What Inmates Think of Obama's Prison Visit

Jul 15, 2015

For six of the 15 years he spent behind bars, Jason Hernandez called Federal Corrections Institution El Reno home. And before President Obama granted him and over a dozen others clemency in 2013, he was destined to die there.

But when he heard President Obama would be traveling to the El Reno facility on Thursday, he yearned to be back behind those walls again, if only for a day.

“I immediately thought there was no place I’d rather be than in El Reno when the president is there,” Hernandez tells TIME. “President Obama granted one of my dreams. One of the others is to meet him.”

In 1998, when he was just 21 years old, Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for selling methamphetamines and crack cocaine. After serving nine years in the Beaumont maximum-security facility in Texas, Hernandez was transferred to the medium security facility at El Reno to carry out the remainder of his life sentence.

Yet, that sentence was cut short thanks to Obama, who included the now 38-year-old in his first splashy round of mass sentence reductions for low-level, non-violent drug offenders who likely would have been released had they been sentenced under current law. Hernandez doesn’t at all deny the fact that he was guilty of a crime—“I thought I was bettering people by giving them drugs,” he says—but he felt his sentence was excessive and the President agreed.

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Now, Hernandez is living in a halfway house in McKinney, Texas, splitting his time between work as a welder and as a kitchen worker and mentor at restaurant aimed at helping kids who have gotten caught up in the juvenile justice system. Hernandez says he wants to use his newfound freedom to help keep young men of color from heading down his same path—something he notes he likely wouldn’t have even known he’d have a passion for had it not been for programs he participated in at El Reno.

Plus, he says, “I made that promise to the president.”

Over the past several days, Obama has made criminal justice reform his focus—from the 46 commutations he issued on Monday to the sweeping reform platform he laid out on Tuesday—and it all comes to a head on Thursday when he becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal correctional facility. During his visit to El Reno, a medium security facility in Oklahoma, Obama will meet with law enforcement agents and inmates and be interviewed for an upcoming VICE documentary about the American criminal justice system.

The site wasn’t at all chosen at random. The White House, the Department of Justice, and the Bureau of Prisons worked together to pick El Reno as the first federal prison to host a sitting president for a visit for a number of reasons, according to a White House official. For starters, about half of its 1,301 inmate population is drug offenders, which is proportional to the entire federal prison population. The racial and ethnic make-up is also representative of the federal prison population and inmates there are a variety of ages and carry myriad lengths of sentence. What’s more, it offers both an evidence-based residential drug abuse treatment program and a critical reentry program known as Federal Prison Industries that helps inmates prepare for life on the outside. Inside, according to an inmate handbook, inmates have access to educational and vocational training programs from GED and associate’s degree courses to business management and welding training.

“The President believes that, at its heart, America is a nation of second chances, and the reentry programs and drug abuse programs housed at El Reno are vital to ensuring that inmates have a second chance to give back to the country they love,” said a White House official.

Those second chances, however, have been all but lost on thousands of low-level, non-violent drug offenders sentenced to lengthy sentences as a result of harsh, decades-old drug laws. In many cases, first-time offenders caught peddling or transporting drugs have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Since 1980, the U.S. prison population has more than quadrupled, due in large part to the massive numbers of drug offenders who’ve ended up behind bars for lengthy amounts of time. And although Congress passed a law in 2010 that reduced the punitive disparities between crack and powder cocaine, the law wasn’t retroactive, leaving many offenders who would be out under current law to languish behind bars. “That’s the real reason our prison population is so high,” Obama said Tuesday. “In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. A disproportionate number of inmates, too, are black and Latino men.

In a photo taken on the inside that Hernandez shared with TIME, nine black and brown men donning tan jumpsuits stare solemnly at the camera. All of them, Hernandez says, were sentenced to life behind bars for selling crack cocaine. Among them is Kenneth Evans, a former low-level drug dealer who is a few months shy of his 50th birthday. He’s been behind bars for 23 years. Evans lived next door to Hernandez when he was still locked up. When Hernandez found out he had been granted clemency, he cried to Evans—saying he felt guilty for leaving him behind.

In a message to TIME sent via the prison email system, Evans said he simply wants the president to know that “none of us are claiming innocence. None of us are neglecting or ignoring the harm that we caused our communities. But ALL of us are simply asking for fairness, true justice, and a second chance.”

