Today, more than 2,200 incarcerated men and women are being released from federal prison under the First Step Act!
When you’re incarcerated, even one extra day of freedom can be life-changing– especially if that day means getting to see your child walk down the aisle, witnessing the birth of a new family member, or getting the chance to say goodbye to someone you love.
Last year, the #cut50 team fought alongside formerly incarcerated leaders and bipartisan coalition members to pass the First Step Act. We have spent most of this year making sure this law is implemented quickly and effectively. And now, thousands of people are reuniting with their families — today!
So far this year, more than 3,500 people have received days, months, years, and in some cases decades of their lives back under the First Step Act.
We are proud to share the stories of our neighbors who are now returning home to their communities thanks to the First Step Act.
DeWayne Lucas experienced his first Father’s Day home in 13 years when he was released from prison under the good time credits clause in the First Step Act. When DeWayne was reunited with his wife and daughter, he hit the ground running in order to make up for the time he lost behind bars. He has built his own business, become his own boss, and now enjoys the little (and big) things in life. Since his early release, he has been able to further his goal of being involved in his daughter’s life and running a successful business that has allowed him to provide for his family. Thanks to the implementation of good time credits, our neighbors are getting a fair chance at rebuilding their lives and contributing to their communities.
The First Step Act has effectively fixed Good Time Credits ensuring that incarcerated individuals can earn 54 days of good time credit per year, and not just the 47 days that the Bureau of Prisons provided. The fix retroactively applies to everyone in federal prison who has earned credit for good behavior and programming. DeWayne Lucas is just one of many people returned to his family thanks to this provision of the First Step Act.
When a parent is incarcerated, their children and family suffer the impacts of their incarceration too, albeit from the outside. Currently, parents make up a large part of the prison population. 2.7 million minors have a parent or primary caregiver incarcerated in the United States. DeWayne Lucas was only one of them.
As a mother of two, Rhonda faced one of the most challenging moments of her life while she was incarcerated — her 34-year-old daughter, was killed, leaving behind her five children. Rhonda was serving a 15 ½ year sentence at the time of her daughter’s death and wanted to do everything she could to ensure that her grandchildren would be cared for. During her lengthy sentence, Rhonda focused on bettering herself so that she could gain employment post-incarceration and contribute to her family that needed her support. Missing out on graduations, birthdays and celebrations had a lasting impact on Rhonda’s life and she is dedicated to making up for the lost time.
Rhonda was just released 108 days early due to her good time credits. She is eager to start assisting organizations throughout her home state of Ohio who specialize in re-entry services because everyone deserves a fair chance.
Since she’s been home, Rhonda has prioritized creating memories with her family by hosting dinners on Sundays, welcome home celebrations, and getting to know members of her family that she didn’t previously have a relationship with due to the bars between them. Rhonda’s post-release life has given her the ability to reunite with her family and to pave a pathway toward meaningful and dignified employment.
Rhonda holds two doctorate degrees, a master’s degree and is a trained grant writer. Despite having credentials that qualify her for highly skilled occupations, the stigma attached to her identity as a formerly incarcerated woman limits her options. Even yet, that hasn’t stopped Rhonda from persisting. Rhonda has accepted a high-growth role at a telecommunications company that provides her with the space she deserves to grow and thrive.
When Brian Johnson was given a life sentence for a first-time offense 20 years ago, his hope for the future was abysmal. Brian was given a mandatory minimum that took both his and his children’s lives off course.
Because of the retroactive sentencing provision in the First Step Act, Brian was released from federal custody on July 9th, 2019. He served 20 years of a life sentence, and throughout his incarceration, he fought for his freedom. He kept up on sentencing reforms, corrections reforms and most recently, The First Step Act. Brian worked tirelessly alongside his lawyers as they advocated for his release so that he could be reunited with his daughters and grandchildren. His family was the guiding force throughout his incarceration and he was determined to be reunited with them again.
When the First Step Act was making its way through Congress in December 2018, Brian was watching CNN inside a federal prison in Atlanta, waiting to learn the final votes of the legislation. He had been fighting for his own freedom for years and was ready to finally witness the passage of the First Step Act — even if he was witnessing it from the inside of a prison.
Since his release, Brian has cherished every moment home, from enjoying the freedoms of walking outside without handcuffs, picking what food he’s going to have for dinner, and most importantly — hugging his kids before bed.
Brian Johnson is a reminder of the importance of having hope while incarcerated and inspiration in the fight for criminal justice reform. His plans for the future are to obtain employment and work to get those he left behind their own freedom. He describes this phase of his life and his own freedom as a true blessing.
Incarceration has impacted Susie Smith’s family and left a permanent scar. Her two sons are serving life sentences, and up until early June, she believed she wouldn’t be released from federal prison until 2020. Because of the elderly release provision in the First Step Act, Susie was reunited with her family on June 18th, 2019 — more than one year earlier than she had imagined. The elderly release provision in the First Step Act expands the release of incarcerated individuals who are 60 years and older that have served at least two-thirds of their sentence and is to be enacted at all BOP facilities.
In 2010, Susie was given a minimum sentence for a non-violent crime, and in the same case, her two sons received life sentences. Since her release, she has made it her mission to fight for her loved ones that are incarcerated and to advocate for the people she left behind. She understands the power of her story and is determined to fight for the freedom of others. Aside from her passion relating to justice reform, Susie knows that her brightest days are ahead of her. She is in the works of obtaining identification and focusing on her re-entry process.
Although she is currently under federal supervision through weekly check-ins, she has already become even closer to her family and especially her grandson, Cayleb, who was one of the loudest advocates for her release. Susie is just one reminder of the impact that incarceration has on communities and the years of trauma it inflicts onto families.
To give our returning neighbors the welcome home they deserve, we’ve forged partnerships across the public and private sector to help make this transition a successful one. If you or a loved one are recently released from federal prison under the First Step Act, you can apply for resources here.
The First Step Act has assisted in the release of nearly 3,500 people to date, and we’re not slowing down in making sure every single person who may be eligible for release under this law gets their fair chance — because there is nothing more urgent than freedom.