Sala Udin at his Pittsburgh home.
By Tracie Mauriello
Post-Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Sala Udin was stopped for speeding as he drove from a rally in Mississippi to drop off a carload of fellow Freedom Riders in Cleveland before heading home to Pittsburgh. Police who stopped him in Kentucky that day in 1970 searched his car, found an unloaded shotgun and a jug of Mississippi moonshine, and hauled him off to jail.
In 1972, he was sent to federal prison for seven months, with the shadow of his conviction hanging over him for the next 44 years.
On Monday, President Barack Obama pardoned the civil rights activist and 77 other people across the country. The president also issued 153 commutations to people sentenced for a variety of crimes, most involving manufacturing, selling or possessing drugs.
That brings the president’s total clemency actions to 1,324 — more than any predecessor since Lyndon B. Johnson.
Mr. Obama’s pardons and commutations “exemplify his belief that America is a nation of second chances,” said Neil Eggleston, counsel to the president. “While each clemency recipient’s story is unique, the common thread of rehabilitation underlies them all.”
A presidential pardon grants absolution as if a crime had never occurred.
“It’s a second chance, and I think — for most crimes — people deserve a second chance. Some of them would mess up again, but most of them would take full advantage of a second chance,” Mr. Udin said.
Mr. Udin spent his life fighting for civil rights, serving on Pittsburgh City Council, co-founding the New Horizons Theater, starting the House of Crossroads drug treatment program and championing the August Wilson Center. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured him this month in an in-depth profile illustrated by Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 students.
With only 32 days left in Mr. Obama’s term, Mr. Udin, 73, of the Hill District, had lost all hope of being pardoned. It had been four years since he filed a formal request for clemency.
Mr. Udin told a friend last week: “We’re at the end of Barack’s term. He’s on his way to Hawaii for his vacation. He will come back and participate in [Donald] Trump’s inauguration and then he’ll float on into history, and all this will be over.”
Instead, Mr. Udin is the one floating now. “Floating on Cloud 9” to be exact, he said. “The emotional relief I feel has been a long time coming.”
Two other Western Pennsylvanians also received presidential pardons — Michael Facchiano Jr. of the Venetia section of Peters, and Theresa Marie Bishop, also known as Teresa Clark, of Pittsburgh.
Ms. Bishop, who could not be reached Monday evening, had been sentenced in 2006 to a year of house arrest and three years of probation after she was convicted on firearms charges.
Mr. Facchiano had been convicted of two counts of mail fraud when he was just 28 and running Facchiano Construction, the family business he still owns now at age 60. The charges grew out of paperwork he submitted to the Department of Labor that concealed violations of wage standards.
“What I did was wrong. I don’t make excuses,” he said Monday. “It’s still a very embarrassing thing for me.”
Mr. Facchiano served four and a half months in prison, something he’s hidden from most people in his life. They know him as a reputable business owner and a community volunteer.
“I made up my mind [after the arrest] that I was going to do better, that I was going to serve better. It’s very important to me to lead my life right and do the right thing,” he said. “There’s always a way to correct your mistakes. There’s always a way to do better moving forward.”
He said the president’s official pardon will help him do that.
“I’m still pinching myself because this has been such a long time,” he said. “I just needed that last acknowledgement from someone that that bad time in my life is over.”
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org; 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.