Clemency Cases

Over the course of forty years, Aleph has served as a lifeline for more than thirty-thousand people — the vast majority of whom are indigent — through dozens of programs including faith-based education, criminal justice reform, alternative sentencing, prisoner advocacy, rehabilitation, reentry assistance, financial support and family services. All of Aleph’s services are provided pro-bono to people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and faiths.

We are very proud of our clemency work — much of which was done in collaboration with partnering organizations that reflect the diversity of the men and women of this country. Thank G-d, we were able to assist in providing a new lease on life for so many shattered families.

It is demonstrably false that contributions play any role in Aleph’s work, including clemency. In compliance with Aleph’s no-donation policy for advocacy, numerous donations have been declined or refunded, over the years. 

An internal audit revealed that of all the Aleph clemency program participants–most of whom are women, indigent and non-Jewish–in only a single case did the father of an individual contribute to Aleph. The team involved in deciding candidacy for our clemency program had no knowledge of the support, which amounted to less than a half of a percent of our budget, and which ended well before that decision about clemency was made.

When looking beyond participants in Aleph’s clemency program, of all presidential clemency recipients we found that a reference letter was provided by an Aleph team member, with our education department, for two individuals whom he knew. Their combined contribution totaled a fraction of a percent of Aleph’s budget.

Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, 

Founder and Chairman, The Aleph Institute

Aleph’s Clemency Program

Our clemency work, like all of our programs, serves individuals of all backgrounds and faiths. We have provided both direct advocacy and case stewardship for cases, and we have also assisted other NGOs in this space on the behalf of their clients, serving tens of people from all religious affiliations and beliefs. Our work is grounded in humanitarian principles and is open to all, guided by a core belief that all people are created equal and that we are all made in the image of Our Creator.

We thank G-d for the miracles of hope and a new lease on life brought to many souls. We are  proud to share a  selection of cases that the Aleph team helped champion, in numerous cases in collaboration with like-minded advocacy and justice reform groups:

Daniella Gozes-Wagner

Daniella is a 37-year old single mother of two who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for her subordinate role as an employee in a healthcare company, later charged with fraud. It is worth noting that she was offered a plea deal, with a five year maximum – which she did not accept as she could not fathom being separated from her children; this was her first offense ever and the prosecutors even acknowledged that she may have not even known about the fraudulent billing by her bosses for the first year or two of her five year employment there. Unlike her bosses, who made millions and all received sentences of six years or less, she was paid approximately a total of $378,000 during the five year period.  Incredibly, the judge – on the record – stated that because she went to trial, a 20-year sentence was justified. Her children, now 17 and 14, who were separated due to their mother’s incarceration, have finally reunited as a family again. Daniela is a single mother who was just trying her best to care for her two children and we are proud to have helped bring this family back together.

Chalana McFarland

Chalana is a first-time offender of a non-violent crime who received a sentence of imprisonment of 30 years, following a conviction on mortgage fraud charges in 2005. However, her criminal activity stood in sharp contrast to the rest of her life.  Chalana was raised in Georgia, earning a bachelor’s degree with honors from Florida A&M University and obtaining a law degree from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia.  In the late 1990s, Chalana became involved in a mortgage fraud scheme, and received the highest penalty of all her co-defendants who were indicted for the crime.  During her time in prison Chalana went through a significant transformation. She freely admits her guilt and is extremely remorseful for the past transgressions.  While in prison she co-founded a mentoring program to help others adjust to prison and prepare for release.  She served as an inmate arbitrator, suicide companion, newsletter co-editor, release preparation, and re-entry facilitator; and “Reading is FUNdamental” program tutor.   Chalana has expressed her remorse, and paid her debt to society.  We congratulate Chalana on her personal growth and are proud to have helped her return to society as a free woman.

