“Commuted”: New Documentary Tells A Black Woman’s Story Of Redemption And Justice

Paavo Hanninen

Former President Barack Obama granted prisoner Danielle Metz clemency in 2016. Now eight years later, her full story of redemption and justice is finally being told in the documentary “Commuted.”

Commuted” is available to watch as part of the documentary series AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange featuring stories about the African Diaspora. The documentary was released earlier this month as part of Second Chance Month, which takes place every “April to highlight ways to help the formerly incarcerated reenter society.” It’s available on the WORLD YouTube channel, worldchannel.org, PBS.org, and and PBS app.  

In recent years, the rate at which women in the U.S. are being incarcerated has risen dramatically, and disproportionately impacted Black women. According to the Center for American Progress, “[w]hile black women overall are twice as likely to be imprisoned as their white counterparts, black women ages 18 to 19 are three times more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts. If current incarceration trends continue, 1 in 18 black women will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetime.”

In 1993, Metz was arrested “for drug offenses related to her husband’s cocaine trafficking ring. At 26, she was sentenced to three life sentences plus another 20 years,” USA Today reports.

While incarcerated, Metz worked to earn her GED while writing letters, appealing for her freedom. Her efforts resulted in President Obama using his power of commutation, which is “a form of reprieve granted to federal prisoners by the President of the United States.”

Nailah Jefferson directed the documentary and “Commuted” follows Metz when she was freed from prison “after spending half of her life behind bars.”

As Jefferson told ESSENCE, “I made ‘Commuted’ for the families enduring long-term incarceration, especially mothers and their children. Women are often left out of the conversations around mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, but in recent decades women’s incarceration has grown at twice the pace of men’s incarceration.”

“I hope that by telling Danielle Metz’s story through my documentary ‘Commuted,’ people are made aware of the injustices faced by incarcerated women, especially mothers and their families,” Jefferson continued. “Since ‘Commuted’s’ broadcast release as a part of AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange, I’m encouraged that the film and subject matter are reaching a larger audience and educating people about the atrocities of the prison system, but I also want ‘Commuted’ to awaken hope.”

“After receiving clemency, I believed it could pave the way for other women seeking presidential clemency. I hope this documentary can be used as a call to action to inspire governors and the President to use their executive powers to reduce the population of prisoners,” Metz stated.

“I also hope that viewers and our elected officials will recognize the impact that lengthy sentences have on the children of incarcerated parents. As a nation that values freedom we must strive to improve our system,” says Metz. “The freedom we boast of as a nation must be mirrored in our policies. ‘I am not FREE until my sisters are FREE.’”

Jefferson’s hope is that through the documentary, incarcerated people and their families will become aware of pathways to freedom, like presidential commutation, and organizations, such as the National Council of Incarcerated and Former Incarcerated Women and Girls, that help get people out of prison and reunite families.

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