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Brenda Valencia Aldana

 

Brenda Valencia Aldana is the Administrative Assistant of the Girls Advocacy Project (GAP), Inc. GAP is the only comprehensive prevention/intervention/educational project in the State of Florida – and one of the few in the nation – serving girls while they are in detention. GAP was initiated in 1999 in Miami and expanded in 2006 to Fort Myers, Orlando and Palm Beach.  GAP currently serves girls detained in the Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Centers.  This program operates in partnership with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

 

Mrs. Aldana attended Southwest Miami High School and was known there as a good student and respected athlete.  She was selected the Most Valuable Player in girl’s volleyball for three years.

 

However, before graduating, on October 8, 1991, Mrs. Aldana drove her roommate’s step-mother from Kendall, Florida to a Palm Beach County residence.  While there, the owners of the home, who were under surveillance as drug dealers, were subjected to a DEA raid.  Everyone was arrested and taken into custody.  No drugs or money were confiscated during that raid.  Mrs. Aldana did not help negotiate any sale nor had any knowledge of any drug deals.  Prosecutors never accused her of any such thing.

 

Nonetheless, Mrs. Aldana went to trial on January 21, 1992 and was found guilty on January 29, 1992 of one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute at least 5 kilograms of cocaine; one count of possession with intent to distribute at least 5 kilograms of cocaine; and one count of distribution of at least 5 kilograms of cocaine.  On April 10, 1992, she was sentenced to 151 months of incarceration (12 years and 7 months) to be followed by 5 years of supervised release.  She remained incarcerated from the date of her arrest in October 1991 until her release to a halfway house on April 1, 2002.

 

She remained at the halfway house until her sentence terminated on September 24, 2002, when she began serving five years of supervised release. On December 4, 2003, her sentencing federal judge, the Honorable Jose A. Gonzalez, Jr., granted an early termination of probation motion Mrs. Aldana submitted after serving one year of supervised release. In September 2006, she applied for the restoration of her civil rights and is awaiting a response from the Florida Clemency Board.

 

As a victim of the Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines, Brenda Aldana was subjected to substantial attention by the media from the moment she was sentenced. She appeared on CBS Morning News in a story about the unfairness of the mandatory minimums, which highlighted her case as an example of their severity.  The Honorable Jose Gonzalez, Jr. was required under these guidelines to sentence her to a long sentence for a minor participant’s role.  He took the highly unusual step when imposing her sentence to express his outrage by writing on her sentencing document that “this case is the perfect example why the mandatory sentences and the sentencing guidelines are not only absurd, but an insult to justice.”  He reiterated this absurdity and unfairness throughout her prison sentence and finally in a letter to President Clinton in support of Mrs. Aldana’s petition for commutation of her sentence.

 

She was also the subject of an article written in the Daily Business Review on September 10, 1993, a Washington Post editorial published on August 31, 1999 and an article published in the St. Petersburg Times on April 9, 2000.  She appeared on CBS 60 Minutes on January 4, 2004 in a story about the unfairness of the mandatory minimums, which highlighted her case as an example of their severity and injustice that has resulted from these sentences.  She was also featured in Latina Magazine in their April 2006 publication.

 

Mrs. Aldana spent her late teens and all of her twenties incarcerated at FCI Dublin, CA; FCI Danbury, CT; FPC Alderson, WV; FDC Miami, FL; FCI Tallahassee, FL; and FCC Coleman, FL.  At each institution, she took the opportunity to educate and broaden her horizons by enrolling in courses including GED, college correspondence courses, weight management, nutrition, AIDS awareness, and vocational courses.   She also completed a certified dental assistant program, 40-hour drug program, certified veterinarian assistant program, and certified personal trainer program.  She was a wellness yoga instructor and tutored inmates in English as a Second Language (ESL).  She utilized her Spanish to translate for bible study classes.

 

Mrs. Aldana was selected to participate in the highly coveted community based IMPACT (Inmates Providing Animal Care and Training) program to train seeing-eye dogs in preparation for their assignment to a blind person.  Participants were allowed outside the gates of the facilities without supervision.

 

Mrs. Aldana has participated in a nationally recognized speaker’s bureau for the Junior League of Miami’s Girls Advocacy Project (GAP) Committee. She has had a significant impact on young girls in need, who can identify with the severity of her experience.

 

She is committed to sharing her story with young at-risk people with the hope that they can be spared the same fate.  Her goal is to educate as many young people to the realities of the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and the federal judicial system.   Her personal experience is the catalyst for her passion to serve others. She was invited to become a member of the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center Advisory Board on May 10, 2006.

 

Mrs. Aldana participated in a writing workshop project entitled Bridging the Gap, which involved a partnership between Vicki Lopez Lukis, the Girls Advocacy Project (GAP); ArtSpring, Inc.; the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ); and the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC). The objective is to develop a published anthology of the writings of the women inmates participating in the Inside Out program that can be shared with the GAP girls and others who find themselves in or who are at-risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. It is expected that this project will enable girls to reject unhealthy relationships, substance abuse and the temptation to become involved in future criminal activity.

 

On April 28, 2007 she was invited to speak on a panel for the ACLU regarding the injustice of federal minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines and participated as a speaker in the 12th Annual Hispanic Leadership Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

She has been an invited guest at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, FL, the institution from which she was released, and the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, FL, in which she was also detained, and has spoken to the women about her post-release experiences. Her objective is to give hope and guidance to the women whose greatest fear is not experiencing success once they return to their community.

 

She has provided information about her criminal conviction to the Florida Governor’s Ex-Offender Task Force, which studied employment restrictions for ex-offenders. Her latest achievement was on February 20, 2008 Mrs. Aldana was recommended through Vicki Lukis to be a guest speaker before the Senate Committee to give testimony on the employment and occupational licensing barriers that ex offenders face upon their release.

 

Since September 24, 2002, Mrs. Aldana has completed a dental assistant college course and is qualified to take her state exam but as employment in this field requires the restoration of civil rights, she has not taken the exam awaiting word about her civil rights restoration application, which was filed in October 2006.

 

Mrs. Aldana enrolled at the Real Estate School to earn a sales associate license. After appearing before the Florida Real Estate Commission, Mrs. Aldana received an exemption and subsequently sat and passed the state exam and became a licensed sales associate in the Florida. In addition to working part-time as a realtor, Mrs. Aldana is employed by the Girls Advocacy Project, Inc. (GAP) as an administrative assistant and is currently applying to take her Real Estate Broker Certification.

 

She married Diego Aldana on November 17, 2002 and is the proud mother of two sons, Daniel Andres and Diego Alejandro.

 

Contact Information: 7875 NW 12th Street, Suite 104, Miami, FL 33126 Office: 786-845-9155,

Fax: 786-845-9153, Cell: 305-775-2542, E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

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