'I never gave up hope': Freed Memphis grandmother enjoying life out of prison

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A Memphis grandmother woke up outside of prison Thursday for the first time in 21 years.

Alice Johnson was convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts related to a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation involving more than a dozen people.

Thursday morning was unlike any she's experienced in the 21st century.

"It has been surreal. It has been so wonderful," Johnson said.

She gave several interviews Thursday, after having her hair and makeup done. She was on every major network across the United States telling her story.

"I never gave up hope that one day, I would get out," Johnson said.

Johnson said she has President Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian, her "angel," to thank for her freedom.

"When [Kardashian and I] started communicating by phone, I was blown away again because she really has a genuinely sweet heart, and she assured me on more than one occasion that no matter what happened with this pursuit of clemency that she was not going to give up on me," Johnson said.

Kardashian visited the White House in May to meet with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, who is overseeing the administration's push to overhaul the nation's prison system.

She also met with Trump in the Oval Office.

"I heard Kim Kardashian's voice and she was the one who told me that I was free, that it had happened and I was going to rejoin my family," Johnson said.

A lot has changed since Johnson was sent to prison.

"I've been watching everyone walking around with a telephone, texting and on Twitter. When I went to prison, there was no Twitter, there was no Facebook, so I want a phone," Johnson said.

After she gets that phone, she plans to begin advocating for prison reform across the United States.

Prison reform advocates in Memphis say they're happy Johnson is free, but warn that her case is the exception, not the rule.

"It's not criminal justice reform. It's a function of celebrity and really bad politics," Josh Spickler of Just City said.

Spickler said Trump's decision to grant clemency to Johnson goes against the very policies the president has advocated and promoted. Trump has taken a hard line on "law and order" and called for drug offenders to be killed.

Still, Spickler said he's holding out hope that Johnson's case can shed light on the real problems with the criminal justice system.

"Hopefully it will show the country and this community that these sentences are not the answer. Accountability is important and holding people accountable when they break the law is always something that we should do, but two decades, three decades, a life sentence for a  first offense – is pointless and it's a waste of money," Spickler said.

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