Gracie Ann Walker

Gracie Ann Walker was a nonviolent drug offender when she received a 24 year mandatory minimum sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. She served over 10 years before receiving clemency from President Obama on August 30, 2016.

My husband died in May of 1989.

I was 30 years-old, working for the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, and up until then I had never been in trouble. After he died, I needed help but was too prideful to ask for it. I started using methamphetamine. Then, I started selling some to support myself and kids because my job was not enough. It’s easy now to realize what a mistake that was and that I wasn’t thinking rationally but at the time I was driven to do things that I justified because I was desperate.

I got arrested a few times and I spent a few years in state prison. Once I was out, I decided to make a change. I got a job at Schaffer Tractor keeping books. Everyday after work I’d pick up my grandson and watch him until his mom got off work. For 6 years I stayed away from drugs. I worked everyday and I was a grandmother. Life was good.

Then a friend I had known for over 20 years asked me to introduce him to someone I had known back when my husband was alive. While I knew it was about meth, I was no longer involved and didn’t think I’d get in trouble just for introducing two people. I wasn’t any part of what they were doing and it wasn’t benefiting me in any way. In March of 2006 I walked into a motel room and said, “This is Frank, this is Doc, now you guys know each other.” And I left.

I was arrested on March 13, 2007.

One year later I was pulling into my apartment complex when I was surrounded by cops with their guns drawn. I was taken into custody and the police asked me if I knew what that meeting between Frank and Doc was about and I said that I did. I never even thought to lie about it since I didn’t understand how conspiracy laws worked. I had always been taught not to lie but I learned that in these situations you don’t tell the truth unless you want to get a lot of time. My attorney later told me, “Honesty is good for the soul, but it’s hard on the body.”

I was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. No drugs were found on me, in my house or my car. In fact, there were never any drugs found in this case at all. It’s what they call “ghost dope,” an amount they estimate based on word of mouth. I was the last one arrested in a conspiracy with 17 people and the only ones that I knew where the two guys I introduced. I had never met or heard of any of these other people at all.

They offered me a reduction of sentence if I testified against others, but I honestly had no information to provide. Initially, my attorney told me I was facing five to seven years. Then they came at me with 290 months and I was totally overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to do. My lawyer told me that I had two choices, go trial and face a life sentence or plead guilty and take the time.

At sentencing they had us moving like cattle. All 17 people on the indictment were sentenced in just a few hours and I was the last one. By the time they got to me the judge was tired and wanted to go home so he wouldn’t let my boss speak on my behalf as a character witness. He was one of those “hang em high” judges and didn’t care how long I went to prison for.

All I did was introduce two people and I got 24 years.

When he said 290 months, my son burst out “Oh God No! My daughter had just found out she was pregnant with my second grandson. I was 49 years old and about to start a 24 year sentence in federal prison. I have never been violent. Provided I lived to serve out the entire sentence, I’d be over 70 when I left prison. What purpose does it serve to keep me here that long?

Walking into to prison was overwhelming. I’d never been so confused. All I could think about was my family and how they needed me at home. My parents were retired teachers in their 70’s and my papa had multiple system atrophy. His health was declining and it was hard for my mom to take care of him alone while I was in prison.

I took over 120 classes, from Values to Boundaries to many ACE (adult continued education) classes. I took religious services classes, completed the 11 month Change Program and even earned Horticulture Technician certification from Texas A&M. I was always working. Everyday I prayed for grace and mercy. For the chance to live life. But it just gets harder as the time goes on and the visits from family and friends happen less often. If you’re reading this and you have family in prison, please go visit them. Please call them. It means so much.

President Obama granted me clemency on August 30, 2016.

I get so emotional talking about it. I was working as an orderly, cleaning the case manager’s office when I heard over the loudspeaker, “Gracie Walker come to the conference room.” I thought they had said to bring a broom so I’m just figuring I have a mess to clean up. When I opened the door there were two case managers, two counselors, a secretary, and the camp administrator there. I thought I must have been interrupting and said excuse me and started to walk out.

They all said, “No, no. Come in Gracie. We want you to know that you’ve been granted clemency by the president.”

I just started crying. I couldn’t believe it and I called my daughter and she didn’t believe me. She kept telling me no, that it just couldn’t be possible. I had to ask the case manager, Ms. Mallard, to call my daughter and tell her. I could hear her on the phone say through her tears, “You don’t know how long that we have hoped and prayed for this to happen.”

I cry every time I think about that moment. It’s a feeling like no other. I had been in prison for over 10 years and wasn’t even halfway through my sentence and now, I was being given a second chance at life. All I could say was “Oh lord, thank you.”

The hardest part so far has been the halfway house and their home confinement rules. I’m just finishing it now and honestly, my experience was that they really aren’t there to help you. Everything is difficult and they’re looking for you to break the rules. They need to be more supportive.

Right now I work for Colonial Logistics delivering packages for Amazon. I like it because I’m my own boss and I get to drive a new van which gives me freedom to be outside and move around. It’s nice to not be stuck in an office. I also have a recreational vehicle that I’m hoping to fix up soon and use to travel and maybe live in if I can find a lot to put it on.

Adjusting is a challenge.

In prison everything has a price. You’re always wondering why someone did, said, or wanted something. Once you’re out, you bring that out into the world with you. For me, I feel like I can’t really be close to anyone anymore. It’s difficult to learn to trust.

Society has changed so much in the last 10 years. Even with clothes, I just had no idea what to wear. I wasn’t sure what clothes to pick out or how to dress myself. My daughter was a huge help with that and she’s been showing me how to use the phones and computers. She helped me with getting a good car and lots of people donated furniture and household items to my apartment. I have had support.

It’s also hard knowing that there are other good women in prison still who don’t need to be there. I wish they had received clemency too or that the laws would change so these people could go back to their families.

I want President Obama to know how much this opportunity means to me. I’m working hard and I’m focused on being a mother and a grandmother.

 

Photos and story editing by Jon Perri Twitter

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