President Obama became the first sitting president to visit a prison today, and Politico notes that the milestone had him reflecting on his own past. After all, he was a black youth who smoked pot and tried cocaine. “That’s what strikes me—there but for the grace of God,” he said at the federal facility in El Reno, Oklahoma. "And that is something that we all have to think about.” Obama met with nonviolent drug offenders in the prison and was struck by their stories. “When they describe their youth, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made, and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,” Obama said afterward.
“The difference is that they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.” Obama's visit is part of his push to reform the criminal justice system, notes the New York Times, and it follows his decision to commute the sentences of 46 prisoners who got long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Americans tend to think it's normal that so many young people get locked up, said Obama. “It’s not normal. It's not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people making mistakes.”