WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) today released a new episode of his "Lift Every Voice" podcast featuring a conversation with his State of the Union guest, Edward Douglas, and Douglas' daughter, Shanice. Douglas was sentenced to life in prison in 2003 for a nonviolent, low-level drug crime. He is one of more than 2,000 prisoners eligible for release now thanks to much-needed fixes included in a sweeping criminal justice overhaul that was signed into law in late December.
Edward was released from prison on January 10 and spoke with Senator Booker about his experience while he was in Washington, D.C. last week as Booker's guest for the State of the Union address.
"Three and a half weeks ago I had a life sentence," Edward says in the episode. "That was a death penalty. And just look at me now. I'm out here with Cory Booker, with my baby -- with everybody ... it's amazing ... [it's] liberating now, to be out, to help my daughters, help my grandkids.
"This is the First Step Act and I'm hoping we get to the Second Step Act, because there are other guys in [prison] -- and women -- that need help like I was helped," Edward added.
"Itâ??s amazing that a month ago you were incarcerated, and now you are in the Capitol of the United States of America," Booker says in the episode. "You inspire me to keep working because I know there are people behind bars that donâ??t belong there, I know there's human talent and human worth behind those bars whose dignity is not being affirmed ... you are a living testimony, your story is a story to the brokenness to this system and I'm grateful to you."
Booker launched the Lift Every Voice podcast last year, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as a way to shine a light on overlooked issues of injustice and inequality and share inspiring stories of change. The podcast features an exclusive recording of the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" performed by the choir at Booker's church in Newark, the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
The criminal justice overhaul, called the First Step Act, made retroactive a 2010 law which reduced the egregious sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine -- disparities that overwhelmingly and disproportionately affected African-Americans. It also eliminated the life sentence penalty for "three strikes" offenders and gave judges greater discretion to circumvent mandatory minimum sentences when warranted.
Booker was a key architect of the landmark bill, which passed the Senate on December 18 and was signed into law on December 21. He was instrumental in adding key sentencing provisions to the package after opposing the House-passed version of the First Step Act first released in May 2018.
In addition to the sentencing provisions included in the final bill, Booker also successfully fought to include provisions that effectively eliminated the solitary confinement of juveniles in federal supervision and the shackling of pregnant inmates. The bill also includes provisions that require healthcare products be provided to incarcerated women, another Booker priority.
Driven by his experience living and working in Newark and serving on its city council and as its mayor, Booker has made reforming our broken criminal justice system a key legislative priority during his time in the Senate. Over the past five years, Booker has introduced numerous criminal justice reform proposals, including: the REDEEM Act, the CARERS Act, the PRIDE Act, the MERCY Act, the Fair Chance Act, the Equal Justice Under Law Act, the Gideon Act, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act, and the Marijuana Justice Act.