Alice Marie Johnson, the 63-year-old great-grandmother whose life sentence for a drug conviction was commuted by President Donald Trump, said Thursday that her release from prison was a "miracle" and that she will use her new freedom to help other people like her.
“I want to take this chance to try to magnify what has happened with me, so that people will remember there are people just like me who are first-time nonviolent offenders who pose no safety risk to their communities,” Johnson told "Today" — a day after being released from prison.
“I can't just walk away and forget about those who have been left behind,” she said.
Johnson had been in federal lockup for more than 21 years after being found guilty in connection to a drug trafficking conspiracy, and she would likely have died behind bars without the president's clemency. She was one of the thousands of Americans serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses, according to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, the vast majority of whom are there on drug crimes.
She told MSNBC later Thursday that she did not disagree with her conviction, only the length of her sentence.
"I believe that I deserved some time, I really do. But I also believe that that time should be just and fair based on the crime. You can't tell me that a non-violent, first-time offender should have been given a life without parole sentence," she said.
"Do you really think I deserved the same prison time as the Unabomber? I don't think so," she added.
Her remarks were some of her first since leaving the Federal Correctional Institution Aliceville, in Alabama, on Wednesday after Trump commuted the remainder of her sentence.
Video from NBC affiliate WVTM of Birmingham showed Johnson throwing her arms wide to embrace family after leaving the facility.
On Thursday, she described the “moment of shock” she felt seeing her family.
“I knew I’d walked out of the door,” she said. “To see them, my heart was leaping.”
“We are going to appreciate every single moment we have,” she added. “Sometimes we take family and life for granted, I’ll never do that again”
Trump commuted Johnson’s life sentence on Wednesday, just days after reality star Kim Kardashian West personally lobbied the president in an Oval Office meeting to intervene on her behalf.
Johnson called Kardashian West’s intervention a “miracle.”
“Only God could have touched Kim K’s heart like that,” Johnson said. "She said she felt a connection when she saw and heard my story."
"I'm just so thankful for it," she said. "It's a miracle."
Meanwhile, the Justice Department's Office of Pardon attorney recommended against clemency for Johnson three times during the Obama administration.