President Obama’s clemency announcement was greeted with elation by several churchgoers in Detroit Lakes on Tuesday: Their friend Kenny Gragg will soon be free.

A long-distance kinship rooted in a shared love of stock-car racing evolved into a campaign to win the release of Gragg, one of many inmates serving drug sentences that would be considered excessive under today’s revised sentencing policies.

Kenneth Wayne Gragg, of Hickory, N.C., was among the 209 commutations Obama announced on Tuesday. Gragg, who has served 11 years of a 25-year sentence for meth and gun possession, will be eligible for release by January 2019 after participating in a drug-treatment program.

“Sometimes justice wins,” said the Rev. Brenda North, whose congregation at Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church rallied behind Gragg after fellow parishioner Paul White shared the story of a friendship they struck up nearly a decade ago.

Obama also commuted the sentences of two Minnesotans, one serving a life term, and pardoned a Brooklyn Center woman convicted in Hawaii in 2000 of money laundering conspiracy. Jeffrey Matthew Jeanetta, of North St. Paul, had his 2007 life sentence for drug conspiracy reduced to 25 years. Sean Anthony Ogle, a Minneapolis native sentenced in North Dakota, had his 20-year sentence cut to 14 years. The two join six other Minnesota commutations granted during Obama’s presidency. Lisa Ann Jandro, aka Joline Marie Herman, of Brooklyn Center, became the third pardon with Minnesota ties. She had been sentenced to 33 months after her conviction in Hawaii.

In e-mails with the Star Tribune earlier this month, Gragg said the clemency push gave him new hope at a time when he was staring down another decade behind bars.

“Hope is a must to get through each and everyday in here,” Gragg wrote. “A chance of [a] free life again.”

 

Twitter: @smontemayor