A former Long Island resident walked out of a federal detention facility early Tuesday after President Barack Obama commuted her life sentence for a 1995 drug conspiracy conviction.
Ramona Brant, 52, who grew up in Freeport, served 21 years in federal custody, mostly in Danbury, Connecticut, and recently at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, for the nonviolent offense she had committed in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A federal judge reluctantly sentenced her to life on Feb 2, 1995, because of mandatory sentencing guidelines at the time.
Around 6 a.m. Tuesday, she shrieked, “Oh my God,” and hugged and kissed her family waiting for her outside the detention center gates, including adult nieces and a sister living in Freeport.
“It’s surreal and I’m wondering is this real,” she said. “I’m waiting for somebody to say come back, where’re you going?”
She added: “I’m used to being touched and held as I walk ... so to be able to walk through the gate and be free, and not be handcuffed, it’s a great moment.”
Brant is one of 95 people whose drug sentences Obama commuted in December through his act of clemency.
“I want to thank him for thinking enough of us to see that there’s a system that’s been broken,” she said. “And that he had the power to fix it for a lot of us.”
The sentencing guidelines that dictated her life sentence are no longer mandatory and judges have more discretion, said her attorney Jason Cassel of Longview, Texas.
In 1995, Brant and her then-boyfriend, Donald Ray Barber, were given the maximum penalty — life in prison with no parole — for conspiring to move at least $37 million worth of crack and cocaine powder into Charlotte between 1988 and 1993, The Charlotte Observer reported then.
In a story about her on the California pro-clemency group CAN-DO’s website, Brant said: “I never thought that by traveling with my children’s father during his drug buys or answering the phone and conveying a message would land me in prison for the rest of my life.”
Cassel said Brant had been involved in an abusive relationship and had no prior criminal history.
He filed her petition for clemency on June 1 at the request of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered women. The quick response by the White House probably was a result of her circumstances at the time of her arrest.
“I’m just proud of her for fighting,” said her sister, Pandora Brant, 50, of Freeport. “We came a long way.”
Ramona Brant said she wants to be a voice for women in prison.
But first, Brant said, she wanted to go to IHOP, and then sit and gaze out the window as the family planned to drive her to Charlotte on by Tuesday night, where she will live in a halfway house until April 16.
Her sons, Charlotte residents Dwight Barber and DaJon Barber, were 4 and 3 when she was sentenced. She said the hardest adjustment will be seeing her children as adults, knowing that she missed chunks of their growing up.
She said her easiest adjustment will be not allowing “anyone to have ill feelings about my release to make me feel guilty for being free.”
“I think I deserve this opportunity to come back into society,” she said, “and show them that I can live out here and I can be productive in anything that I do.”