• A Woman's Worth

Nerika Jenkins Interview with The Washington Post

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

Coming Home After A Reduced Sentence

Those Released Since Disparities in Cocaine Penalties Were Offset Find a Different World

By Darryl Fears, Washington Post Staff Writer

Days after her release from prison, Nerika Jenkins made a bold prediction: "I'll bounce right back into society."

Although the world changed considerably over the 11 years of her imprisonment, she said, "I'm not afraid." She took vocational classes -- masonry, carpentry, painting, culinary arts, Microsoft Excel and horticulture -- while serving time in Philadelphia and Danbury, Conn. "I'm just ready to achieve my short-term goal, building a nursing home," she said. "They're always in need of places for the elderly."I went to trial, and they gave me 230 months, 19 years," said Jenkins, a first-time offender. When her anger subsided, she vowed not to languish in prison, and she took courses.

When the sentencing commission decided to make the new guidelines retroactive so that convicts in prison could take advantage, Jenkins and her mother, Ira Lee Johnson, filed a motion to reduce her jail time.

"I became aware of it in January," she said. The next month, a judge in Virginia, where the case originated, sent her a letter informing her that she was eligible for immediate release. Prosecutors were given a week to respond, and they did, objecting to a reduction. The judge overruled them.

More than 7,000 crack cocaine offenders such as Jenkins, 36, have received reduced sentences since March, when the U.S. Sentencing Commission put retroactive sentences guidelines into effect to offset what the commission felt was overly harsh punishments for crack cocaine related crimes, and it is an open question whether they will succeed or return to a life behind bars.

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