Almost 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the United States, in prisons, jails and other correctional facilities. More of those inmates are currently locked up for drug offenses than there were for all crimes in 1980.
Around 230,000 women are in prisons and jails, with Black women “markedly overrepresented” compared with their share of the population. The effects of incarceration on health, wealth and other factors can be devastating — especially because, Ms. Sam said, women tend to be punished more harshly than men and have a hard time rejoining society.
After she left prison in 2015, having cut years off her sentence after an appeal and attending a drug program, Ms. Sam founded criminal justice nonprofit groups, including L.O.H.M. and, along with a friend, Hope House, a halfway house in the Bronx.
Ms. Sam, 44, also raised her public profile as a criminal justice reformer. She helped bring attention to Alice Johnson, a woman who was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense, that helped lead to a commuted sentence, and later a full pardon, by Mr. Trump, at the urging of Kim Kardashian West.
Mr. Loeb first met Ms. Sam around 2017, as he was looking for new ways to donate to criminal justice groups. Her emphasis on helping prevent recently released women from recidivism persuaded him to back her as a sort of philanthropic entrepreneur.
“So often, people don’t look at lived-in experience as expertise,” Ms. Sam said.
To potential donors, such people are among the most persuasive advocates for overhauling the criminal justice system, said Ann Jacobs, the executive director of the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity. “That’s a good start, but that’s not enough,” she said. “If you want to figure this out, you need a lot more immersion.”
At Third Point, Mr. Loeb said, the sweeping protests over racial justice after the killing of George Floyd prompted questions from some employees about whether the firm planned to make a statement. It didn’t, but Mr. Loeb said he told his colleagues, “Just because we’re not making a formal statement doesn’t mean we’re not doing anything.”