In 1989, Michael Palmer was convicted of running a crack business in Washington, D.C. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. His daughter, Taylor, was born seven days later.

“Like every other fatherless child, I have cried myself to sleep at night,” writes Taylor, now a 25-year-old medical student. She worked hard at school, loved her mother, was pen pals with her dad. She will graduate from medical school in 2016. 

“My goal is to be a successful doctor and my dream is to have a father,” she says. 

Taylor is the same age as her father’s prison sentence. Michael Palmer, now 51, a resident of FCI Allenwood, says, “I missed the golden years of my children.” (He is pictured with his daughters when they were young.) 


Clemency is a powerful tool. The legal system cannot take into account the damage prison sentences do to children. Clemency can. The question is when. When should the collateral damage from a prison sentence, even one legally imposed, be softened because of the damage to others?

The Pew Charitable Trusts estimate that 2.7 children under the age of 18 have a parent behind bars — 3.6% of all children. The racial disparity is enormous: 11.4% of black kids have an imprisoned parent; only 1.8% of white kids do. Think about these numbers for a moment. Ask yourself: How much do whites really know about the everyday lives of a significant share of the black community? 

This is one reason why clemency is far more than a legal consideration. President Obama, a fatherless child himself, needs to care about more than whether a 2255 motion was timely denied.

Life is about more than one thing. Michael Palmer may have been a 25-year-old crack entrepreneur nicknamed “Knot” in 1989. But he was more than just that, even then, and is far more than that now. He is a father who would like to see his daughter graduate from medical school. And Taylor would like to have him there. What is the purpose of imprisoning him for 26th year?

 “He has more than paid his debt to society,” his daughter says. “My father is not the same man he was when he entered prison. He is changed.”

Sometimes in life, witnesses and prosecutors have the floor. At other times, children should be heard.

In a clemency request, fatherless and motherless children have standing by virtue of their birth. 

Taylor Palmer of Tenafly, N.J., has more than 20,000 signatures on a clemency petition on, from which this information was gather. You can click here to add your name.     


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