FROM FEDERAL PRISONER TO GEORGIA LAWYER: CLEMENCY RECIPIENT SERENA NUNN SHOWS THE VALUE OF SECOND CHANCES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

DATE: November 3, 2012

CONTACT: Monica Pratt Raffanel, media@famm.org

ATLANTA – When she was 19 years-old, Serena Nunn was arrested and later convicted as a minor participant in a drug conspiracy and received a 15-year federal mandatory minimum prison sentence, despite being a first-time, nonviolent offender.  In 2000, after serving 11 years behind bars, Serena’s sentence was commuted by President William J. Clinton and she was given a rare second chance at freedom. The governor of Minnesota, where Serena had been raised, and the sentencing judge, supported her petition. Serena was 31 when she walked out of prison with a dream of becoming a lawyer. Now on Monday, November 5, 2012, Serena Nunn will be sworn in to the Georgia State Bar and can finally begin practicing law. 

“I am so proud of what Serena has accomplished since receiving clemency,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM.  “She is proof-positive that people can change their lives when given another chance.  I know there are many more like Serena still in prison waiting for that chance to prove they are more than their worst mistake,” said Stewart.  “I urge President Obama to grant them clemency and let them shine as Serena has done.”

Serena has been tenacious in achieving her dream.  Four days after her release from prison, she enrolled at Arizona State University, where she earned a degree in political science. Nunn went on to the prestigious University of Michigan Law School, graduating in May 2006.  Just before she graduated, she received a handwritten note from President Clinton. "Congratulations on seeing your dream through to reality," Clinton wrote. "I'm proud of you and wish you well."  In the years that have followed, Serena worked at the public defender’s office in Washington, D.C. and moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 2008 to be closer to family. 

To finally achieve her dream of practicing law, Serena had to first prove her character and fitness to practice law to the Georgia State Bar.  The Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants, or the Fitness Board as it is commonly known, inquires into the character of every applicant and must approve them before they can apply to take the bar exam. After appearing before the board in November 2011, Serena was cleared to take the bar exam. In October, Serena passed the bar exam and she will be sworn in on Monday.

Sam Sheldon, a volunteer attorney who first read about Serena’s case in The Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1997 and later filed her successful federal commutation petition, will be in Atlanta on Monday to attend Serena’s swearing in.

A decade in prison taught Serena many invaluable lessons about life. She ultimately survived the mental tribulations by refusing to lose sight of her future, telling herself those early dreams of earning a college and law degree were not quashed, just postponed.  Says Serena, "I have always wanted to be a lawyer. I want to help people the way I was helped.”

As an attorney, Serena wants to mentor youth and young adults to ensure they do not make the same mistakes in life as she did. She also hopes that her achievements will inspire and encourage others who have traveled the same road. “I am hopeful that others who made bad decisions or poor choices like me will work hard and not give up so they too can realize their dreams,” says Serena. 

FAMM has been involved in federal commutations for a dozen years. After several stories in ProPublica by Dafna Linzer revealed racial bias and possible misconduct in the evaluation of pardons and commutations, FAMM called for an investigation into the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA). Ms. Stewart said, “This taxpayer-funded office has failed in its sole responsibility to help the president analyze requests for federal clemency. President Obama has promised to take direct his administration to take a close look at the office, and we encourage him to do so, and do it soon.”

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, fights for fair and proportionate federal and state sentencing laws that embrace judicial discretion while guarding public safety.  Please visit us at www.famm.org.

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FAMM is a national, nonprofit organization working for fair and proportionate sentencing laws.