Common threads:

Quest for relief from injustice

The most common thread of all among those who have been 'down a long time,' and still staring ahead at years or decades longer, is the leftover torment of betrayal. It doesn't get set aside, even when dreams are.

The psychological pain of betrayal appears more often and significant than any other loss prisoners endure. Losing trust in mankind is harder to bear than the loss of freedom, or so it appears to those who read the mail and take phone calls in the November Coalition office.

Common threads stick and stay with a person. The fear of growing old in prison is an oft-repeated conversational thread, feeling vulnerable as middle age gives way to 'senior' without the 'status' it brings in the free world. It is when legal remedies are exhausted, and bones begin to ache, that the prisoner appears exhausted by it all.

These reflections often include a heartbreaking thread of torment crying out louder than all the rest, "It's been 15 years, and I still do not know how my cousin could take the stand and say all those things about me." Or we read, "While I'm not haunted by the 'judgment factor' (many in my family now consider me a common criminal), the 'betrayal factor' stays in my system agitating me like poison, circulating and re-circulating again. I am forced each day to swallow this bitter 'reality pill.' The betrayal, without a doubt, is the worst part of all of this time."

Our drug conspiracy laws could be described as state assisted betrayal. Arrested people are pressured by threat of overly long prison sentences to 'cooperate' and inform, set others up, wear a wire, and the list of 'snitch' tactics used by enforcement goes on. What are the long-term social and psychological effects of being betrayed by a friend and the government in one fell swoop?

Experts agree that recognizing and experiencing betrayal by a once-trusted source can foster deep mental depression and other ill effects. People suffering from betrayal involving a relative or close friend, or someone in a close position of trust, are legitimately considered 'traumatized.'

According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition: "traumatic events that are experienced directly include, but are not limited to, military combat, violent personal assault, being kidnapped, being taken hostage, torture, incarceration as a prisoner of war or natural or manmade disasters, etc." Other experts agree that the effects of betrayal may be especially severe or long-lasting when the stressor is of human design.

Before Paul Lewin became a member of the November Coalition in 1998 he was a post graduate student at George Washington University. For a field research paper he interviewed parents of drug war prisoners to learn about the effects of mandatory sentencing on family members.

He discovered that the respondents "seem to have all undergone a fairly similar process where, initially, they are forced to balance their idea that their children are essentially good persons with their knowledge that their children committed illegal acts. However, the respondents' experience with the judicial system leaves them feeling that their government is an agent causing unacceptable and unnecessary harm to their children's lives. They feel powerless to protect their children and view the long-term incarceration of their children as a huge loss to their lives.

"The perception of damaging aggression by the state coupled with their powerlessness to rescue their child gives rise to a number of emotional responses. These include anger, depression, embarrassment, silence, isolation, and fear. However, the overwhelmingly unanimous emotional response is a cynicism towards the state and its institutions.

"Respondents also indicate that they have undergone a permanent change in their conceptualization of the American government. The respondents also all recognize a 'class identification,' where they indicate that they see themselves as having a commonality with other people who have also been victimized by the state."

November Coalition members in common with many others are seeking relief from the injustice our loved ones have received. If you cannot find a Petition for Relief of Federal Drug War Injustice insert in this copy of the Razor Wire, visit, write us or call our office, and we'll put one in the mail.

In seeking relief, we ask that you visit friends and family, church and other social centers where you can get signatures and extend ongoing efforts of public education. Signed petitions will be received, counted and held in our office for safekeeping. The US House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and the US Sentencing Commission will be sent reports on our growing public support at regular intervals.

Other things that you can do:

  • Follow this link to our "Talking Points". Share the petition successfully within your circle of friends, neighbors and your entire community.
  • Ask others to help gather signatures of support for significant increase in "good time" eligibility. Download petition here. (Descargue una Petición Española)
  • Attend community events and set up a table where you can lay out Relief Petitions, or put copies on a clipboard and walk around getting signatures. Learn about tabling.
  • Call your local public radio and offer to do an interview. Share the Relief Petition's request with listeners, ask them to visit and sign on as a supporter of early release. Read about giving an interview.
  • Call a community meeting and explain to those who attend what the Petition for Relief from Drug War Injustice is, and how they can help. Learn how to plan a public event.
  • If you haven't already done so, please join the November Coalition today! Membership Information.
  • In conjunction with this petition, educate the public about the destructive war on drugs. Stay Informed!

Text of Petition:

Petition for Relief from Drug War Injustice

In the mid 1980s Congress abolished parole and passed harsh drug sentencing laws. Many states followed, creating a ten-fold increase in the number of drug offenders incarcerated. We have lost cherished legal traditions and endured many other unintended consequences due to a destructive anti-drug policy.

It is illogical to spend tax dollars on long imprisonment when other means have proven far more effective in addressing the social problems of drug abuse and addiction. State leaders across the U.S. are reforming rigid sentencing guidelines, drug and parole policies. We urge federal leaders to do the same: Provide prisoners with an incentive to maintain exemplary behavior in prison and earn early release.

Earned, early release would foster incentives toward cooperation, study, and learning skills that would create a safer environment for staff and prisoners alike. Families could be reunited earlier, with better prospects for successful reentry into society. High costs of incarcerating drug offenders -- $9.4 billion annually -- would be dramatically reduced. Inhumane prison overcrowding would be relieved -- the federal system is 31% over capacity, and growing more than 9% annually.

We, the undersigned, support the November Coalition's demand for relief from drug war injustice through a revival of federal pa role and/or a dramatic increase in "good-time" eligibility of prisoners in federal custody.

The Razor Wire is a publication of The November Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates drug law reform. Contact information:
282 West Astor - Colville, Washington 99114 - (509) 684-1550