Obama pens letter to woman he freed from prison who is now in college and on the dean's list

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

Danielle Metz was a high school dropout who at 26 years old was sentenced to three life sentences plus 20 years for her involvement in her husband's cocaine distribution. Now, she's not only out of prison, she's in college. She is also on the dean's list – and getting hand-written letters from former President Barack Obama.

In 2016, after spending 23 years in prison, then-President Obama granted Metz clemency. Metz was just one of 111 commutations granted by Obama on the same day, according to NOLA.com.

When she was convicted in 1993, prosecutors portrayed Metz as her husband's "right-hand woman" in his cocaine operation. NOLA.com reports. When she went to prison, her family continued to lobby on her behalf. They said Metz is actually a loving family member who had an abusive, older husband.

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Metz's daughter, who lived with her sister when her mother was behind bars, started a petition to free her mom in 2014, and that came to fruition when Obama announced his commutations in August of 2016.

After leaving prison, Metz restarted her life. She moved home to New Orleans, got her GED and became a college freshman at the age of 50. The Heching Report, which reports on inequality and innovation in education, recently profiled the grandmother, who has turned her life around at Southern University.

Metz said she always thought college was for white kids or the "Huxtables." But here she is, earning her bachelor's degree – and doing extremely well in school. She made the dean's list her second semester with a 3.75 GPA, Heching Reports says. The report's profile on Metz inspired many – including the man who helped set her free.

"I am so proud of you, and am confident that your example will have a positive impact for others who are looking for a second chance," Obama said in a hand-written letter to Metz, obtained by USA Today.

Metz wished she could thank Obama and tell him she made honor roll. Turns out, he already knew. Danielle Metz

Obama ended the letter with a sweet message: "Tell your children I say hello, and know that I'm rooting for all of you."

When Metz spoke with Heching Report, she said she wished she could thank Obama. "You don't know what you did for me," she wanted to tell him. "I'm finally coming into my own. I made the honor roll." It turns out, Obama knew that without Metz telling him. And he was the one who wanted to thank her for setting an example and striving for greatness.

First published on July 12, 2019 / 10:01 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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