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A Poster Child for Second Chances

Robyn Hamilton

By Ann Espuelas

One of the first stories I worked on when I began my job at FAMM was Robyn Hamilton’s. The judge at her sentencing trial called Robyn “the poster child” against mandatory minimum sentencing, and affirmed that she played a “minimal role” in the drug conspiracy that landed her 10 years in federal prison. He said that a much shorter sentence would have been appropriate, but his hands were tied by mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

That was five years ago. A lot has happened to Robyn’s family in that time — but not to Robyn. She still wakes up every morning and goes to sleep every night behind bars. She fights sadness, boredom, anger, and self-hatred all the time. She takes as many classes as she can, desperate to feed whatever hope there is. One day is much like the next.

In her profile on the FAMM website, we described how before she was arrested, Robyn put her “bad thinking” behind her and moved away from the town where she’d been involved in drugs. She took her two sons, Clayton and Arlan, to the neighborhood library every day, got involved with their school, started a steady job as a nurse’s aide, and became engaged. Life was safe and happy.

After Robyn’s old life caught up with her, though, it all fell apart. At first, she was sent to prison in Texas, which meant that visits from family in Nebraska were almost impossible. She tries hard to call her kids every day, but that’s not enough. Her boys are now dealing with adolescence without a mother at home to help, and one of them has had an especially difficult time of it. Robyn’s relationship with her fiancé deteriorated, as did his connection to the children. Her sister took in the kids, and it’s been a huge strain on everyone.

A mother who already turned her life around before she was sentenced has still more years ahead behind bars. The system has pushed her family to the breaking point. Why is Robyn still in prison? Are we any safer because she is? Would we say that the system is working because she and her kids have to bear years more of this kind of life?

Clayton and Arlan won’t get a second chance at a childhood spent with their mother. Robyn Hamilton could get a second chance, though — and she should. This poster child for reform is now a poster child for second chances. She should be granted clemency, and she should not be in prison one more day. Her family, like so many others, needs a second chance, so they can heal and be whole.

Ann Espuelas is FAMM’s Director of Family Outreach and Storytelling.



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FAMM Foundation

FAMM Foundation

FAMM is a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies.