Washington, DC (March 8, 2022)– On Friday, February 25, Jason Hernandez was awarded the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) Champion of Justice Advocacy Award during a joint fundraiser with NACDL and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in Austin, TX. Champion of Justice Awards are bestowed upon those individuals who—through legislative, journalistic, philanthropic, or humanitarian pursuits—have staunchly preserved or defended the constitutional rights of American citizens and have endeavored to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime.
Jason Hernandez was 21 when he received a life without parole sentence plus 320 years for a nonviolent drug offense. While incarcerated, Jason spent time exercising, reading, working, and meditating. Four years into his sentence, in 2002, he learned that his older brother had been killed in prison. Jason decided he was going to turn his life around. He became familiar with the criminal appeals process, enough to become known as the 'jailhouse lawyer,' and in 2011, Jason prepared his own clemency petition and submitted it to President Obama, along with a personal letter. On December 19, 2013, President Obama granted Jason clemency. After nearly 18 years in prison, he was released in 2015 and since then has assisted nearly a dozen individuals receive clemency, nine of whom were serving life without parole. Additionally, Jason wrote a free guidebook titled "Get Clemency Now" which teaches incarcerated individuals and their families how to put together clemency petitions and how to advocate for themselves.
"We all believe in the concept of redemption, but the noun ‘redemption’ hides the underlying action – who redeemed whom. This matters today because we honor Jason, who redeemed himself despite the institutional brutality of prison. Rather than surrender to that brutality, Jason chose to seek meaning for his life in the intentional desolation of prison," said NACDL President Martín Sabelli. "In this respect, and of great moment given the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Jason turned to, and was inspired by, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaningwhich relates to the search for meaning in the brutality of a Nazi concentration camp not far from the place where people are dying now in Ukraine. Jason exemplifies the ability, sometimes without any support, to change our own lives to make the world a better place. All of us, including and perhaps especially those we represent, possess this capacity if we do not deny them the opportunity. That is why we must throw lifelines to people serving unconscionably long and irrational sentences under the brutal conditions of our prisons."
"It is with much appreciation and honor to be recognized by such a prestigious group of lawyers from Texas and across the United States for the work I’ve done since I obtained my freedom. It's not even right to call it work because it’s something I enjoy and love doing. I myself am a jailhouse attorney. I commonly tell people I was not certified by the bar, but I was certified behind bars," said Jason Hernandez. "I’ve been on both sides of the coin, where I have relied on council to fight and plead for my freedom, and now prisoners and families contact me so that I will fight for them and for their freedom. Both sides are heart-wrenching, especially when a person deserves a second chance, and you know there’s nothing you can do for them. The work we do is tough and takes a toll, but we do it because we want to see justice and do justice...I thank all of you for this award, for it is not only an acknowledgement of myself, but all of those who are formerly or currently incarcerated and the good we can contribute to a more just society. For we are all stronger together."