Mobile man, pardoned by President Obama, speaks at area high school

MOBILE, Ala.(WALA)- A Mobile man who received three life sentences for a federal crack cocaine conviction in 1993, is working to reclaim his life after his release this month.

Clarence Aaron spoke to family and friends gathered at Leflore High School Saturday.

The 43-year-old was greeted by hugs and applause from family and others.

Aaron graduated from the school in the 80’s. He was attending college in Louisiana when he was arrested for his role in a federal drug case.

“Everyday I’d wake up and I’d work towards this day here,” Aaron said.

Aaron’s co-defendants got reduced sentences after they told authorities Aaron was the one responsible for the drugs.
But, what Aaron had done was introduce his friends in Alabama with friends in Louisiana. It cost him half of his life behind bars.

“The sentence don’t define who the person is. Over a course of time being consistent that shows who you are as a man or a female,” he said.

President Obama pardoned Aaron’s sentence in December 2013. His official release date was April 17.

Aaron was emotional as he thanked all those who helped to work for his release. One person who was there to greet him knows more about what he’s been through than anyone, because she’s experienced it too.
Dorothy Gaines was pardoned from a 20 year sentence by President Clinton in 2000.

“I left a 9 year old son a 11 year old daughter and a 19 year old daughter I was gone for 7 years, and when I came back their whole life was turned up, and they had not gotten over that yet,” Gaines said.

Aaron is back in his old school with old classmates for the first time in more than two decades. He said he’s ready to move on with his life.

Aaron said he hopes he can help others.

“I want to work with the kids, because I feel an age group between 18 and 26 years old that’s the most impressionable years in our lives. I caught my case when I was 23 years old. I think we need more mentors, more fathers in the home,” he said.

When President Obama commuted Aaron’s sentence, along with eight others, he pointed out what he called unfair sentencing guidelines.

Typically, crack cocaine convictions earn much higher sentences than convictions involving powder cocaine.

Supporters of the current standard point out the highly addictive nature of crack. Critics see the guidelines as a deliberate effort, to wage harsher punishments on minorities and the poor.

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