Evans has applied for clemency through the Clemency Project, an Obama administration effort to identify more non-violent, low-level offenders for parole. According to the New York Times, some 30,000 federal inmates have applied for sentence relief through the initiative. But the process for clemency is slow, as noted in the number of commutation orders Obama has so far granted.

Yet, among inmates, hope is not lost. Douglas Ray Dunkins is not in the photo, but he’s also serving a life sentence in El Reno. His conviction for manufacturing and distributing crack as a young man was his first felony, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report in which he's featured. He’s been at the Oklahoma facility since February 9, 1993.

When Jason was released, he told TIME via prison email, it was a bittersweet moment, “but it did give me hope that if [his] sentence could be commuted mine could as well.”

Both Congress and the White House have taken steps to try to curb the impact old drug laws have had on the prison population. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House recently launched a criminal justice reform caucus. Senators from both sides of the aisle convened on Tuesday to make the case for passing criminal justice reform this legislative session. Obama on Tuesday lauded the momentum around enacting meaningful reforms that reduce both the prison population and the crime rate, while noting that more work needed to be done. He’s likely to repeat the charge during his visit on Thursday.

Though Hernandez won’t be traveling to meet the President at El Reno, he hopes to someday meet him. But what he wants most is an opportunity is for other deserving inmates to experience life on the outside.

“There are individuals there that I believe are more worthy than I was—they had less drugs and they’ve done more time,” he says. “It’s my hope that one day the president gives life back to those individuals.”

