Sentenced To Life In Prison For Failing A Urine Test

Chuck Armsbury writes: A letter came out of a Texas prison one day. A young man, he said his mother's name was Nora, he liked the name a lot and that he was doing life for testing positive for marijuana. His life was so messed up, he couldn't even commit suicide right.

We began the process of sending him paperwork, asking if he would share his story with 'the world' on our website. We asked him for his mother's phone number, it was a story hard to believe. He'd been in prison for over 14 years and had no 'out date.'

I called his mother, Nora. She verified the story and gave me the name of an attorney who could verify it and he did. We were all stunned. A marijuana lifer who got life because he tested positive, and Tyrone Brown had been "down" almost 15 years by this time.

We posted his plaintive story, his poetry on November Coalition's website, and not too long after, an investigative reporter with the Dallas Morning News called.

"Is that story about Tyrone Brown, true? Did he really get life for pot?" Brooks Eggerton asked me.

"His mother and attorney says it is so, sir," I replied and the gentleman wrote about Tyrone's life sentence. People that read the story in of Unequal Justice in the Dallas Morning news were outraged.

A few joined us to create awareness around Tyrone's plight. We made posters, created postcards for people to sign and send to Govenor Perry of Texas. Other groups began telling their members about the terrible injustice—Brooks Eggerton pointing to the extreme racial inequality in the Texas prison system, and using one case made the mountain of statistics make some sense.

There were regular stories in the Alternative progressive publications, then ABC's 20/20 did an entire episode on Tyrone's plight. More citizens and groups of outraged citizens joined to create an independent entity whose sole mission was to pressure the Governor for Tyrone's release. November Coalition became part of a broader coalition of citizens and organizations urging Governor Perry to do the right thing.

Just before the election, and in time for Christmas . . .

Tyrone Brown is free at last!

Tyrone Brown's story was featured on ABC TV's 20/20 show on Nov 3, 2006. You can view the 20/20 Webcast of Tyrone's segment, or read a transcript of the broadcast.

Don't miss the Dallas Morning News article on Tyrone's homecoming, and special thanks to investigative journalist, Brooks Eggerton who visited November Coalition's website!

Tyrone Brown #554317
Life for smoking marijuana

My name is Tyrone Brown, better known as T Baby to some. At age 17 I was sentenced to an aggravated life sentence in prison for smoking marijuana while on probation.

Now I know that may sound absurd and hard to believe because it sounded the same to me also when Judge Keith Dean in Dallas, Texas handed down his order more than 14 years ago. I soon realized that just like the marijuana smoke I consumed, my life was also to be consumed by these years behind bars.

I'm not some flawless star. I have my faults like everyone else. Throughout my young life I warred with myself, trying to grasp something or someone solid to hold onto, someone to show me the right way.

I was regularly sent to special schools and placed in special classes. Stealing cars and other things only led me into juvenile jails, until age 17 when I was charged with aggravated robbery-my first and only criminal charge as an adult.

After a few months in jail, I was given a 10-year deferred sentence and ordered to submit to conditions of probation. Two months later I was ordered to submit to a urinalysis test -- the results showing I had smoked marijuana. The Dallas Court revoked my probation, and I was sentenced to life in prison.

Now, as a black man at age 31, I believe that not being able to communicate with people somehow played a major part in how I lived as a youth. Even today it's hard for me to communicate with my family, my mother, aunt and daughter. It's a feeling no one should have to endure without end. But I have learned to write and through poetry, short stories and essays I sometimes feel I'm saying something.

I mostly write when I'm angry, sad or depressed -- when I try to lose myself between the lines of a page. I've tried suicide a few times without success over the last 14 years. What am I to make of a life filled with failure, including failing to end my life? As I think now, I'm pretty much grateful for those botched efforts.

When every waking hour is ruled by depressing thoughts, it's hard to say exactly what the next day has hiding around its corners. So I try to take it step by step.

I'm haunted at night by the 1990 day when the Judge ordered me to do my life in prison. Why didn't he order me into a drug rehabilitation program? I never had any demand put on me to rehabilitate myself, nor told how I could lean on the shoulder of the State for help with my "addiction" to marijuana.

Who can say, certainly not the Texas Courts, what course my life would have taken if I had been able to grow up on the outside? I want to say to anyone in a situation similar to mine in 1990 that you must learn everything you can about your case -- and don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. My biggest mistake was being unable and unwilling to communicate with my attorney about options and to ask him how well he knew his job.

My family lives almost 200 miles away, and I see my 13-year-old daughter once or twice a year. My mom tries to bring her and her mother to see me, but I haven't had a visit in almost two and one-half years.

No matter how the rest of my life turns out, I give special thanks to all the people and staff of November Coalition for their honest attempt to open the minds of citizens to the unjust drug laws. Let's not let this difficult work to reclaim lives be for nothing. I would enjoy corresponding with anyone interested in my life and writing.

Moma, I love you (written 7/04/01)

Moma, you are the love of my life
One of a kind, beautiful and unique
May the hand of our father God hold you within reach
Always and forever, your love I will find

In the deepest recess of my heart.
Like a diamond it will shine
On days so dull, and full of gloom
Visions of your love is what makes life bloom
Endless times of fun we'd had.

You were always there when days seemed sad
Only you could ease the pains I felt
Understand the tears when I broke down and wept

That's the reason why your love stands true and the reason why I say:
Moma, I love you!

Trapped (written 9/26/03)

Trapped in these shackles, my steps are limited
Though my journey be long, I will not surrender
The days are a year, and the years are forever.
Lonely is my enemy, deep as the sea.
Will I drown in sorrow, that love with no heart?
Who can I call to caress my fears?

God left on vacation, but I dialed him first.
My anger is loud, but my hopes are louder.
Four steps is all I am allowed to take
For the shackles are a bridle that holds me tight.

The walls are closing in; my breath is shallow.
Will I survive? Why shouldn't I?
Bound, but not broken, another step, though small
My thoughts are guarded; my dreams are just illusions.

But they are mine in which I am trapped
Sunlight smiled before my eyelids - another day.
Four more steps closer to the door
A sigh of frustration, a silent prayer
Another step, though small
But I am still trapped.

Blind Love (written 5/26/04)

Blind -- no thoughts wasted
A wicked sneer that bites
Love smiles with a frown that can't see
Hate caressed love into laughter
And love kissed hate with passion.

Blind -- but no sight, darkness
Tears from the sky, or is it rain?
Does God cry, can he feel my pain?
Joy slapped kindness in the face
And peace wiped her eyes.

Blind love -- but love, love nobody
Who am I, save a nothing that can't be?
Why dwell on love that can't see?
When hate is pure, ready for the taking.
My eyes are open, but I'm blind to love.

Suicide (written 5/26/04)

Thoughts of nothing, darkness so deep
Visions of sleep, but too steep.
Feelings so bleak, no feelings to feel
Deep is the pain, blue like rain.
But who cares, surely not time

Who'll understand the mind of a mime?
Time doesn't care, nor patience wait.
Hate is my fate, anger on my plate.
My journey is a hearse where I am trapped.
No escape from this void, no way out.

Love is only a word that can never love back
Blind to the beholder, wonder to the curious.
Death is my only option, my only love.

Embrace me darkness, caress me softly
My mind is tired; my soul is blue.
My heart is troubled, what's left to do
But to die? Don't cry.

Blood trickles slowly down my eyes.
No one home, all alone.
Time stopped ticking,
Now my journey here is almost done.