When Rufus’ biological father died, it was Black who sat with him and prayed. When Black needed someone to vouch for his character as part of his petition for early release, it was Rufus who he turned to. And when Black received a pardon from Trump in 2019, the expectation was that he’d talk to the president — a man he knew and had done business with — in hopes of returning the favor.
But the pardon never came. Not after Rufus spoke to members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the spring about how the pandemic was ravaging prison populations; not after his case became featured in the Wall Street Journal; not after he built up a small following on Facebook Live in his efforts to gin up support for criminal justice reform; not after he became featured by leading conservatives (including former Attorney General Matt Whitiker) as a clear-cut case for clemency; and not on the night of Dec. 23, when Trump pardoned John Boultbee and Peter Atkinson, two financiers who had been convicted as part of the fraud scheme involving Black.
Top: Rufus Rochelle sits on the couch as he sifts through letters and articles that he has kept that he received while incarcerated at the Coleman Federal Prison. Bottom left: Rochelle holds up a letter written by his friend Dr. Ed Greene that was sent to President Joe Biden in 2002 when he was serving as a U.S. Senator. Bottom right: Rochelle shares a letter written to him by former President Barack Obama that he received while he was incarcerated at the Coleman Federal Prison. | A. Wallace for Politico Magazine
And so, Rufus, at the age of 69, sat there, the last night of Trump’s presidency, checking Facebook, hoping his pardon might finally come. Until, he realized, it hadn’t.
“I feel that certain things transpired,” Rufus said this past week. “My name was up there and I got passed over for ones that — you know as well as I know — some of them that got it, and I understand, I’m not upset or anything like that, I’m not mad, I just feel like most people feel that I should have received clemency based on the things I have done, being out here and advocating for others.”
By this point, I’d spoken to Rufus dozens of times over more than a year, both when he was inside prison and out. I’d first heard about his case when I went looking for a prisoner to profile early in the Trump years, when the presumption was that the then president would continue a tough-on-crime posture even on matters of pardons and commutations. I wanted to know if those waiting for a presidential intervention had given up hope. Rufus had most certainly not. He would email frequently and call regularly whenever he had the money to do so. He would always talk through the 15 minutes of allotted time, eager to walk me through the particulars of his case, his friendship with the guards, and the reasons why he knew — just knew — that his time was coming soon.
Rufus Rochelle shares one of his many Facebook posts. Rochelle said he posts photos of himself wearing a suit with an encouraging message in the caption as he tries to be a positive role model in the lives of young men. | A. Wallace for Politico Magazine
He was one of the most preternaturally positive human beings I’d ever encountered. But for the first time last week, I could detect a pang of sorrow in his voice.
“I’m doing everything that’s right,” he said, “even on the outside.”
Upon leaving office, Trump issued pardons and clemencies largely to politicians, white collar criminals, the well connected and the famous. His on-again, off-again adviser Steve Bannon received one. So too did his former top fundraiser Elliott Broidy. Albert J. Pirro, Jr., the ex-husband of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro got a pardon. So did rapper Lil Wayne, one of the few Black celebrities to endorse Trump; former congressman Duke Cunningham, who was convicted of almost comical levels of public corruption; and Ken Kurson, the friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was accused of cyberstalking.
The response was almost universally negative, with even Republicans calling it a grotesque abuse of presidential power. Lost in the condemnation, however, was discussion of the other byproduct of Trump’s actions. A swath of people that advocates say clearly deserve a presidential reprieve were now forced to wait weeks, months, or potentially years for Joe Biden or future presidents to give them consideration. The Department of Justice says more than 14,000 pardon and clemency requests were pending at the end of the last year. Trump had a chance to change their lives and, effectively, punted.
… Continue Reading at: www.politico.com [source]