Portrait of a Presidency

President Barack Obama attends a dress rehearsal of the Moscow Ballet's “Great Russian Nutcracker,” in which his daughter, Sasha, portrays a mouse, at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, Dec. 16, 2012. During breaks in the rehearsal, the President works on the remarks he is scheduled to give later that day at a vigil for the shooting victims in Newtown, Conn. “The President works on his Newtown speech. Two days earlier, I photographed him when John Brennan first briefed him on the shootings. Throughout that day, he reacted as we all did, which people witnessed when he delivered his statement a few hours later. Before we headed to Newtown for the Sunday night vigil, he went to watch his daughter Sasha, 11, rehearse for her ballet performance in the Nutcracker. He was going to miss her performance that night because of the trip to Newtown. During breaks in the rehearsal, he worked on the speech. His expression in this photograph may be subtle to the viewer, but not to me. There is emotion and resolve etched on his face, and I know this was perhaps the toughest day of his Presidency.”
President Barack Obama attends a dress rehearsal of the Moscow Ballet's “Great Russian Nutcracker,” in which his daughter, Sasha, portrays a mouse, at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, Dec. 16, 2012. During breaks in the rehearsal, the President works on the remarks he is scheduled to give later that day at a vigil for the shooting victims in Newtown, Conn. “The President works on his Newtown speech. Two days earlier, I photographed him when John Brennan first briefed him on the shootings. Throughout that day, he reacted as we all did, which people witnessed when he delivered his statement a few hours later. Before we headed to Newtown for the Sunday night vigil, he went to watch his daughter Sasha, 11, rehearse for her ballet performance in the Nutcracker. He was going to miss her performance that night because of the trip to Newtown. During breaks in the rehearsal, he worked on the speech. His expression in this photograph may be subtle to the viewer, but not to me. There is emotion and resolve etched on his face, and I know this was perhaps the toughest day of his Presidency.”Pete Souza—The White House
President Barack Obama attends a dress rehearsal of the Moscow Ballet's “Great Russian Nutcracker,” in which his daughter, Sasha, portrays a mouse, at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, Dec. 16, 2012. During breaks in the rehearsal, the President works on the remarks he is scheduled to give later that day at a vigil for the shooting victims in Newtown, Conn. “The President works on his Newtown speech. Two days earlier, I photographed him when John Brennan first briefed him on the shootings. Throughout that day, he reacted as we all did, which people witnessed when he delivered his statement a few hours later. Before we headed to Newtown for the Sunday night vigil, he went to watch his daughter Sasha, 11, rehearse for her ballet performance in the Nutcracker. He was going to miss her performance that night because of the trip to Newtown. During breaks in the rehearsal, he worked on the speech. His expression in this photograph may be subtle to the viewer, but not to me. There is emotion and resolve etched on his face, and I know this was perhaps the toughest day of his Presidency.”
“There is closure in this photograph. I suspect that neither man really wanted to have lunch with the other, but they both knew the importance for the American people in seeing them do so.”
Police hold back the crowd as tens of thousands of residents line the streets of the motorcade route to wave and welcome President Barack Obama in Rangoon, Burma, Nov. 19, 2012. President Obama is the first sitting U.S. President to visit the country.
"To some, this is a snapshot and doesn't belong in this gallery of candid photographs. But to me, it evokes what the trip to Burma was all about. Here is the President of the United States, shoes and socks off in respect, posing as a tourist in front of the oldest pagoda in the world in a country that no U.S. President had ever been able to visit.Ó
President Barack Obama has a foreign leader phone call with President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt about about the rocket attacks being launched from Gaza into Israel, and the escalating violence in Gaza, in the Oval Office, Nov. 14, 2012. Chief of Staff Jack Lew, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough attend.
President Barack Obama reviews his election speech with Jon Favreau, Director of Speechwriting, and David Axelrod in the Presidential Suite at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park in Chicago, Ill., Nov. 6, 2012.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama embrace after watching CNN project the outcome of the election, at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park in Chicago, Ill., Nov. 6, 2012.
President Barack Obama talks with Donna Vanzant, owner of the North Point Marina in Brigantine, New Jersey, Oct. 31, 2012. The President was surveying damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
President Barack Obama pretends to be caught in Spider-Man's web as he greets the son of a White House staffer in the Outer Oval Office, Oct. 26, 2012.
President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attend the dignified transfer at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Sept. 14, 2012, of J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya; Sean Smith, Information Management Officer; and Security Personnel Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
President Obama, followed by Chaplain Colonel J. Wesley Smith and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, walk towards the podium during the transfer of remains ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 14, 2012, marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed this week in Benghazi, Libya.
President Obama and Vice President Biden share a laugh before an event at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, N.H., Sept. 7, 2012.
President Obama greets daughters Sasha and Malia at the Time Warner Cable Arena before delivering remarks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 6, 2012.
First Lady Michelle Obama greets former White House staffer Franny Starkey and her daughter Willa prior to an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in Denver, Colo., Aug. 11, 2012.
Eight-year old Make-A-Wish child Janiya Penny reacts after meeting President Barack Obama as he welcomes her family to the Oval Office, Aug. 8, 2012.
