Wednesday, September 11, 2019

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM




LET ME ADDRESS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
NONVIOLENT MARIJUANA OFFENDERS WITH LIFE 



Many years ago I started to look for nonviolent marijuana offenders with sentences of life without parole.  It was an obsession since my youngest brother had received this sentence as a first time nonviolent marijuana offender and we couldn’t believe that the sentence was possible.  His appeals were all completed and all relief denied.   That was when I thought I should become educated.

I used the phrase marijuana offenders with life sentences.  The feedback was quick, unmistakable and emphatic.  Marijuana offenders do not receive life sentences unless they are violent.

At that time no one believed that marijuana offenders could receive life sentences when there was absolutely no violence, so I added Nonviolent Marijuana Offenders sentenced to Life for Pot.

I did not receive push back against the phrase nonviolent marijuana offenders for a while, but as advocacy groups broke out other categories for sentencing relief: eg. Crack cocaine disparity, juveniles, women, minorities, etc., they would not talk about the category of nonviolent marijuana offenders with life and other egregious sentences as a category.  I know that when people read about a marijuana offender with a life sentence they immediately believe that there are dead bodies.  I know this because I have had to respond to this continually over the years.

I understand why criminal justice reform advocates do not want to say nonviolent marijuana offenders – it implies that people with violence in their case are not worthy of relief, conversely I know that saying Marijuana offenders with life sentences implies to most people that there are dead bodies.  This is especially true in the current climate of legalization.  How can we to tell the story of this egregious sentencing without being able to describe the offence, the person and the charge?  Telling the story of these individuals does not interfere with advocating for sentencing relief for other categories.

I am somewhat convinced that the inability to talk about this category has been responsible for this category of people being the Prisoners Left Behind.

They were under represented in clemencies granted by CP-14 as only 11 marijuana offenders with life sentences were granted commutations from President Obama out of the 1,715 commutations granted.  The category of marijuana offenders is not addressed in the First Step Act.  The public still does not believe there are nonviolent marijuana offenders with life sentences. Most people that contact me believe that the first step act gives sentencing reductions to all that I advocate for.  They believe this because it is natural category for relief. 

Even today, when advocates are asked about nonviolent marijuana offenders serving life sentences they can’t advocate for the category, but say things like well, they were kingpins.  That seems to be how they justify not acknowledging the category.  It’s painful and the result has been that this category has not been included in lobbying for sentencing relief and clemency. 

A much better way to talk about why they have life sentences would be to explain that they are victims of the trial penalty.  Almost all of these individuals were charged with conspiracy and went to trial.  This would be educational for those not familiar with our criminal justice system, but the simple statement that they were kingpins implies that the sentence is just and there is no need to modify it.   Being charged with a conspiracy and going to trial is the perfect combination for an egregious sentence for a nonviolent offense. 

Please let us tell the story of  this category of people who are serving life and other egregious sentences for marijuana.  If we can’t do this they will be left behind by sentencing reform.  


Friday, August 23, 2019

Restorative Justice and America's Pot POWs





This post is from The St Louis  Post - Dispatch  by: Peter Maguire


Peter Maguire is the author of “Law and War,” “Facing Death in Cambodia” and “Thai Stick.” He is a historian and former war-crimes investigator who has taught law and war theory at Columbia University, Bard College and University of North Carolina-Wilmington


Peter Maguire: Restorative justice must begin with America’s pot POWs


Saturday, June 15, 2019

NOTE TO CONGRESS

NOTE TO CONGRESS







TODAY’S CANNABIS BUSINESS PLAN IS

YESTERDAY’S MARIJUANA CONSPIRACY



Congress needs to address a great inconsistency in our criminal justice system.  There can be no integrity in the cannabis business community or in Congress as long as there are nonviolent marijuana offenders serving life without parole and other egregious sentences


Thirty – three states have legalized marijuana to some degree.  This has happened at the same time that marijuana has remained on the Controlled Substance Act as a Schedule 1 drug, a position that designates it as a more dangerous drug than Fentanyl and OxyContin.   


In 2017 there were over 650,000 arrests for marijuana and there are nonviolent people serving sentences of life without parole for marijuana


Today there are funds investing billions of dollars in emerging cannabis business enterprises while many high profile politicians, entertainers, and business entrepreneurs are also involved in the promotion of these enterprises.   Millions of dollars are being spent for lobbying by these businesses. 


This undeniable conflict between federal law and the current culture invites disrespect for the law and for those who are responsible for the enactment and prosecution of the law.  


There can be no integrity for cannabis business enterprises while people are serving egregious sentences for the same substance and the law supports these sentences. 


Every bill that is introduced to legalize cannabis businesses to any degree needs to have an amendment attached that grants retroactive sentencing relief for nonviolent marijuana offenders serving sentences of life without parole and other egregious sentences for the same substance that is being legalized.


These nonviolent marijuana offenders with sentences of life without parole do not receive one day of sentencing relief from the First Step Act.




