Reynolds Wintersmith wasn’t supposed to be here. Not in front of the White House, or in the halls of the Justice Department, or meeting with reporters and congressional staffers in a crowded room of an office building on Capitol Hill.
More than two decades ago, when he was still a teenager, Wintersmith was arrested for selling crack. Although it was his first conviction, he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
But his sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in December. And this week he and several other former inmates were in the nation’s capital to convince lawmakers to do away with the harsh sentencing laws that put them away for so long.
On Tuesday morning, at the congressional briefing sponsored by the organizations Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the American Civil Liberties Union, they took turns recounting what it felt like to learn that their sentences had been commuted.
“I was cool, I was calm,” said Wintersmith, who has been a free man for barely a month, “but I was jumping up and down on the inside.”
“It was surreal,” said Serena Nunn, who received a 16-year federal sentence for her involvement in a drug conspiracy. She was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2000, after spending 11 years in prison.
“I can’t even begin to describe the indescribable,” said Peter Ninemire, who served 10 years of a prison sentence of more than 24 years for growing marijuana before Clinton pardoned him in 2001. “I still today can’t believe I’m living the dream that I was afraid to dream.”