Chris Young

Chris, now 32 years old, served more than 9 years of a life sentence for his minor role in a nonviolent drug-related crime.  Chris had a very traumatic childhood, and he turned to selling drugs.  Raised by his mother, who was addicted to drugs, Chris and his older brother spent much of their childhood shuffling between the homes of neighbors and other family members.  Adding immeasurable pain to his young life, when Chris was only 18, he came home to find his brother dead from an apparent suicide.  Under mandatory sentencing rules, former US District Court Judge Kevin H. Sharp had no choice but to sentence Chris to life.  In supporting Chris’s clemency, Judge Sharp explains “My hope after sentencing Chris was that somebody with more power than me could fix this injustice.  That someone is you, Mr. President.”  Chris’s case was worked in partnership with Brittany Barnett, Co-Founder of Buried Alive. We are grateful to have been a partner in giving this young man the chance for a new life.

Blanca Virgen

A 51 year old mom, who served 12 years of a 30 year sentence for a first time nonviolent drug offense – connected to her husband’s drug activities. She turned down a 10 year plea deal because she was unable to fathom not being there for her 4 minor children (the youngest was 2 at the time). Throughout her 12 years in prison, she was a model inmate with an exemplary prison record and took extensive educational courses. Her commutation allows her to return from her native Mexico to reunite with family. We are proud to have worked closely with her clemency lawyer JaneAnne Murray, University of Minnesota Law School Clemency Project in advocating for her release with the Trump administration and are overjoyed that Blanca will now be able to return to her children and become a contributing member to society as a free woman.

Noah Kleinman

Noah is a 45-year-old nonviolent first-time offender who is also now tragically the sole surviving parent of two young children (now 13 and 10) as his partner, their mother, died nine months after his incarceration began from an aggressive strain of cancer that was diagnosed only after he was incarcerated. In his youth, Noah was subject to vicious physical and emotional attacks, and he turned to marijuana to cope with the trauma. He was convicted of distributing marijuana and was sentenced to a stunning term of 17 years and 7 months, of which he served 6 years — without a single infraction. We share in the joy that Noah and his family feel, now reunited and rebuilding after many years apart and are proud of the commutation of Noah’s sentence in light of his own rehabilitation and the changing laws around marijuana legalization.

Sydney Navarro

Sydney had a very challenging childhood and teenage years. As a young adult she was sentenced on drug sale charges for 27 years. She fully transformed herself while in prison and has taken classes, worked jobs in electric and recreation areas, taught many of the sports classes, and was in a SHARE program for 2 years talking to children in risky situations.  During her time in custody she had also been in therapy and healed from a lot of her trauma and she obtained her GED.  Sydney’s sentence would have been considerably lower if she were charged of the same offenses today. We are proud to have worked closely with her clemency lawyer JaneAnne Murray, University of Minnesota Law School Clemency Project in advocating for her release with the Trump administration and are glad Sydney will be able to reunite with her family.

Craig Cesal

In 2003, Craig was sentenced to a life sentence without parole for a first-time offense: conspiracy to distribute marijuana. A single dad of two, Craig owned a truck-repair body shop that repaired, among other things, refrigerated trucks used to haul drugs. He never received any direct revenue from the marijuana. Since he didn’t take a plea bargain, he went to trial and was held responsible for everything the smugglers had done. During his time in prison, Craig earned certification as a paralegal and had an exemplary disciplinary record, and he spent years trying to get his sentence reduced. He was fortunate enough to obtain pro bono assistance from an international law firm which brought his case to the Supreme Court. Aleph got involved in his case and thank G-d he was granted freedom when President Trump commuted his sentence in January 2021, after he served almost 20 years in prison. Aleph is proud to have helped Craig return home and reunite with his children and 83-year-old mother. Since his release, Craig has dedicated his time to helping others in the justice system, through his work at the Last Prisoner Project and the Equitable Justice Network. “[Aleph] screened me not based on anything of my race or religion, [but] they measured me as a person, and they spent days speaking to me about that…” said Craig. “I am forever grateful, as is my family and everyone I know. Thank you.”

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