With Kim Kardashian’s help, Alice Marie Johnson, a nonviolent drug offender, was able to return to her family after 21 years in jail.
Since Johnson’s release in June 2018, the bond between the two women has only grown stronger. Now, the beauty mogul has written the foreword to Johnson’s moving memoir, After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom, out Tuesday, and PEOPLE has the exclusive first look. (Read the excerpt below.)
“You have helped me find an incredible new sense of purpose, and I am so grateful for that,” Kardashian West, 38, said of the 63-year-old great-grandmother, according to the book’s press release. “You have helped create change that will impact others, and have inspired and encouraged me to continue on my journey to do the same.”
Kardashian West, who is studying to become a lawyer, felt immediate sympathy when she learned about Johnson’s story. In 1996, Johnson was given a life sentence for a first-time nonviolent drug offense after she helped facilitate communications in a drug trafficking case. Once Kardashian West heard about her story, she successfully petitioned President Donald Trump for clemency and Johnson was pardoned and released from a federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, where she had been serving her sentence for more than 20 years.
In After Life, the single mother delves into the tragedy and difficulties she faced that led her to crime. Johnson, an ordained minister, also reveals how her faith kept her hopeful — even after she was told that she would remain in prison until she died. Now, Johnson is using her platform to advocate for prison reform and social justice.
Before news of her release was announced, Johnson opened up about what Kardashian West’s help has meant to her in an essay for CNN, writing, “Some refer to prison as a place where hope dies. Some days I’ve found that to be almost right. Each time that I’ve come close [to giving up], God has restored my faith.”
She added, “So when the unlikely voices of Kim Kardashian West and Jared Kushner came together to shine a spotlight on my case, I could only thank God, for he works in mysterious ways.”
Continue reading for the full foreword of After Life by Kardashian West.
“This is so unfair.”
On the evening on October 25, 2017, I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across a video that changed my life. Someone I follow had retweeted a video telling the story of Alice Marie Johnson. I had never heard Alice’s name before that day, but the heading caught my attention. A sixty-two-year-old great- grandmother had been in prison for twenty-one years for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. How is that possible?
I watched as Miss Alice told the story of how her desperation, after losing her job and struggling to put food on the table for her children, led her to make a bad decision that resulted in her being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. My immediate reaction was to tweet how I felt. This is so unfair.
“The real Miss Alice is a woman who has made a mistake.” I felt completely heartbroken for Alice. I could see how much she loved her family, and how much pain and loss she had experienced being away from them for so long. I couldn’t imagine being without mine. But there was something about her outlook that inspired me. The way she talked about love, hope, and regret. Alice had this incredible pride in having been able to mentor women in prison to help them cope with doing their time behind bars. I knew I had to help her get out from behind hers.
That night I couldn’t stop thinking about Alice. Her story haunted me. Imagine spending two decades in a prison cell, away from family and friends, watching life pass you by out of a win- dow that never opens. Knowing that no matter how much you accomplish on the inside, or how well you behave, you’re never getting out. That was Alice’s life. She had missed the birth of her grandkids and her parents had both passed away while she was in prison. Life was beginning and ending as she sat behind bars because of one terrible mistake.
For years I’ve had a fascination with true crime. I’ve seen every crime documentary out there. Making a Murderer, The Staircase, The Jinx, you name it, I’ve seen it. But nothing had impacted me as much as that four-minute-long video about Miss Alice. I was feeling angry about her situation, sad about the life that was taken away from her, and disappointed in our justice system. I decided to reach out to my friend Shawn Holley, who had worked on the OJ case with my dad back in 1995. I had an odd obsession with true crime but I had no real experience with the legal system and no idea if there was anything I could do to help Alice, but I just knew I had to try. I texted Shawn that night to learn more about Alice’s situation and what could be done. I wanted to understand our options. Shawn quickly found Alice’s attorney and started to form a relationship.
I then decided to reach out to Ivanka Trump. I had known Ivanka and her family for years and I felt that Ivanka would have compassion, as a woman and as a mom, and would understand how important this was. Ivanka listened to everything I had to say and felt the same way I did. She connected me with her husband, Jared Kushner, who was passionate about criminal justice reform and believed in Alice’s case.
There was only one way to get Alice out of prison. She had to be granted clemency, which meant I had to go directly to the only person who has the power to grant Alice the second chance she deserved: the president. And I had to be prepared. It took about six months to get all of Alice’s files together and we waited patiently to be given a date when we could visit the White House to meet with President Trump and tell Alice’s story. When we finally got a date, it ended up being rescheduled, and the new date fell on Alice’s birthday. I felt like this had to be a good sign. This was Alice’s day; she was all that mattered and I wasn’t going to let her down.
The day arrived, and as we sat in the Oval Office with the president and told him Alice’s story, I felt empowered by the atmosphere in this room. It’s an amazing feeling to sit in a place that has so much history, where momentous decisions are made that impact an entire nation. If it’s possible to feel both overwhelmed and serene at the same time, that’s how I felt. An overwhelming sense of serenity, I guess you could say. I was exactly where I was meant to be, in that place, at that time. I left the White House feeling happy and hopeful.
I wasn’t told how long it would take before as decision would be made, just that I would get a call from the president when the time came. About a week later I was at a photoshoot in New York when I got the call. I held my breath as President Trump told me his decision. He was granting her clemency. Miss Alice was going home.
But the best moment was yet to come. I got on a call right away with the attorneys and they called the prison to connect Alice to the call. I assumed that Alice’s attorneys had given her the good news before I joined the call, but when she picked up the phone I could tell by the sound of her voice that she didn’t know yet. Twenty-one years, and I wasn’t going to let her spend another second in that cell. “We did it, Alice. You’re out.” On the other end, I heard Alice scream. The sound of joy, amazement, relief, hope, grace, all at once. That moment will forever be one of my favorite memories.
Alice’s story has inspired me more than I ever thought possible. Too often we are discouraged because we think something will be too challenging, or that an idea is too crazy, or the chance of success too rare. Miss Alice found herself in a position where most of us would have felt completely hopeless. But in spite of it all, she stayed positive, used her time to support others, and most important, never gave up hope. I took that with me throughout my journey to free Alice, and I take that with me every day, with everything I do.
Thank you, Miss Alice, my dear friend, my inspiration, my family. You have helped me find an incredible new sense of purpose, and I am so grateful for that. You have helped create change that will impact others, and have inspired and encouraged me to continue on my journey to do the same.
Excerpted from After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom by Alice Marie Johnson. Copyright © 2019 by Alice Marie Johnson. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.