Faces of the American Freedom Initiative’s National Pardon Project: Evelyn Bozon Pappa

FreedomWorks recently announced the launch of the American Freedom Initiative (AFI), a collaboration headed by former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker. This project aims to help relieve injustices committed against Americans under the criminal justice system and the regulatory state. As part of this project, we will shine a spotlight on some of the individuals the AFI has identified under its National Pardon Project as being particularly hard hit by unjustly harsh criminal sentences for non-violent crimes.

This week’s spotlight is on Evelyn Bozon Pappa, a 59-year old, Colombian native, mother of four who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. For her role in this conspiracy, Pappa was sentenced to eight life sentences, of which she has served about 25 years. There are several important considerations that merit Pappa’s commutation.

The first, and most important factor that was not considered at the time of Evelyn’s trial, but would be considered now if she were being sentenced today, is the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, Romero; the organizer of the conspiracy. Evelyn’s story of abuse began when she was molested at age 11, and then forced to marry Romero at age 14. Living in a male-dominated culture, Evelyn was totally subject to Romero’s will, regularly being physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by her husband.

Furthermore, Romero was, as prosecutors admitted, the organizer of the criminal conspiracy. When the Pappas learned of the indictments against them, Evelyn immediately turned herself in. Romero, on the other hand, immediately fled to Colombia. To make matters worse, since prosecutors really wanted Romero, they attempted to use Evelyn as bait, bargaining her release for his capture. Romero refused this deal, leaving Evelyn to face federal prosecution alone. In some sense, the severity of Evelyn’s sentence is a reflection of the frustration of prosecutors at their inability to capture Romero.

In spite of all the horrific things that Evelyn Pappa has had to endure, she has maintained hope. Though her current sentence means she will die behind bars, she continues to be a productive member of the prison population. She spends significant time working in the chapel, translating sermons from English to Spanish, and teaching faith-based societal reentry classes. She also assisted the chaplain in compiling curriculum for faith-based reentry classes. Clearly, Pappa is not the sort of vicious criminal deserving to die behind bars.

The final consideration in Pappa’s case is that she would be immediately deported to Colombia upon commutation. This presents a win-win scenario for those who have traditionally been fearful of releasing convicted criminals. Pappa’s citizenship status means that even if she did present some danger to the public, which she doesn’t, it would be impossible for her to endanger Americans. More importantly, Since Pappa’s four children and 95-year old mother live in Columbia, she would prefer to return to her home country anyway.

Evelyn Pappa is a prime example of the insane jurisprudence that the drug war has brought to our country. Depriving people like her of their liberty, and using American tax dollars to do so, without taking the mitigating factors into consideration is atrocious, and we should work to reconsider such sentences. Keeping Pappa in federal lockup until her death does nothing to protect the public. More importantly, the sentence she received simply isn’t warranted by her involvement in a conspiracy organized by her horribly abusive husband. As such, the Trump administration should immediately consider Evelyn Pappa for sentence commutation.