HBO's 'The Sentence' Reveals Broken Justice System

Through one woman's story, the HBO documentary shows the ramifications of a Reagan-era policy Jeff Sessions hopes to continue
Prison guard
PER_Sentence_01_88623064 Source: Image Source/Getty

Cynthia Shank was sure it was a mistake. It was February 2008, and the 35-year-old had just been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a judge. As he read the judgment, she could hear two of her three young daughters—one of them 4, the other 2—playing outside the courtroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “This is a mistake. Something’s going to change,” she remembers thinking. “I’m not going to be in here for long.”

Within months of Shank’s incarceration in a federal prison in Illinois, the realities of mandatory minimum sentencing were painfully clear. Nine years later, she would still be behind bars for a nonviolent drug crime.

In 2002, her boyfriend, Alex Humphry, was murdered. When the police searched their house, they  20 kilograms of cocaine, a kilogram of crack cocaine, 40 pounds of marijuana, $40,000 and guns. She was “I knew what he was doing, but I had no idea the extent. I did not sell those drugs. Because there was no evidence against me, I was released and my case was dismissed.”

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