Alice Marie Johnson hits back at media after RNC speech, Trump pardon: 'I'm not a prop or puppet'

Alice Johnson listens during an event in the Oval Office of the White House August 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C. President Donald Trump has officially pardoned former federal prisoner Alice Johnson, who was sentenced to life for cocaine trafficking in 1997 and recently received a commutation from the President in 2018. | Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images

Criminal justice reform activist Alice Marie Johnson, a grandmother whose life sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump on Friday, responded to a controversial tweet by Politico against her speech at the Republican Nation Convention, saying she is not a “prop” or “puppet.”

“I’m not a prop and I’m not a puppet. I make my own choices as do what I’d like to do,” Johnson, a 65-year-old black woman who was serving a life sentence on drug charges, said during an interview on Fox News' "The Story" with Martha MacCallum.

Johnson, who was convicted of drug conspiracy and money laundering in 1996 and whose story caught the attention of Kim Kardashian, was responding to a tweet by Politico after her address at the RNC on Thursday.

“She’s been propped up as one of the most prominent beneficiaries of the terms of the First Step Act,” read the tweet which was taken from a reporter live chat on the media outlet’s website.

In her RNC address, Johnson, who spent 22 years in prison, praised Trump for his criminal justice reform efforts and thanked him for the presidential pardon she received.

“My Christian faith and the prayers of so many kept hope alive,” Johnson said in the address. “When President Trump heard about me, the injustice of my story, he saw me as a person, he had compassion and he acted. Free in body, thanks to President Trump, but free in mind thanks to the almighty God.”

Trump signed the First Step Act into law in December 2018, months after commuting Johnson’s sentence. Kardashian personally met with Trump to plead on her behalf.

In her interview on Fox News, Johnson said, “What amazes me about the things that are being said is that another former prisoner spoke at the DNC last week, and she was not called a prop for choosing to speak there, yet I don’t have the choice to speak where I want to.”

She said her speech was meant to “give hope to prisoners and talk about how important criminal justice reform is.”

“I was in a very dark place, a very dark, hopeless situation. But I’d never lost my hope, and instead of turning inward and being bitter about my situation, I decided to help the women who were there and not just myself but what I could do for others,” she said.

Nan Hayworth, a former Congresswoman from New York, responded to Politico’s tweet, saying it was the outlet’s “bitter and desperate partisanship on full display.”

“How dare you disrespect this amazing and powerful woman. You reveal yourselves in your derision. How petty, small, and pathetic you are,” Hayworth added.

In a statement from the White House on Friday, the Trump administration said in part: "Today, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) for Alice Marie Johnson. ... While incarcerated, she completed numerous training and education courses, volunteered in a hospice, contributed her talents to art and theater programs, and held steadfast to her Christian beliefs. Although sentenced to life with little hope for freedom, Ms. Johnson nonetheless worked to better herself, those around her, and her community.

"Since President Trump commuted her sentence, Ms. Johnson has shared her story of redemption and has worked with lawmakers on landmark criminal justice reform efforts. ..."

In June 2018, when Trump commuted Johnson's sentence, the White House said: “Ms. Johnson has accepted responsibility for her past behavior and has been a model prisoner over the past two decades. … While this administration will always be very tough on crime, it believes that those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance.”

Johnson responded by saying, “I’m free to hug my family. I’m free to live life. I’m free to start over. This is the greatest day of my life. My heart is just bursting with gratitude.”

Trump this week also pardoned prison reentry activist Jon Ponder, describing him as “a beautiful testament to the power of redemption.”

“At the age of 38, he was arrested for bank robbery,” Trump said in a ceremony held at the White House, according to KLAS. “While Jon was in prison, he began reading the Bible and listening to Christian radio,” Trump added. “One day, he heard Reverend Billy Graham on the radio proclaim ‘Jesus wants to be Lord of your life.’ On that day, Jon dedicated his life to Christ.”

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