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Understanding the Injustice

Since receiving clemency from Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and becoming immediately eligible for release in 2012, Donald Clemons and Shawnda James have been unjustly and repeatedly denied their freedom by the Tennessee Board of Parole.


Don and Shawnda were just 16 and 14, respectively, when they committed their crimes. Addiction and abuse destabilized their lives at home. Governor Bredesen recognized the neuroscience: Don and Shawnda’s young age and traumatic home lives compromised their ability to make healthy choices.

However, since their convictions over 20 years ago, Don and Shawnda have grown into incredible adults. They have both participated in numerous vocational programs, earned educational degrees, taken on institutional leadership positions, and continue to demonstrate deep commitment to helping others in their journey of rehabilitation.

Governor Bredesen used these facts as the basis for their clemency in 2011. Since then, despite being assessed as low-risk individuals, Don and Shawnda have been denied release a collective seven times.

Don and Shawnda will not be up for parole for at least another year. However, as COVID-19 spreads through Tennessee’s prisons, it is imperative, now more than ever, that they be released. We call on Governor Bill Lee to commute their sentences to ensure their immediate release.


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