Mail Call!

I'm sitting in Leavenworth, my third prison sentence for nonviolent drug offenses. I accept it as part of my lifestyle. I've been smuggling, growing and distributing marijuana since 1966, made a very good living from it being illegal, so I don't complain about doing time. When I'm out in the world, I do whatever I want to do. When I'm locked up, I do whatever I have to do.

My first trip to prison was California State in 1969. Now, 30 years later, I can't help but reflect on the changes. In '69, the people I did time with were criminals, and most of them were proud of it. I shared cells with murderers, armed robbers, burglars and rapists. Not too many were in there for drug crimes, and as a basically honest and caring person, I felt out of place. I felt I was just a pot smoker, not a criminal. Since then, I've grown accustomed to being a felon. Prison is just a business expense.

But now I look around the chow hall and ask myself, "Who are these guys? And what are they doing here?" Prison is no longer an elite fraternity of criminals. It seems that just about anyone can get in these days, you just have to know someone. Most of these guys are coming in on drug conspiracies. One of their acquaintances got busted and gave up all the names he could think of to avoid these outrageous mandatory minimum sentences. They don't belong here and make it hard on us criminals, crowding us out, and complaining about their time. I try not to be hard on them, it's not their fault. The Constitution has been so beat up through 30 years of drug wars that a person can't even defend himself anymore. Even if you're innocent, you're usually better off taking the plea agreement than running the risk of a trial in the Injustice Courts. Can't even buy a good criminal lawyer, anymore. They don't want to litigate, just negotiate. They'll negotiate your 15 year sentence down to 12, then wonder why you aren't as excited as they pretend to be.

I applaud the efforts of the November Coalition, FAMM, NORML and related organizations, urging citizens to get involved, stand up for their rights and try to put an end to this madness. At the rate things are going, it won't be long until everyone in this country has a relative behind bars. Maybe then it will be too late. As a felon I'm not allowed to express my opinions at the polls, but I intend to support these organizations as soon as I'm able. We need to get these POW's out of here, so that prison can return back to it's normal, abnormal atmosphere.
Greg Shipp, prisoner of the drug war

One person is locked up for every 85 adults in America. Next time you pass your city limit sign look at the city's population. If your city has a population of 1.000 -there are 10 people missing. A city of 100,000 has 1,000 of its citizens incarcerated. If you don't have enough love for humanity to stop the drug war - consider this:

The drug war has practically destroyed the Bill of Rights, turned the country into a police state, made prison an industry and brought prison into the mainstream of society. Prison affects us all.
These prison sentences have gone beyond punishment and well into retribution. For society to want retribution it has to display hate. With society propagating hate - it can expect a hateful society in the future.

Prison has lost the stigma it used to carry because it has moved into the mainstream of society. It has even became popular­­as a "rite of passage." Whether a person starts out a "criminal"­­after prison they are a criminal in every sense of the word. Yes, we are collectively creating a criminal society.

Politicians cling to "tough on crimes" rhetoric and claim lengthy prison terms are a deterrent to crime. So is their plan to create a hateful, criminal society? Next time the economy stumbles we'll see the effects of this "plan". The true cost of the drug war has not been fully realized. As the generation after alcohol prohibition paid social costs (organized crime, corruption, etc.) there will be a price to be paid long after the drug war has ended.
Ronald Gordon, prisoner of the drug war

I am writing you this letter to thank you for the November Coalition. About two years ago, my husband and I were arrested in our home for a drug violation. When I read the essay that you have on your web page called "Why the Drug War Cannot Succeed," it reminded me of the pain and torture that my husband and I went through with the so-called Drug Task Force Team.
Right now I am trying to piece my life together. My husband is now in prison, and it is very hard for my life to move on, but I feel the need to be strong for him and our marriage. Jeff took a plea to the crime of trafficking, which has cost us money that we do not have. The reason why he took the plea is that they wanted to put us both in prison.
Tammy Bigger

I just finished reading the article about officer Jose "Ernie" Medina in the Metro section of the September 23, 1999, Arizona Daily Star. As an inmate serving a 20-year sentence for allegedly conspiring to possess 2,600 pounds of marijuana, I am appalled, shocked and outraged by the sentencing of Mr. Medina.

Mr. Medina conspired to possess 5,000 pounds of marijuana. I know that, according to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), this should result in a mandatory 10 year sentence. Even under the Sentencing Guidelines, the sentencing range should have been, at least, a level 32 - or 87 to 108 months; not including a term of supervised release.

