USING YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE FOR GOOD

Alice Marie Johnson is finally a free woman. Prior to her pardon late last month, the 63-year-old grandmother had spent 21 years behind bars for non-violent drug offenses. These offenses arose during her involvement in a cocaine trafficking syndicate in the early 90s. Her arrest came in 1993 and she was subsequently convicted in 1996 for several criminal drug-related counts. The judge handed her a life sentence and she was almost assuredly going to spend the rest of her life in jail. However, earlier last week, President Trump with the nudging of Kim Kardashian commuted her life sentence, and she was finally free to leave the prison.

This is an inspirational story mainly because of the women involved here. First, we have Ms. Johnson herself. Here is a woman who was a divorcee, gambling addict, ‘successful’ drug-trafficking entrepreneur, and a single mother of five, and from 1997, a lifelong inmate. Her life was in many ways, over. However, she changed her ways in jail and it is quite evident that she was a model inmate.

Ms. Johnson knew that she was in prison for life, and yet she utilized her time in prison to rebuild herself, and make herself a better person. She embraced prison life and sought to gain skills that would enable her to be a positive influence to other inmates throughout her time there. She is an ordained minister, a counselor, a recognized companion for inmates who are thinking of suicide, a mentor, and a playwright. What’s more, she is the epitome of highly disciplined inmates having received not even a single infraction throughout her prison sentence. Despite her life sentence, she worked hard to rehabilitate herself and those around her.

Cue the next heroine of this story, Mrs. Kim Kardashian-West. There was an uproar all over the world when a photograph surfaced of Mrs. West next to President Trump in the Oval Office. This was on 30 May 2018, and Mrs. West was there to petition the president to grant clemency for Ms. Johnson. The president even tweeted about their meeting and discussions on prison reform. The uproar was probably because Kim is a reality star, and people could understandably view her presence in the White House as a mockery of the institution. However, Kim was there, not to promote one of her beauty products, but to use her influence and her popularity to undo a wrong done by the country’s justice and legal system over 21 years ago.

Kim’s involvement in this case did not begin at the White House on that day.

Rather, it began in mid-October of 2017 when she came across an interview about Ms. Johnson on social media. She saw and resonated with how hard Ms. Johnson had worked to rehabilitate herself, and how at peace she was with her sentence despite it being unfair. The interview highlighted the injustice of harsh penalties given to first-time non-violent drug offenders such as Ms. Johnson. After viewing the video, Kim posted it on her Twitter page, and captioned it, as ‘This is very unfair…’

The reality star has 60 million followers on her Twitter page alone. She shared the video with her followers, and the response was overwhelming. Nearly every one of her followers believed that the penalty given to Ms. Johnson was too severe and did not fit the crime. Kim went ahead to hire a team of attorneys to push for Johnson’s release, and she and the team were successful.

Success is two-fold here. First, she helped Johnson get acquitted and released from prison. Secondly, she has ignited the conversation on prison reform by using her stature and influence both online, as a social media queen, and offline, as a TV reality star to highlight the problems with the current legal and justice system.

May we all endeavor to use our social media influence for good, just like Mrs. West because it could change a life.