U.S. Olympic wrestler Elena Pirozhkova picks up the First Lady during a greet with Team USA Olympic athletes competing in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, at the U.S. Olympic Training Facility at the University of East London in London, England, July 27, 2012.
A view from behind of the President as he holds a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 26, 2012.
President Obama hugs Stephanie Davies while visiting shooting victim Allie Young at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colo., July 22, 2012. Davies helped keep Young alive after her friend was wounded at the movie theater in Aurora. The President traveled to Colorado to visit with patients and family members affected by the shootings.
President Obama shares a piece of strawberry pie with a young patron at Kozy Corners, a local diner in Oak Harbor, Ohio, July 5, 2012.
"This was the day that the U.S. Supreme Court was to rule on the Affordable Health Care Act, June 28, 2012. Before the President came down from the residence that morning, the split-screen television in the Outer Oval was flashing bulletins that the Court had overturned the act. Kathy Ruemmler, counsel to the President, came rushing in and told me and the President's secretary just the opposite. Kathy then left and a few minutes later, the President came to the Oval, saw the same bulletins on the TV; but Kathy soon reappeared to tell the President that the Court had indeed upheld the Act, and that the TV reporters were wrong. He then gave her a big hug, as Chief of Staff Jack Lew watched at left. "
The President and First Lady look out at the city skyline and Lake Michigan after arriving at the Burnham Park landing zone in Chicago, Ill., June 15, 2012.
Luz Graham-Urquilla, 4, watches President Obama as he signs her drawing at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, May 25, 2012.
President Obama meets with European leaders on the Laurel Cabin patio during the G8 Summit at Camp David, Md., May 19, 2012.
"This was one of the most poignant moments of the President's first term. He was visiting wounded warriors in the intensive care unit ICU at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. He had just presented a Purple Heart to Sgt. Chase Haag, who had been injured by an IED just hours before. Sgt. Haag was covered with a blanket and it was difficult to see how badly he was injured. He was also seemingly unconscious so the President whispered in his ear so not to wake him. Just then, there was a rustling under the blanket and Sgt. Haag, eyes still closed, reached his hand out to shake hands with the President."
President Obama greets U.S. troops following his remarks during an unannounced trip to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. The President made three trips around the ropeline to try and shake every hand.
President Obama sits on the famed Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum following an event in Dearborn, Mich., April 18, 2012.
President Obama enters the White House at the South Portico following his arrival aboard Marine One on the South Lawn, March 30, 2012. The President returned from a trip to Vermont and Maine.
Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Advisor, holds a binder with a note from his son as he and others brief President Obama in the Oval Office, March 29, 2012.
President Obama greets the daughter of national security staffer during a departure photo in the Oval Office, Feb. 1, 2012.
President Barack Obama greets then Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., as he arrives to deliver the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 24, 2012.
"The President and Bo, the Obama family dog, ride in the presidential motorcade en route to PetSmart in Alexandria, Va. The President bought Bo some Christmas gifts at the pet store then walked nearby to Best Buy to purchase gifts for his daughters, Dec. 21, 2011."
A splash of sunlight falls on the President's face as he makes a phone call in the Oval Office, Dec. 19, 2011.
The President and First Lady greet troops following remarks to mark the end of AmericaÕs war in Iraq, at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Dec. 14, 2011.
"After a meeting with Eurozone leaders adjacent to the G20 Summit in Cannes, France, the President gave encouragement to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they departed the meeting, Nov. 3, 2011."
"Usually the best moments at meetings are before and after the participants actually sit down. In this case, though, there was an interesting juxtaposition of gestures as the President and Vice President met with the House Democratic Leadership in the Oval Office, Nov. 1, 2011."
The Obama family make an unannounced visit to tour the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2011, the night before the President made remarks at the official dedication of the memorial.
"Chuck Kennedy captured this scene with a remote camera as the President and First Lady, along with former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, paused at the North Memorial Pool of the National September 11 Memorial in New York City. The North Memorial pool sits in the footprint of the north tower, formerly 1 World Trade Center."
Cabinet Secretaries Hillary Clinton, Tim Geithner and Leon Panetta applaud as President Obama is escorted into the House Chamber of the United States Capitol, prior to addressing a Joint Session of Congress on jobs and the economy, and to outline the details of the American Jobs Act, at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., Sept. 8, 2011.
White House aides listen as President Obama makes a point during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Sept. 7, 2011.
"A former President once said, 'Presidents don't get vacations, they just get a change of scenery.' We were on 'vacation' in Martha's Vineyard and the President was monitoring Hurricane Irene with John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, at right in light blue shirt, on Aug. 26, 2011. They were waiting for a conference call on the hurricane with affected governors and mayors."
"David Lienemann captured this photograph as the Vice President draws his bow during the archery portion of a cultural demonstration, outside Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with Mongolian Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold looking on, Aug. 22, 2011. I told David when I first saw this photo that I would never have been brave enough to stand that close to the line of fire."
