TAFT, Okla. (KFOR) – Monday was an afternoon of emotional reunions as dozens of families greeted female inmates in Taft whose sentences were commutated along with a historic number of others across the state.
Governor Stitt joined other state officials and families at the Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center for the event.
He said 524 inmates had their sentences commutated Friday, and on Monday, most of those, about 460, walked out free.
The remaining inmates could not yet be released because they were being held on detainers.
It was a tearful moment for many of the women.
“Mind-boggling. It was, ah, gosh it was like, this is really happening. This is real. I cannot believe it,” said Tess Harjo.
Harjo was sentenced to ten years for drug possession but released after serving two.
Her sentence was commutated along with the others thanks to the passage of HB 1269.
The law allows the state to accelerate the process for commutation dockets, and it reduced smaller offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
“Oklahoma has been tough on crime and certainly we need to be for those individuals but we also have to be smart on crime,” said state senate author on the bill Stephanie Bice. “We have to put people away that are bad people, not people we’re mad at.”
Governor Kevin Stitt shook the hands of the women as they walked out, encouraging them afterward to continue to work with the nonprofits who have been helping them with skills and resources to re-assimilate.
“There will be tough times ahead but your kids, your family, your future, everything depends on you getting tough and making sure you get the help that you need so you do not come back here,” Stitt said.
Harjo said she’s ready to continue the education she began in prison, getting her GED and moving on to college courses.
But first, she said she’s ready to take advantage of her new driver’s license, renewed with the help of one of the nonprofits reaching out to the former inmates.
“Somebody had donated some money for everyone that’s getting commutation to renew their driver’s license or get a state ID,” Harjo said. “I was one of those people that got their driver’s license renewed, so first I’m going to drive off this lot. Then hopefully get something to eat because I am starving.”