The pen is a powerful animating force—capable of persuading a single person, or freeing thousands—in a new campaign from Last Prisoner Project, the nonprofit working to free those serving time for non-violent, cannabis-related crimes.
A new short-form docu-style spot, “The Pen to Right History,” shows Richeda Ashmeade using a pen to write a letter to President Biden about her father Richardo, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison on cannabis charges when Richeda was just 12. And Biden, of course, can free prisoners with his own signature by signing clemency orders.
The emotional piece was created by McCann New York.
Through its website, digital and social media, “The Pen to Right History” campaign invites those who have been similarly impacted by cannabis incarceration to share their stories and ask government officials to pardon non-violent cannabis convicts.
"Growing up in this country with a parent in prison makes it hard to grow up,” wrote Richeda Ashemeade. “But despite that, I did. I’m in law school. I’m an accomplished poet. I’m an advocate. Who I am today defies what statistics say I should be. But what does it mean when a child growing up to be educated, ambitious and empathetic is an act of defiance?”
While recreational and medicinal cannabis is becoming legalized throughout the U.S., tens of thousands of Americans remain incarcerated for convictions like Richardo’s. People of color are four times more likely to be imprisoned for these offenses.
“The vast majority of Americans support this initiative, and even as many states recognize the immorality of these sentences and de-criminalize cannabis possession, tens of thousands remain in prison,” said Sarah Gersten, executive director and general counsel at Last Prisoner Project. “Freeing them is not only a moral good that provides those unfairly incarcerated with a second chance and addresses the systemic racism that underpins many of these convictions, but it’s a practical win as well … it would reduce overcrowding in prisons and save taxpayer money.”
In October, Biden pardoned federal cannabis convictions, but many remain in prison on state convictions.