Dr. Jill Biden and Senator Bill Frist tour the Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2011.
The Vice President and other staff watch and listen as the President talks on the phone in the Oval Office with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during the debt limit and deficit discussions, July 31, 2011.
"During a break in the debt limit and deficit negotiations with Congressional leaders, the President walks around the South Lawn drive of the White House with the Vice President on Sunday, July 24, 2011. As they walked, I was trying to catch them where there was one pocket of sunlight seeping through the trees."
House Speaker John Boehner departs a meeting in the Cabinet with the President and Congressional leaders to discuss the ongoing efforts to find a balanced approach to the debt limit and deficit reduction, July 23, 2011.
"The reflection in this photo (since so many people ask me) was taken with my camera just above a small glass-topped table in the Oval Office as the President talked with members of his staff following a meeting with the Congressional leadership, July 7, 2011."
The First Lady visits with former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, at his residence in Houghton, South Africa, June 21, 2011.
President Obama talks with Vice President Biden on the Colonnade outside the Oval Office, June 20, 2011.
President Obama joins in a water gun fight with daughter Sasha during her 10th birthday celebration at Camp David, Md., June 11, 2011.
The President visits Joplin, Mo., on May 29, 2011, following a devastating tornado. Here he greets Hugh Hills, 85, in front of his home. Hills told the President he hid in a closet during the tornado, which destroyed the second floor and half the first floor of his house.
"I can still hear these Irish girls screaming, 'Barack! Barack! Michelle! Michelle!' It reminded me of the old black and white video footage of American girls screaming at the Beatles in concert. These girls were cheering as the President and First Lady took the stage at the College Green in Dublin, Ireland, May 23, 2011."
A few days after the mission against bin Laden, on May 5, 2011, the President traveled to New York City to meet with families of the 9/11 victims. He also visited at the Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 Firehouse. The firehouse, known as the "Pride of Midtown," lost 15 firefighters on 9/11 -- an entire shift and more than any other New York firehouse. Here, the firefighters offer an impromptu toast to the President in honor of their fallen comrades during a lunch at the station house."
President Barack Obama edits his remarks in the Outer Oval Office prior to making a televised statement detailing the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011. Vice President Biden, Press Secretary Jay Carney and are also pictured.
"Much has been made of this photograph that shows the President and Vice President and the national security team monitoring in real time the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011. Some more background on the photograph: The White House Situation Room is actually comprised of several different conference rooms. The majority of the time, the President convenes meetings in the large conference room with assigned seats. But to monitor this mission, the group moved into the much smaller conference room. The President chose to sit next to Brigadier General Marshall B. ÒBradÓ Webb, Assistant Commanding General of Joint Special Operations Command, who was point man for the communications taking place. With so few chairs, others just stood at the back of the room. I was jammed into a corner of the room with no room to move. During the mission itself, I made approximately 100 photographs, almost all from this cramped spot in the corner. Please note: a classified document seen in front of Sec. Clinton has been obscured."
"After the President and Congress finally agreed on a bill to keep the government from shutting down, the President decided to make an unannounced stop to thank tourists for visiting the Lincoln Memorial the following day, April 9, 2011. The Memorial and other monuments and national parks in Washington and across the country would have been forced to close had they not come to an agreement. Here, the President greets a surprised young girl as other tourists in the background snap pictures of their chance encounter with the President."
President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner talk in the Oval Office following a late night meeting on the budget, April 6, 2011.
President Obama meets with his national security staff during a conference call on Libya in the Situation Room of the White House, Saturday, March 26, 2011.
"The Obama family was scheduled to tour the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before dinner one night March 20, 2011. But when heavy fog rolled in, they decided to cancel the visit. After dinner though, the fog had dissipated somewhat so they decided to make the drive up the mountain after all. It was quite clear when they arrived and then the fog started to roll back in. I managed to capture this silhouette as they viewed the statute one last time just before departure."
President Obama fist bumps a young person reaching through the door at the Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela Community Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 20, 2011.
"The President gives the final authorization for the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians during a conference call in Brazil, March 19, 2011."
President Obama walks through the door of the Outer Oval Office at the start of the day, Feb. 24, 2011. This is his usual point of entry to the Oval Office each morning.
President Obama meets with former President George H. W. Bush in the Oval Office, Feb. 15, 2011.
President Obama reads documents while sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Feb. 11, 2011.
"The two coaches for Sasha Obama's basketball team couldn't make it to one of her games, so the President and his then personal aide, Reggie Love, filled in as coaches for this game on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011. Here they along with Sasha's teammates react during the game."
President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in the Oval Office, Feb 1, 2011.
