‘Obama Eight’ Adjust to Life After Life Sentences

President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 13, 2015. President Barack Obama is cutting the prison sentences of 46 convicts as part of a broader effort to make the criminal justice fairer and ease the punishment of those serving more time than their crimes warranted. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 13, 2015. President Barack Obama is cutting the prison sentences of 46 convicts as part of a broader effort to make the criminal justice fairer and ease the punishment of those serving more time than their crimes warranted.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (USA Today) — One is a high school counselor. Two or three work in restaurants. Some can’t find a job. Others have slipped into obscurity.

The Obama Eight, as they call themselves, don’t fit into easy categories, except for this: They were all convicted of drug crimes, and they were among the first to have their sentences commuted by President Obama.

And as Obama prepares to issue even more commutations in the last months of his presidency — part of an aggressive attempt to use his pardon power to shorten long drug sentences — many of them say they feel the weight of criminal justice reform on their shoulders. If any one of them returns to prison, it could taint the clemency initiative and make it harder for other deserving inmates to be released, they say.

They’ve become leading voices for leniency, especially for drug crimes. Last year, many of them came to Washington to lobby members of Congress and meet with Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff, the Justice Department official whose job it is to make clemency recommendations to the president.

After nearly three years without commuting a single sentence, Obama has now issued 89 commutations as president. It’s a record that still ranks as one of the “least merciful” in presidential history, said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who blogs about the president’s pardon power.

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