Gov. Fallin hosts her commutation recipients
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.”
Kayla Jeffries talks to the media Wednesday at the Capitol following a reception for recipients of sentence commutation.