Clemency is a documentary about Charlie Lawuary, a 63-year-old man facing a life sentence in prison, and his fight for freedom through clemency. Thanks to President Obama’s 2014 clemency initiative, Charlie and thousands of other prisoners have five chances to have their petitions filed and sentences commuted. But after January of 2017, when Obama leaves office, the window of opportunity closes perhaps never to open again. Five shots documents the last five announcements of prisoner releases and the impact it has on lawyers, family members and Charlie, whose own life is at stake.
Role: Director, DP, Editor
Charlie has been incarcerated in Greenville Illinois State Penitentiary since June of 1998 on a drug possession conviction. Due to minimum sentencing laws, and poor representation, Charlie was forced to plead guilty to life without parole, despite the fact that he had no violent criminal history. Charlie shows complete remorse, and yet his sentence offers no room for appeal or commutation.
Tragic events catapulted Jeanne Bishop, Charlie’s attorney, to become a lawyer. Over a decade ago, a drug-addicted intruder murdered Bishop’s sister, husband and unborn child in their home. For years, Bishop harbored deep resentment for the man who committed the crime, but has since become an advocate for restorative justice and rehabilitation. Bishop works tirelessly on behalf of Charlie and others like him, who she believes have served more than enough time for their crimes.
Many of those incarcerated have lost touch with family, and lack stable homes and communities to support them upon release. Fortunately for Charlie, this is not the case. Charlie and his sister Mary talk by phone or email almost every day. She is hopeful about Charlie’s potential release, and has even made arrangements for where he will stay. Mary wonders how Charlie will adapt to life outside prison, and the difficulties of finding steady work.