"The President and his national security team were gathered in the Situation Room to discuss the developing events in Egypt on Feb. 1, 2011. An aide rushed in to say that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was making a live televised statement, so the feed was patched in so everyone could watch Mubarak. In the midst of days of protests calling for his ouster, Mubarak in this statement said he would step down at the end of his term."
The President, the First Lady and President Hu Jintao of China descend the Grand Staircase of the White House before a formal State Dinner, Jan. 19, 2011.
"A terrible tragedy occurred on a Saturday in January when a gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Ariz. A few days later, on Jan. 12, 2011, the President spoke at a memorial service for the six victims who died and those wounded. Here he greets Mavy Stoddard, whose husband Dorwan died while protecting her during the shooting."
President Obama talks with Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip, after a meeting with bipartisan Congressional leadership in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, Nov. 30, 2010.
Late at night in the Treaty Room office in the White House residence, Nov. 23, 2010, the President talks on the phone with President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea after North Korea had conducted an artillery attack against the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.
"Visiting the Great Buddha of Kamakura, in Japan, the President had a green tea ice cream bar with his hosts, Nov. 14, 2010. He had visited this Buddha as a young child and said he remembered sitting in the exact same place having an ice cream bar."
President Obama talks with Prime Minster of India Manmohan Singh during a the State Dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, in New Dehli, India, Nov. 8, 2010.
The day after the mid-term election, the President waits in the Blue Room of the White House before facing the press at a news conference in the East Room, Nov. 3, 2010.
"After a day filled with meetings, the President headed to the White House basketball court to shoot a few baskets with his personal aide Reggie Love, Oct. 13, 2010. Before heading back to the Oval, he flipped the ball towards the rim just where the afternoon light was falling."
"We had arrived back at the Westchester County Airport in New York, headed back to Washington, Sept. 16, 2010. Because of the configuration of the helicopter, everyone had to board before the President. So he waited for a few minutes in the motorcade, illuminated by the interior light, until everyone was situated."
The President's feet, in foreground, with others staff following the bilateral meeting with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in the Oval Office, Sept. 1, 2010.
"We were walking through a locker room at the University of Texas on August 9, 2010, when White House Trip Director Marvin Nicholson stopped to weigh himself on a scale. Unbeknownst to him, the President was stepping on the back of the scale, as Marvin continued to slide the scale lever. Everyone but Marvin was in on the joke."
President Obama shares a moment with his daughter Sasha during a barbecue in celebration of his 49th birthday on the South Lawn of the White House, Aug. 8, 2010.
President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev talk over lunch during an unannounced trip to Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va., June 24, 2010.
"This was a difficult day for the President, shown here in the Oval Office on June 23, 2010, after he had made the decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus as the Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan."
"To call attention to the safety of the seafood in the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill, the President ate some shrimp and crawfish with locals in Grand Isle, La., June 4, 2010. I noticed all the hands digging into the food and thought it made an interesting angle."
President Obama tries to block a layup shot by his former personal aide, Reggie Love, at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2010.
President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan walk along the South Lawn Drive of the White House, following their working lunch, May 12, 2010.
President Obama looks out the window aboard the Marine One helicopter before speaking at Hampton University commencement in Armstrong Stadium, Hampton, Va. May 9, 2010.
President Obama talks with his daughter Malia on the swing set outside the Oval Office, May 4, 2010.
President Obama listens during a briefing about the situation along the Gulf of Mexico coast following the BP oil spill, at the Coast Guard Venice Center, in Venice, La., Sunday, May 2, 2010. Pictured, from left, are Admiral Thad Allen, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel; and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Before a prayer breakfast at the White House, the President prays privately with clergy members in the Blue Room, April 6, 2010.
President Obama's signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010.
The President, Vice President and senior staff applaud after watching on television the House vote on H.R. 4872 for health care reform, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 21, 2010.
After dinner with his family on March 19, 2009, the President works the phone in the Oval Office to continue pressing Congressmen to vote for the health care reform bill.
President Obama makes health reform related calls in the Oval Office, March 19, 2010.
President Barack Obama engages with Rep. John Boehner, soon-to-be Speaker of the House, during a spirited bipartisan Congressional leadership meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Feb. 9, 2010.
President Barack Obama and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, play in the snowstorm at the White House, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010.
"This was the night, Jan. 20, 2010, after the special election in Massachusetts, when Republican Scott Brown had unexpectedly won the Senate seat belonging to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Brown's election deprived the Democrats of 60 votes in the Senate, putting in jeopardy the passage of healthcare reform, a sentiment that you can see on the faces of the President and his aides."
"President Obama had called on the two former Presidents to help with the situation in Haiti. During their public remarks in the Rose Garden, Jan. 16, 2010, President Clinton had said about President Bush, ÔIÕve already figured out how I can get him to do some things that he didnÕt sign on for.Õ Later, back in the Oval, President Bush is jokingly asking President Clinton what were those things he had in mind.Ó
