Watch “CNN Tonight” at 10 p.m. ET Thursday for Van Jones’ exclusive interview with Kim Kardashian West on her reaction to President Donald Trump’s commutation of Alice Marie Johnson.
Alice Marie Johnson’s life changed on Wednesday – and she has US President Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian West to thank.
And thank them she did as soon as she left an Alabama prison after 21 years behind bars.
“I feel like my life is starting over again,” an emotional Johnson told reporters outside the prison in Aliceville.
Trump commuted the first-time nonviolent drug offender’s life sentence on Wednesday, one week after Kardashian pleaded her case in an Oval Office meeting with the President.
Johnson admitted that she didn’t know much about Kardashian before the starlet became involved in her case. But, over time, they formed a bond, and Kardashian was the one to break the clemency news to Johnson in a phone call with her lawyers.
“I started screaming, and crying and jumping. I think I lost it for a moment,” Johnson recalled.
“I want to tell Kim, my angel, that you never gave up on me. You never gave up your fight. You were relentless and it has paid off beautifully for me and my family on this day.”
As for Trump, she said she wants him to know that she won’t let him down.
“I am going to make you proud that you gave me this second chance in life. And I will not disappoint the American public or the world that has so much faith in me,” Johnson told CNN.
“It means that someone finally saw me, someone finally heard me, someone had mercy on me – and that was President Trump, and so I’m so thankful for him and what he’s done.”
‘It’s time to go home’
The 63-year-old grandmother was convicted in 1996 of conspiracy to possess cocaine and attempted possession of cocaine. She was sentenced to life in prison.
Her daughter, Catina Scales, said she was seven months pregnant when her mother went to prison. Now, her own daughter is seven months pregnant, and she can’t wait to meet her grandmother.
“There’s a lot of family that want to see her. She’s been gone for so long,” she said. “We plan to go back to Memphis. We are going to go home!”
Scales said she learned about her mother’s grant of clemency at the same time as the public. Then, she received a phone call from her mother.
“My conversation with my mom consisted of this: ‘Come and get me. It’s time to go home!’” Scales told CNN in a phone call on her way to pick up her mother.
Tretessa Johnson, Scales’ sister, said she always thought she’d greet her mother the moment she walked out of prison. But the news came so fast she could not make it in time.
“I always had hope she’d be released, but I didn’t know that today when I woke up this morning today was the day,” she said.
President Barack Obama did not intervene in the case during his eight years in office because the Justice Department recommended denying Johnson’s request for a commutation. Three requests were made – one during his first term, two during his second – but they never reached Obama’s desk because he followed Justice Department recommendations, a senior Obama administration official told CNN.
Johnson admitted there were moments when she nearly lost hope, including one of the times when she lost her bid for clemency.
“That was a pretty rough day for me. But my daughter tells me I remind her of a phoenix,” she said. “I guess in order to be a phoenix I had to rise above the ashes.”
First meal already planned
Cameras captured Johnson’s reunion with family members after a van transported her outside the prison. As soon as she stepped out of the van, she ran toward waiting family members who greeted her with hugs, flowers and tears.
It’s the happiest day of her life – but it’s overwhelming, she told CNN.
“I have not been in a car without handcuffs in almost 22 years,” she said. “I am loving looking at just trees, look at the cars and looking at birds and not looking at all these things through prison bars. This is so wonderful to me.
She has a job lined up and she hopes to become involved in the criminal justice system.
Otherwise, she said she knows one thing for certain: Her first meal will be at Red Lobster. She’s been craving seafood for a long time.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to give the correct last name for Johnson’s daughter, Catina Scales.