Wednesday, June 5, 2019

CANNABIS BUSINESS ENTERPRISES NEED INTEGRITY





A CATEGORY AND MORE RANTING


TODAY'S CANNABIS BUSINESS PLAN IS YESTERDAY'S MARIJUANA CONSPIRACY

EVERY BILL INTRODUCED TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA TO SOME DEGREE NEEDS TO HAVE AN AMENDMENT ATTACHED FOR RETROACTIVE SENTENCING REFORM / CLEMENCY FOR THOSE WHO ARE SERVING LIFE SENTENCES FOR MARIJUANA.

WITHOUT THIS AMENDMENT, CANNABIS BUSINESSES WILL NOT HAVE INTEGRITY

A day after the passage of The First Step Act I began to receive the inquiries I dreaded.  They came from media, advocates, prisoners, friends and followers. 
The questions are:   

1. “Can I interview a nonviolent marijuana offender with a life sentence about how this bill will shorten their sentence and what it means to them.”   
    
 2. “How many marijuana people with life sentences will be released because of this bill?”

Prisoners and their friends and family wanted to know if the bill contained any mercy for them – it did not.  The more peripheral friends and acquaintances simply thought the bill must have relief for those serving life for pot.  Even some in Congress were not aware that The First Step Act had no relief for nonviolent marijuana offenders with life sentences.  Unfortunately there is no relief in The First Step Act for those serving life for pot and only 11 pot lifers received clemency from President Obama.  They are the prisoners left behind.

As these nonviolent people wait behind bars they see the constant movement of marijuana legalization – state by state – country by country they agonize about what it can mean for their freedom.  The pain is unbearable watching the country that has locked them in cages for decades while gradually coming to the consensus that marijuana is not more dangerous than fentanyl, OxyContin, and cocaine.   The First Step Act did not include sentencing relief for them.

WHAT DOES MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION MEAN FOR THEIR FREEDOM
The answer is nothing.  Even if marijuana is totally legalized federally, their life sentences will still be intact and they will die behind bars.  They will still need legislation for retroactive sentencing relief and/or clemency to be released from federal prison.

Politicians, entertainment stars, venture capitalists and ordinary citizens are investing billions of dollars and making billions. Congressmen are receiving millions in lobbying money to grease the political skids of hoped for legislation that will facilitate Cannabis Business Enterprises.  

For people serving life sentences for marijuana it’s painful to watch.  The rest of us should recognize that it is wrong and lacks integrity.  This is why we propose this plea for relief.  

Every bill that is introduced to facilitate the emerging cannabis business enterprises must have an amendment attached for retroactive sentencing relief for nonviolent people serving life sentences and de facto life sentences for marijuana offenses. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Prisoners Left Behind - A Rant

Prisoners Left Behind - A Rant

Paul Free leaving FCI Phoenix after 25 years


ARE WE HAPPY YET? A BIT OF A RANT
Prisoners Left Behind – Marijuana Offenders with Life

Today's Cannabis Business Plan is
Yesterday's Marijuana Conspiracy

This week-end I visited Paul Free in a Half Way House.  Paul Free a nonviolent marijuana offender who was given a sentence of life without parole in 1994 received one of Obama’s clemency’s that was really a sentence reduction from life to 30 years.  With good time, he was released to a half-way house on April 29, 2019.  Paul would not have been released by the First Step Act.  Nonviolent marijuana prisoners serving sentences of life for pot do not receive one day of relief from this legislation.  

Paul was one of 11 nonviolent marijuana people serving a life sentence who received one of the 1,715 commutations granted by President Obama.  The rest all had their petitions denied or left with no action.  Some of the prisoners left behind were, John Knock, Craig Cesal, Michael Pelletier, Ismael Lira, Ferrell Scott, Corvain Cooper, Andy Cox, Calvin Robinson, Pedro Moreno, Hector Ruben McGurk and many more.  They were all left behind by CP-14 and also receive no relief from the First Step Act. 

We supported and advocated for this legislation and celebrated when it was passed.  Many inmates will receive early release because of the First Step Act.  We have egregious sentencing in every category and they all need relief - women, juveniles, minorities, those sentenced for crack cocaine and many others.  It is a mystery why people with egregiously long sentences for marijuana were not considered for retroactive sentencing relief and so few received clemency

There are so many stories about sentencing reform and the First Step Act.  Those who are following this “transformation” believe that the worst is over.  Formerly incarcerated people and those who have fought for them are doing miraculous things and educating us about excessive charging and sentencing and talking about solutions.


There are however thousands of prisoners left behind.  All nonviolent marijuana offenders sentenced to life without parole for marijuana were left behind.  Those who have received life for pot will not receive one day of sentencing relief from the First Step Act.  Paul would not have freedom from The First Step Act.  He needed the compassion and mercy of Presidential Clemency or he would have died behind bars, most likely chained to a hospital bed. 