“The President was playing golf with some high school friends at Luana Hills Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii, during his Christmas vacation, Dec. 28, 2009. One of the main reasons he likes to golf is because he feels like he’s out of the ‘bubble.’ In fact, of course, there are dozens of staff and Secret Service that accompany him. But I thought this photograph showed to a certain extent the openness of being out on the golf course.”
“Having seen more than 25 Bruce Springsteen concerts since 1978 and having seen just about every movie Robert DeNiro has ever made, it was a great thrill to be in their presence as the President greeted them before the Kennedy Center Honors at the White House, Dec. 6, 2009.”
Cadets listen as President Obama delivers his Afghanistan strategy speech at West Point, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2009.
ÒThe President and First Lady wait for Indian Prime Minister SinghÕs motorcade to depart the White House at the conclusion of the first official state dinner for the Obama administration, Nov. 24, 2009. The dinner was held in a tent on the South Lawn. The mist and fog made for an interesting scene, even obscuring the top of the Washington Monument in the background.Ó
“This photo was taken about 4AM, Oct. 29, 2009, after the President made an unannounced trip to Dover Air Force Base to pay respects to fallen troops coming back from Afghanistan. After meeting privately with the families, the President walked alone up the ramp of the cargo plane carrying the 18 caskets, all draped in American flags. I could see the emotion on his face as he walked from casket to casket, leaving a Presidential coin on each. When he was done, he paused for a few minutes, head bowed in prayer. I heard him tell others later how that was the most difficult moment of his Presidency thus far. Out of respect for the families, not all of who wanted their ceremony photographed, we can’t show those pictures (but they will become part of Presidential archive.)"
“The President works on his health care speech with his chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, in the Oval Office, Sept. 9, 2009. I noticed his handwritten edits and made this close-up. It’s a simple picture but it tells volumes about how involved he is in writing and editing his speeches.”
President Obama greets Sonia Sotomayor prior to her Investiture as an Associate Justice at the U.S. Supreme Court, Sept. 8, 2009.
On vacation in MarthaÕs Vineyard, the President shared a moment with his young niece, Savita, Aug. 25, 2009.
ÒI was sitting in the reception area outside the Oval Office on Aug. 5, 2009, when Sasha walked by and headed to the Oval. I suspected something was up, so I followed her. Sasha then crawled into the office, hiding behind the sofa, and when she reached the far end, jumped up and yelled, trying spook her dad.Ó
President Obama has dinner with his family on the roof of a hotel restaurant in Moscow,  July 7, 2009.
Afternoon events .Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
“A National Security staffer, Carlton Philadelphia, brought his family to the Oval Office for a farewell photo with President Obama. Carlton’s son, Jacob, softly told the President he had just gotten a haircut like President Obama, and asked if he could feel the President’s head to see if it felt the same as his.”
The President throws a football to an aide before a meeting in the Oval Office, April 23, 2009.
Deputy chief of staff Mona Sutphen jokingly offers a piece of birthday cake to senior advisor David Axelrod as the President watches amusingly in the Oval Office, April 15, 2009. The party was held to commemorate senior advisor Pete Rouse's birthday.
“Aboard Air Force One, the President’s aides gathered in the conference room to make the final decision on whether to secretly head to Baghdad, April 7, 2009. There was what one aide later called “high drama” as Gen. James Jones, the national security advisor, left, and Secret Service agent-in-charge Joe Clancy talked on different phone lines to their representatives on the ground.”
President Barack Obama is greeted by a large crowd following his Prague speech in Hradcany Square, April 5, 2009.
First Lady Michelle Obama waits as the President signs the guestbook upon their arrival at Prague Castle in the Czech Republic, April 5, 2009.
On Sunday night, March 29, 2009, aides listen to a speaker phone as the President made calls to alert officials about his plan to set deadlines for General Motors and Chrysler overhauls that were to be announced the next day.
President Obama: Economic Meeting with advisors. Roosevelt Room.
“The Obama family was introduced to a prospective family dog at a secret greet on March 15, 2009. After spending about an hour with the dog, the family decided he was the one. Here, the dog ran alongside the President in an East Wing hallway. The dog returned to his trainer, while the Obamas embarked on their first international trip. I had to keep these photos secret until a few weeks later, when the dog was brought ‘home’ to the White House and introduced to the world as Bo.”
The President dances with his wife while singing along with the band Earth, Wind & Fire during the Governors Ball, his first formal function at the White House, on Feb. 22, 2009
Aboard Air Force One, a closeup of the President’s signature on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he had just signed in Denver, on Feb. 17, 2009
President Obama meets with the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition in the State Dining Room, Feb. 10, 2009.
Basketball on South Grounds Super Bowl Party
President Obama reflects during an economic meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 29, 2009.
“We were on a freight elevator headed to one of the Inaugural balls on Jan. 20, 2009. It was quite chilly, so the President removed his tuxedo jacket and put it over the shoulders of his wife. Then they had a semi-private moment as staff members and Secret Service agents tried not to look.”
Malia Obama takes a picture of her father, President Obama, at the White House prior to his departure for the Inaugural Balls, Jan. 20, 2009.
President-elect Barack Obama walks to the podium for his Inauguration as the 44th President at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009.
President Barack Obama attends a dress rehearsal of the Moscow Ballet's “Great Russian Nutcracker,” in which his daughte

Pete Souza—The White House
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