Woman Serving Life On Non-Violent Drug Crime Hopeful Of Obama Clemency

By McCarton Ackerman 12/14/15

Ramona Brant was sentenced 20 years ago for a first-time drug offense.

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A mother-of-two who received a life sentence 20 years ago for a first-time drug charge is speaking out about her case, expressing hope that she’ll be included in Barack Obama’s next round of pardons for non-violent drug offenders that is expected before the end of the year.

Ramona Brant was charged in February 1995 with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. Prosecutors said she was part of a drug ring run by her boyfriend, Donald Barber, in Charlotte, N.C. She was offered a plea agreement if she could get information from Barber, but couldn’t get him to cooperate. She then turned down a plea deal offer in 1994 and tried her luck in court.

The drug ring sold $37 million worth of cocaine in its last five years, but Brant insists she wasn’t a dealer or directing the drug trade, only driving across the country with him to pick up drugs and delivering messages over the phone for him. She was also physically abused by Barber and miscarried their third child as a result. However, her public defender never presented police reports related to the abuse into evidence or called on family members to testify on her behalf.

After being found guilty in October 1994, she was sentenced the following February. Judge Richard L. Williams expressed remorse that sentencing guidelines didn’t give him a choice but to sentence her to life. He stated that he was “shocked by the severity of the sentence” and found it to be excessive.

“It appears to me that it would be counterproductive for society to keep you in prison for the rest of your life,” he said. “I think that after you learned your lesson, that you will come out and have the capability of being a useful citizen.” But after it was ruled three years later that her abuse should have been taken into account, Williams declined to give her a lesser sentence.

“How do you sentence someone to life in prison when the only violence in the whole case was against me?” said Brant from the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City, where she now resides. “The only people hurt were me and my children.” With Barber also receiving a life sentence, both of their children were raised by her mother.

But despite potentially never experiencing the free world again, Brant has been a model prisoner. She has not received a single disciplinary infraction in 20 years, got a certificate in business with legal application from Maris College, completed a 500-hour drug treatment program and leads a choir, among other extracurricular activities.

“If she doesn’t get it and doesn’t deserve it, I mean who does?” said Jason Cassel, who filed her clemency petition earlier this year. “How many people have received a life sentence and behaved as perfectly as she has?”

If she’s released, Brant wants to pursue a career in the theater world after spending much of her time behind bars writing and producing plays. But above all, she wants to be reunited with her family.

“I just hope [Obama] gives me the opportunity to go out into society and show them who I am today,” she said. “I have a voice that has been silenced for too long that is crying out to speak.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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