Life for Pot advocated for a narrow, but important category of people – those serving life sentences for marijuana and egregious de-facto life sentences for pot.  Paul, like many who are released left the prison with little fanfare to meet his brother and travel to a distant Half-Way house where he will live till Oct. 2019.  I’ve advocated for Paul’s freedom for many years and now it is close at hand. 
 
Antonio  Bascaro is another pot prisoner who was released the same week as Paul Free.  Antonio did not receive clemency nor was he released because of the First Step Act.  After serving 39 years in prison at the age of 84, Antonio had simply out lived his egregious sentence as a first time nonviolent marijuana offender. 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Clemency and The Old Ebbitt Grill

Clemency and The Old Ebbitt Grill


Most of the Nonviolent marijuana and other drug offenders serving sentences of life without parole did not receive clemency from President Obama's Clemency Project.  They also will not receive any sentencing relief from The First Step Act.  They need clemency from President Trump. 


In March of 2016 the White House briefing on clemency was hopeful. White House and Justice Department staff spoke about their commitment to clemency for the thousands of offenders serving egregious sentences which have been imposed since the onset of the war on drugs.  These sentences have given us the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate of all the countries with functioning representative government.


We were there to celebrate and inspire these current and future acts of great compassion and mercy advocated for by both sides of the political spectrum.  Clemency represents a commitment to social justice and to fiscal responsibility.  Our prison population is massive and wasteful and invitations to the briefing had been extended to legal scholars, advocacy groups, clemency recipients, the formerly incarcerated and families of petitioners.


I was happy to be invited to have brunch at the Old Ebbitt Grill with about 15 individuals from the briefing.  As we arrived at the restaurant the participants began to trickle in.  There we were, men and women of all ages, backgrounds, hues of color and vernacular.  We were seated at a large comfortable table and proceeded with introductions where necessary and small talk while looking at menus. 


A waitress appeared and the usual descriptions of dishes and questions about ingredients and portions ensued.  We were obviously not DC residents nor were we regular patrons.  The waitress hoped we were enjoying our visit to the capitol.  She was engaging and interested in the patrons she served, asking what had we seen and where were we going.


I sat next to Jason Hernandez, who I view as a hero. Jason’s life sentence was commuted by President Obama on December 19, 2013.  When our orders were complete the waitress paused, Jason asked her, “Do you know what we all have in common?”  She smiled, “No, what is it?”   Jason’s answer was direct and a show stopper, raw and informative.  “We’ve all been in prison.” 

This honest answer said: This is who we are, we’re like you, there’s no reason to fear us, we’re normal and we could be your family.  


It was forgotten that I had not been incarcerated but I’ve been in many prisons and know the stories of countless nonviolent drug offenders with sentences of life without parole.  I ache for them and their families.  I founded Life for Pot to advocate for marijuana offenders with life sentences, but the name of the substance is immaterial.  Jason’s sentence was for crack.  He founded Crack Open the Door.


I know the humanity of the family members who sit in prison waiting rooms.  They hope the screening process will be seamless and they will have a few short hours in a visiting room with their father, mother, husband/wife, sister or brother.  Family visits involve elaborate plans, expense and in most cases travel. Sometimes they must crossed the country just to have this short family interaction that will reconnect them with the loved one locked behind bars for the rest of their life. 


In 2013, Jennifer Turner, the Human Rights Researcher for the ACLU, completed the report Life without Parole, A Living Death.  This research found over 3,000 nonviolent offenders who were serving life without parole in federal prison; the vast majorities were drug offenders.  This sentence is unheard of in other developed countries.  It is one reason we have 25% of the world’s prisoners but only 5% of the world’s population.


As I gathered stories of nonviolent incarcerated people with life sentences or de-facto life sentences, I noted a pattern in charging and prosecution that rose to the top.  A large percentage of those with life sentences were charged with conspiracy and exercised their right to trial.  These two decisions, one made by the prosecution and the other made by the offender may provide some insight into the reason for our disparate sentencing and extreme reliance on incarceration.  Conspiracy charges are broad and hold you responsible for the actions of all members of the conspiracy, even if you were not there.  Conspiracy charges also allow the prosecution to tell the story through the testimony of co-conspirators testifying for a lesser sentence.  Going to trial gives you a sentence that is up to six times higher than those who take a plea.


The reason for my advocacy for clemency and my unease with this sentencing is personal but has become a more universal cry for more moderation in our in our quest for justice.  


My youngest sibling, John Knock has served 20 years of a life sentence as a first time marijuana offender.  The longing for reuniting him with the family that loves him is fresh.  Each visit within the walls of a federal penitentiary leaves us drained, yet somehow renewed knowing that there is hope for mercy and compassion and the promise that we will not have to endure an eternal separation from someone who is integral to the fabric of our lives.  John is 68 years of age.  I know that he is representative of multitudes, yet singular to me as he has been part of my heart for a life time.  He represents thousands.


As Jason Hernandez so gracefully illuminated the humanity of the formerly incarcerated, I would make a plea for those still waiting for the promise.