Gov. Fallin hosts her com­mu­ta­tion re­cip­i­ents

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY DARLA SLIPKE Staff Writer [email protected]­la­homan.com

Dur­ing her first month of free­dom, Kayla Jef­fries has rel­ished sim­ple plea­sures like wak­ing up Christ­mas morn­ing with her two daugh­ters or tak­ing them to the park.

Since Gov. Mary Fallin com­muted her 20-year prison sen­tence, Jef­fries has been sa­vor­ing those mo­ments that she has missed for the last three years.

“There are no words to ex­plain how grate­ful I am for my free­dom and to be back with my chil­dren and to be a part of this en­tire process,” said Jef­fries, 26. “I feel very hon­ored and so thank­ful.”

Last week, as one of her fi­nal acts in of­fice, Fallin hosted a re­cep­tion at the Capi­tol for Jef­fries and oth­ers whose sen­tences she re­cently com­muted. Fallin said she wanted to meet them and of­fer words of en­cour­age­ment. One by one, she shook their hands and gave them a gover­nor’s coin, which she hopes will serve as a re­minder of the sec­ond chance they’ve been given in life.

“One of the things that was im­por­tant to me was not just to sign the paper for com­mu­ta­tion a month ago, but was to ac­tu­ally meet the ladies and the gen­tle­men, to be able to put a face with the name and to be able to speak to them one on one and ask how they’re do­ing and frankly just en­cour­age them and say, ‘A lot of peo­ple are be­liev­ing in you,’” Fallin said. “‘Be­lieve in your­self and keep go­ing and you can do this.’”

Last month, after re­ceiv­ing fa­vor­able rec­om­men­da­tions from the Ok­la­homa Par­don and Pa­role Board, Fallin com­muted the sen­tences of 29 non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers to time served, al­low­ing them to be re­leased im­me­di­ately. She com­muted the sen­tence of one in­di­vid­ual from 21 years to 10 years.

All of the com­mu­ta­tion re­cip­i­ents had been serv­ing 10 years or longer for drug pos­ses­sion and other non­vi­o­lent of­fenses that now carry lesser pun­ish­ments fol­low­ing re­cent leg­isla­tive or voter-ap­proved re­forms. Those re­forms in­clude State Ques­tion 780, which made cer­tain drug and prop­erty crimes mis­de­meanors in­stead of felonies but didn’t ap­ply retroac­tively.

The com­mu­ta­tion re­cip­i­ents were as­sisted through a cam­paign led by Ok­la­homans for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form, to­gether with the Tulsa County Pub­lic De­fender’s Of­fice, Univer­sity of Tulsa law stu­dents and other com­mu­nity part­ners. Those in­volved with the cam­paign praised Fallin for her lead­er­ship in grant­ing the com­mu­ta­tions.

“These 30 com­mu­ta­tions rep­re­sent about 700 years of elim­i­nated in­car­cer­a­tion in the state of Ok­la­homa,” said Kris Steele, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ok­la­homans for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form. “Gover­nor Fallin has saved the state of Ok­la­homa 700 years of in­car­cer­a­tion. … More im­por­tantly, she has put fam­i­lies back to­gether.”

Fallin legacy to in­clude crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form

After Fallin ap­proved the first wave of com­mu­ta­tions in early-De­cem­ber, Su­san Esco, a board mem­ber for Ok­la­homans for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form, said in a news re­lease that the gover­nor had “ce­mented her legacy as a strong con­ser­va­tive leader on crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form in Ok­la­homa.”

Fallin, who is fin­ish­ing her fi­nal week as gover­nor, signed 17 crim­i­nal jus­tice re­forms dur­ing her time in of­fice.

Steele said last week that 15 of the in­di­vid­u­als who were granted com­mu­ta­tion have re-en­tered the work­force. One re­cip­i­ent told Fallin she would start work Thurs­day, and an­other said she has an in­ter­view Mon­day, the gover­nor said.

Treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties, non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions and faith com­mu­ni­ties across the state have stepped up to pro­vide sup­port to the com­mu­ta­tion re­cip­i­ents as they tran­si­tion back into the com­mu­nity, Steele said.

Jef­fries, who earned acos­me­tol­ogy li­cense in prison, started work im­me­di­ately after she was re­leased, at a sa­lon in Grove.

Her daugh­ters, ages 6 and 2, don’t want any­one else to brush their hair now that their mom is home. The girls stay with her one night a week as they all ad­just. Jef­fries said her first month of free­dom has been a tran­si­tion process.

“The first cou­ple weeks, I was just want­ing to fly and want­ing to do too many things at once like spend as much time with fam­ily and my chil­dren as I could and it just felt like I was go­ing, go­ing, go­ing,” she said. “So that was kind of a chal­lenge for me, just find­ing that bal­ance of what’s best for me right now, what’s best for them right now and not try­ing to rush into things.”

[PHOTO BY SARAH PHIPPS, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Kayla Jef­fries talks to the me­dia Wed­nes­day at the Capi­tol fol­low­ing a re­cep­tion for re­cip­i­ents of sen­tence com­mu­ta­tion.

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