Between working as an Associate Counsel at ORIX USA and leading Girls Embracing Mothers, the nonprofit she founded in 2010 for young girls whose mothers are in prison, Brittany Byrd somehow managed to volunteer her legal services for the past five years to one particular inmate whose case she found troubling. The result – a profound impact on a man’s life.
In 2010, Byrd was studying law at Southern Methodist University when she learned about Donel Marcus Clark, a first-time offender who was sentenced in 1993 to 35 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to distribute drugs and other charges. Regardless of his previously clean record and nonviolent behavior, the mandatory sentencing guidelines in effect determined his prison term and offered no hope for parole.
Taking on the case, Byrd filed a 200-page clemency petition with the U.S. Office of the Pardon Attorney in November 2013, knowing the chances of the application being granted were very low.
As of March 31, 2015, Byrd’s efforts were rewarded when President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 individuals, including Clark, out of more than 3,000 petitions currently on file. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department expanded its criteria for clemency, prioritizing defendants who would have likely been given a shorter prison term if they’d been sentenced today.
For Clark, this means he’ll be released several years early from the Seagoville Federal Corrections Institution on July 28 after serving over two decades in prison. As for Byrd? She currently has another clemency petition under review by the U.S. Office of the Pardon Attorney for Sharanda Jones – a first-time nonviolent offender serving her 15th year of a life sentence after being convicted of drug conspiracy under an outdated sentencing regime.
“I am elated at the news about Donel and hope the President continues to grant commutations to many others, like Sharanda Jones, who are more than deserving to be given a second chance and who, if sentenced under current laws and policies, would have already paid their debt to society,” said Byrd.
ORIX applauds Byrd’s efforts and is proud to have passionate and hard-working individuals like her as part of their team. “We encourage employees to take an active role in community service and giving back so their servant’s spirit can be shared, and they can positively impact the lives of others,” said Ron K. Barger, ORIX USA’s General Counsel.
Read more about Donel’s story in the Dallas Morning News.