Can Jared Kushner’s Clemency Task Force #FreeAdam Clausen?
When I ask her about it, she recalls an emotional rollercoaster. 16 years into her husband Adam’s 213-year federal sentence for a string of armed robberies — in which no one was physically harmed — the Supreme Court issued a decision in Johnson v. The United States that struck down a portion of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) and re-defined the term “violent felony.”
The same year, Adam’s petition for clemency made it to the White House. He had proved himself to be a model inmate — a clean disciplinary record, speaking engagements at national conferences, a passion for teaching health and wellness. Together the couple epitomized #couplegoals with vulnerable and honest discussions they posted online about the realities of incarceration. CAN-DO listed Adam as one of the “Top 25 Men Most Deserving Clemency.”
If Adam had been sentenced in-state, or were sentenced today, he would likely have completed his time years ago— The First Step Act, signed into law by President Trump in 2018, softened mandatory stacking requirements under 924(c), the federal statute that determined Adam’s Kafka-esque existence. But the legislation isn’t retroactive and so the sentences Adam received remain in place, stacked atop one another like dominoes until the effect is sufficiently surreal.
Ro Clausen is the founder of Strong Prison Wives & Families, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to helping people navigate a loved one’s bid. Her YouTube channel can be found two clicks down an anxiety-driven rabbit hole and one glass of rosé short of a DOC-inspired breakdown, which is exactly how I found her the night I learned of a friend’s incarceration.
Like me and my loved one, Ro and Adam are RWI (“Reunited While Incarcerated.”) This as opposed to MWI (“Met While Incarcerated”) or MBI (“Met Before Incarceration.”)
Of the myriad things women take away from Ro’s coaching: prison terminology 101. But also: how to accept accountability for your relationship, how to love a man without condoning the actions of his youth, how to recognize red flags. The tone of her videos is “do as I say, not as I do” — run for the hills, love, before you intertwine yourself for decades on end with a system designed to break you.
But if it’s too late?
“When you think about what a life sentence is, you’re effectively saying to that person, you have no value as a human being to ever return to society.” — Professor Marc Howard, GU Prisons & Justice Initiative
Nearly a year into my own journey supporting a loved one through his bid, I now have Ro’s YouTube videos on autopilot. I tune in to her channel when chopping vegetables or attempting the lasagna my LO is craving his first night home.
I ask myself which came first: the independent woman who fights the system or the overwhelming system that strengthened her?
I mean, the system clearly but… was she always this strong?
If you measure a year in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee, how do you measure 216?
Some women reject the label of “prison wife.” Ro owns it and redefines it and combats the stigma with a full-court press. There are times she seems invincible to me: life gave her chains and she made jewelry.
Then other times, I’m reminded Ro is a mere mortal with defense mechanisms on standby. She tells herself Adam will be out by X date, then Y, then at least by Z… so they might have children.
At some point, she stops counting.
Last week, my newsfeed was covered in clemency headlines — reports that Trump granted relief to Rod Blagojevich, Michael Milken and Bernard Kerik, but also people like Tynice Hall and Crystal Munoz. This followed by an article in the The Washington Post announcing Jared Kushner will spearhead a dedicated clemency taskforce.
Instinctively, I pulled up her Instagram.
How was she feeling?
There she is, sunk into an oversized couch in pyjamas, half-reading a headline on her laptop. The New York Times is listing clemency announcements by President Trump. She points to the paywall casually as if she were trying to access a “Modern Love” column or a recipe from Alison Roman.
“I can’t read it,” she says calmly.
But… if anyone has the list.