Eighty-seven months is what I was offered in a plea agreement which included full and ongoing cooperation (and which I could not accept because I maintain I am innocent of the charge).
Even with Medina's cooperation, four months and a $5,000 fine is a complete travesty. When is the last time someone who conspired to possess more than two tons of marijuana got a 4 month sentence?

This man was a police officer who took an oath to uphold the law. After seeing the sentencing of Mr. Medina my advice to anyone out there who wants to deal drugs with impunity is simple: become a police officer first.
Charles Crehore , Prisoner of the Drug war

From: Kelly Ali
Subject: One step at a time

Most definitely I will get pictures of our first drug war vigil.

I was at the post office this morning and a man running for mayor was there and asked me what my husband did for a living. (Ed. Note: Kelly's husband is in federal prison on non-violent drug charges.) Boy I bet he regrets that! I told him all about TNC and he has a copy of our paper and I told him all about the way the law works and he could not believe it. He told me he publishes a quarterly magazine for Shaker Heights (Ohio) called Movers and Shakers and that if I would like to write an article I could. YES! I told him about the Snitch video and he said that he would like to see it.

To: Vivian Wm. McPeak
You don't know me, but I know who you are. I want to thank you so much for your efforts. I am a Seattle cop, and I started out my career as a strict prohibitionist. After ten years of being on the streets, listening, watching, and reading everything I could get my hands on, my opinion has changed dramatically. You want to know the biggest drug problem facing America? Alcohol. We have a Detox van that drives around all day and does nothing but pick up the piles of broken bodies destroyed by booze. In my career, over 10 years, I have NEVER seen a guy puking in the gutters, soiling his pants, or begging total strangers for money in order to get marijuana. NEVER.
The whole war on drugs is madness, a total failure. The only thing it has successfully done is shred the 4th Amendment. I know I don't sound like the average cop, and I guess I'm not. I just want you to realize that there are a few (just a few) who secretly cheer your time and efforts in decriminalizing drugs. Keep the fight up. I wish that I could speak out, and help more, but you must realize that like the old Chinese axiom, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down, and I have a family to feed.
A Seattle Police Officer

Oops! I sit here embarrassed and red in the face. I promised a contribution once my mail and money caught up with me after my most recent relocation. Guess what I forgot to include in my last letter?

Sorry about that. Please find enclosed a money order for $10.00. I wish it could be more . . . Maybe at Christmas time, I hope. Once again, please pardon my forgetfulness, but prison seems to be rotting my brain.
Keith W. Kennedy, Prisoner of the Drug War

From: Debbie Duncan
Subject: Senator

I just cut our North Carolina Senator John Garwood's hair. He noticed all my drug war literature and right away began telling me about the injustices in the drug war. He also told me that Sen. Jesse Helms' office is in the federal building with the Post Office in Raleigh, NC. That is too cool! He said it was a very busy area. I can't wait for this one, gonna get right on it!
(Ed. note: Debbie, a TNC Regional Leader, is planning a drug war vigil outside of Jesse Helms' office.)

I was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. I am a minimum level, non-violent offender. I believe I should have been mandated to a halfway house, house arrest or any other federal program instead of prison.

I realize I made the biggest mistake of my life, but I'm only human, and we all make mistakes. I have a wife and two children who need me very much. My wife is going through a rough time, both physically and mentally.

I haven't received a visit from any of my family. My wife can't drive 12 hours one way with two children ages three and four, my mother is too old to drive, and my two sisters have families of their own to care for.

I've learned my lesson; why can't I get a second chance? Why can't we all get a second chance?
Jose R. Perez, Prisoner of the Drug War

I am so glad that there is someone who cares. I was just telling my wife that nobody cares anymore; it's all about money. If I hadn't been working two jobs, I wouldn't be in this mess. I just hoped there was someone who's not afraid of my prosecutor; even the judge does whatever he says. Thank you so much.
Gaetano Izzo, Prisoner of War in America

God, please let the people know what's going on.

Sure, I made a mistake. I am 51 years old, and I got 5 years 10 months for possession with intent. I learned my lesson the first year, but now I've lost my children because of my mistake. They don't want my grandchildren to know their pa is in prison.

If you notice my return address, they make us put 'Federal Prison Camp' on our mail, so everyone knows your family is getting mail from a convict.
Joe Burker, Prisoner of the Drug War