THE WAR ISN’T OVER: What 935 Months In Prison Looks Like

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How FCI Sheridan Became Home For These Medical Marijuana Patients

One month short of 78 years. That’s the collective punishment handed down to the prisoners in this photo. Their crime against humanity: providing marijuana to people who would have found it elsewhere.

Look closely at these faces. These men and their families are the casualties of America’s War on Drugs.

One thing that stands out immediately is everyone is white. In prison, there is an unwritten rule that forbids mingling between different races. With minorities four times more likely to be incarcerated for marijuana, the bigger picture starts to come into focus.

Another noticeable aspect is  some of these men are bald and gray. That’s right, many of America’s hardened drug traffickers are actually grandpas. Not exactly what people might envision, thanks to blockbuster movies like Scarface and Blow.

The sad reality of prohibition is that generation after generation has been devastated by the fatally flawed policy. In the front row of this photo, second from the left, sits Jason Nelson. To his right is Jason’s uncle, one of two who are serving time in the same prison as their nephew. It’s not uncommon for members of the same family to be prosecuted. Much like farming potatoes or corn, growing cannabis is a skill that’s often passed down.

In the middle of the back row stands Chris Williams. Towering over most of us at 6 foot 5 inches tall, Chris was a co-owner and managed a greenhouse for Montana Cannabis. His company was considered a gold standard among industry insiders. That was before the DEA stormed in, aiming their assault rifles at Chris’s hard-working employees. The Feds raided 26 commercial properties in a matter of hours, detaining so many people there weren’t enough handcuffs to go around. Agents made due with zip ties instead.

I keep in regular contact with a good number of these prisoners. Every single person in this picture is a verifiable medical marijuana patient. In fact, with one exception, all of these men were state-authorized caregivers.  This snapshot represents a microscopic fraction of the medical marijuana farmers, business owners and investors who are locked up in nearly 120 federal prisons across the country.

When you add up the individual sentences, it equals a lifetime of punishment. The shortest sentence among this group is six months in prison and only one of these men was granted such leniency. Some are serving ten-year sentences without the possibility of parole, a crushing defeat that kept countless others from showing their faces, fearing the potential repercussions.

The average sentence for each of these marijuana prisoners is right around five years. With taxpayers spending $34,000 a year to incarcerate the typical inmate, it will cost more than $2.7 million to lock up these prisoners. For comparison, the U.S. Department of Education spends less than $11,000 annually on each public school student. Hundreds of children will be robbed of a quality education next year, so we can imprison 16 non-violent offenders for crimes with no victim. Yet we wonder why students abroad fare better in both the academic world and the marketplace.

The Bureau of Prisons admits  there are more than 90,000 prisoners just like these, languishing behind bars for drug crimes. With an annual budget that has continually grown to $8.5 billion and 38,000 employees on its roster, jailing these prisoners is big business for the BOP. Almost half of the offenders in federal custody are there for drug crimes. When you add in immigration and weapons violations, three out of four prisoners are accounted for. Our descendants are bound to look at this moment in history and wonder why it took so long to fight back against injustice.

What can you do right now? Here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Contact Your Congressional Delegation: There are six different bills active on Capitol Hill related to marijuana. Let your lawmakers know  you support federal reforms to America’s outdated drug policies.
  • Write The U.S. Sentencing Commission:This governmental rule-making body has just released its latest list of priorities and releasing non-violent drug offenders is at the top. The Commission is accepting public comment until July 15th, so be sure to offer up your perspective on this important issue.
  • Support Groups Who Support Prisoners: November Coalition, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and Americans for Safe Access have all been working hard to fight back against the industrial incarceration complex.
  • Join The International Outcry: Online petitions for prisoners like Jerry Duval, a medical marijuana patient who is serving a ten-year sentence, are a great way to take action without spending any money.
  • Become a Prison Pen Pal: Your letters and cards bring light into a dark place. To get you started, here is a list of addresses for some of the medical marijuana patients and caregivers who are currently locked up in federal prison.
  • Donate To Grassroots Campaign: Crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe are a great way to find projects that can use your support. IndieGoGo is also a good choice and actually has a campaign running right now to fund a documentary on the human casualties of the War on Marijuana.

Follow these organizations to learn more: