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After being released from jail early, a woman from Billings supports the First Step Act



Billings, Montana – Jennifer Devereaux was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for her first drug offense while she was in her late 20s. A few years after serving her first prison term, in 2005, she found herself battling addiction once more. She was apprehended and given a 20-year prison sentence for the intention of distributing methamphetamine.

A new law that gave Devereaux some hope was passed fifteen years into her imprisonment.

“It was really emotional because I really didn’t think I had a chance,” she said on Saturday. “The First Step Act is just probably the best thing that has happened in legislation for people who have drug offenses. It’s the best thing that’s happened in years and years and years.”

Passed in 2018, the First Step Act is a criminal justice reform measure intended to decrease the number of federal prison inmates and encourage rehabilitation. Devereaux observed women who had served far longer sentences and had far more time to serve them being freed from jail than she did.

“It was amazing that they gave us the ability to get back into court, on our own and argue our own case. Our own reason to get out, which is under a compassionate release, and that’s how I won. It was for a sentencing disparity,” Devereaux said.

Devereaux exploited the law to get her freedom in March 2023, having served her sentence of eighteen years. She had a clear memory of that day.

“My heart was just bursting, I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to be free. I’m going to be able to see my family, be able to be with my dad’,” she said.

Devereaux was eager to spend time with her father again because he reared her.

Along with visiting relatives, Devereaux recently traveled to Washington, D.C. with Families Against Mandatory Minimums to discuss the legislation’s effects on people’s lives with legislative representatives.

“I never saw myself in this kind of position and I feel honored to do so. It makes me feel a little emotional, but it’s just a way for me to be able to maybe make up for the past. Everything that I’ve done, you know, the life that I lived, and just be able to give back in some way,” she said.

Devereaux intends to carry on giving back by supporting legislation and educating young people on averting a destiny comparable to her own.

She recently addressed small groups of teenagers at Lodge Grass Public Schools while traveling with the One Heart Warrior group, a leadership development program for adults.

“I want to help younger kids because that’s where it all started for me when I was younger, a teenager. I wish someone would have stepped in for me. So, that’s what I want to do, especially younger girls. I have a heart for the younger girls,” she said.

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