency so the inmate can return to their loved ones.
5. Sign it!: Sign your letter and include your address. If you have a professional title, include that as well.
6. Mail It!: Mail the letter to the pardon attorney and don’t forget to send a copy to the President at the White House. (1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA)
Examples of Clemency Support Letters
Here are some prisoners in need of support (there are others as well). The first link will give you more information about the prisoner, the second will take you to an example of a clemency support letter I wrote for them that you are free to paraphrase, copy, edit, etc.
- About Craig Cesal — Sample Clemency Support Letter for Craig Cesal
- About John Knock – Sample Clemency Support Letter for John Knock
- About Michael Pelletier — Sample Clemency Support Letter for Michael Pelletier
Thank you for taking the time to help a marijuana prisoner. Writing a letter in support of their clemency is one of the most important and effective things you can do! For instance, Billy Dekle used to be part of the list above, and we collected hundreds of clemency support letters for him. In December 2015 he was granted clemency by President Obama.
If you have any questions at any time or need any help at all, feel free to contact me, I am always here to help!