• Erin O'Donnell

Book Review of After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom


The most inspiring and eye-opening text I have read recently was the memoir “After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom” by Alice Marie Johnson. Johnson was sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent drug trafficking charge. She was also a first-time offender. After 21 years in prison, she exhausted all of her court appeals and was finally granted clemency by President Donald Trump in 2018. Johnson expresses her journey as one guided by faith, hope, mercy, and gratitude.


Alice’s story starts from the very beginning of her life and slowly transitions into the adult life that led her toward crime. Johnson was born in Mississippi in 1955. She and her family had a difficult life but they rose above their difficulties at all costs. Her childhood stories prove her and her family to be hard workers despite tough circumstances. They would always capitalize on every opportunity they encountered. I believe it was necessary for Johnson to include her childhood for readers to understand the full backstory of her life. Rather than summarizing it briefly, she was extremely moving in the way she explained her experiences.


One of my favorite qualities of this book is the way Johnson was able to help her audience understand her story fully by making readers feel all of the emotions she felt: disappointed, dissatisfied, optimistic and overjoyed. Her life was truly a rollercoaster of events.


When I think of this book, I think of two commonly used phrases that are opposites. The first is the phrase “when it rains, it pours.” Once Alice turned to drug trafficking, it seemed that everything went downhill for her; she was incarcerated and told that she would never leave the walls of a prison ever again. It doesn’t get much worse than that. At the same time, her story reminds me of the phrase “when it rains, look for rainbows.” As mentioned earlier, Alice grew up in a household that stressed hard work and resilience. With those qualities at the forefront of her mind ever since she was a child, Alice rose above her situation by never giving up. She was resourceful and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She rose above and saw the rainbow in the end.


There are very few parts of this book that I dislike. I did find it a bit difficult to follow her journey while in prison. She spoke a bit about the friends she made while incarcerated and the experiences she had, but she normally never went into much detail. The reason that this didn’t bother me all that much is because her stories in prison are not the main focus of the book! The point of her publication was to tell the story of how her faith guided her to never giving up her dream of living a free woman again one day.


After reading this book, I reflected on so many aspects of my own life. I have never had to turn to crime in order to support my family. I have also never even become close to being arrested for any reason. The fact that Alice Marie Johnson grew up impoverished and took a few wrong turns that led her to being incarcerated, only to fight her way out after 21 years, is truly a remarkable story.