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Don's Story

* Edited and approved by Don Clemons
Early Childhood

Don Clemons had a difficult and unstable childhood. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother engaged in many self-destructive behaviors. He began drinking alcohol at age ten and was surrounded by people who were taking part in similarly harmful behaviors. This environment led Don to become associated with two adults who were using teenagers to commit crimes. In 1996, just a few days after turning 16, Don was a participant in a robbery that led to the death of a homeowner. Don was not a critical participant: he did not plan the crime, have a weapon, or drive the getaway car. He was also not present in the room at the time of the murder. Despite his minimal complicity, in 1998 he entered a plea agreement and pled guilty to second degree murder and aggravated robbery. Don has been treated as an adult throughout the entire process, even though he had just turned 16 at the time of his crime.

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Who Don is Today

Today, Don is a different man—he has confronted his past and understands the seriousness of his actions. He writes, “I am truly sorry for the pain, anger and frustration that my actions caused. The victim’s family, my family and the community as a whole have suffered life-altering experiences and that is something that I will always carry with me.” Don has searched and reflected on what caused himself to end up in prison and has spent time diligently addressing those errors in his thinking that he says “were so destructive to my early development”. Don is a changed man—in his own words, “I am determined to use this entire experience to help prevent others from making the mistakes I did. Prison has truly served its purpose to my life. And I’m ready to give back to the world I took from.” 

"I am ready to give back to the world I took from."

Don has completed his GED and taken coursework from multiple accredited universities. He has learned vocational skills in electrical wiring, cosmetology and commercial cleaning. He has also completed more than 20 rehabilitation programs. More importantly, however, he has dedicated his time to several organizations that assist others in their rehabilitation process. Mr. Clemons was anything but a passive member in these organizations: he led one program and even founded his own. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen recognized Don’s rehabilitation and desire to give back when he commuted his sentence in 2011 making him eligible for parole in 2012. Despite Don’s incredible transformation, the Board of Parole has denied Don’s release five times based on the seriousness of his offense.

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