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From a First Arrest to a Life Sentence

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(Washington Post) – Sharanda Jones — prisoner 33177-077 — struggled to describe the moment in 1999 when a federal judge sentenced her to life in prison after her conviction on a single cocaine offense.

She was a first-time, nonviolent offender.

“I was numb,” Jones said in an interview at the Carswell women’s prison here. “I was thinking about my baby. I thought it can’t be real life in prison.”

Jones, who will turn 48 next week, is one of tens of thousands of inmates who received harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses during the crack-cocaine epidemic, and whose cases are drawing new attention.

President Obama is visiting a federal prison in Oklahoma Thursday to promote his plan to overhaul the criminal justice system, saying Wednesday, “this huge spike in incarcerations is also driven by nonviolent drug offenses where the sentencing is completely out of proportion with the crime.”

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