Donel Marcus Clark

Donel Marcus Clark was a first time nonviolent drug offender when he received a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years in prison for conspiracy to manufacture and possession with the intent to deliver cocaine, cocaine base and marijuana. He served 22 years, 1 month and 18 days before his sentence was commuted by President Obama.

Hearing the sentence felt like a dream, a bad one. I couldn’t imagine going to jail for 35 days, let alone 35 years. I always figured that if I got caught, I’d get probation due to it being my first offense. Man was I wrong. I knew nothing about drug guidelines and mandatory minimums.

My judge didn’t seem to mind handing down 35 years, even though he stated at sentencing that he was bound by the guidelines to give the sentence that he did.

I fell on hard times due to losing my full time job and I pleaded with a friend in the illegal business to let me do something to make extra money to pay bills. Eventually he did and the money came so easy that once I caught up on bills that I didn’t exit the business. It was so low key, the operation, that I never thought we’d get caught.

When I went to prison, life changed dramatically for my family due to my absence. The kids didn’t understand why things were the way they were for many years. My wife now had the responsibility of being mom and the sole provider for my sons and it was very difficult.

My siblings no longer had me there and my youngest brother and I talked a lot on the phone about how he could do things to better his life. My imprisonment had a dramatic impact on my family members.

Prison meant the separation from family, society, and the normalcy of life.

I did not have real control of my life anymore. A young rookie guard had the ability to make my day a good or a bad one and I didn’t have the option to just walk away because I didn’t like it. That was the hardest part. No real control of my life anymore.

The time inside caused me to be more of a loner. I no longer look for happiness in others or our relationships. I’m fine with just me by myself. I also don’t take life for granted anymore. Time is precious and I value it and the things I do greatly.

Most importantly I came to know the Lord Jesus personally while in prison. I’d heard and read about Him but through reading God’s Word and praying and watching Him work in and around me, I came to know without a doubt that He is real and that He loves me. Now my outlook on life is different in that I believe that whatever transpires is what the Lord would have me to experience. Instead of worrying when I can’t understand what He’s doing I now look for a lesson, something to learn that will grow my relationship with Him from the experience. I believe that everything happens for a reason.


I knew that clemency was possible, but I’d been let down so many times in the past that I didn’t expect it to really happen for me.

On March 31, 2015, President Obama had commuted my sentence. Hearing that news was surreal. I thought I was dreaming. It took many hours into the night for it to sink in that I was finally going to be released. I hardly slept for a few days due to excitement.

The ability to go and do as I please and when I please can’t be fully explained. Freedom brings about a peace of mind that only someone who has had it taken away from them but then regains it could understand.

Now that I’m free, I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunity I’ve been given. I’m working to start my own business that the Lord willing will not only sustain my family financially, but also give employment opportunities to people with experiences similar to mine who are trying to rebuild their lives.

But there are still challenges to freedom. Remembering that there are countless others still in prison who are as deserving as I was of a second chance, but that the opportunity for the type of relief that I received no longer exists is difficult.

Christ is truly the head of my life now. Some people just say it but one of my regular prayers is that I’m forever conscious of His presence. That awareness is the compass that keeps me on the straight path in life and I am truly optimistic as to what He holds for me in the future.

Thank you President Obama for giving me a second chance at life. I promise you that I won’t squander the unique opportunity that I’ve been given. May the Lord’s blessings be upon you and your family always.

Donel Marcus Clark

Edited by Jon Perri | Follow on Twitter: @_jonperri 
Photos by Brenton Gieser | Follow on Instagram: @brentongieser