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A warning to Canada from inside the “Tough On Crime” US prison system

submitted by on December 4, 2011

In lieu of the imminent passage of Bill C-10, the crime bill with mandatory minimums for all drug offenses involving manufacture and distribution – which the Harper Conservatives are set to pass in the Canadian Parliament – it is reflective to consider how the US criminal justice system has gotten completely out of control with these mandatory minimum sentences.

Once mandatory minimums are put in any criminal justice regime, they almost never get repealed despite the disastrous effect on the public safety, the treasuries of the state and federal government, and the cruelty that punishes victims and their families.

"Disastrous effect on the public safety?" you might well ask. That’s because as risk goes up in the drug trade, so do prices. Since most people involved in the drug trade have no comparable market value for their limited or non-existent skills, the more the prices rise and demand increases, the more tempted millions of men and women – particularly blacks, Latinos, poor whites, natives – are to get into the drug trade.

Mandatory minimums of 10, 20, 25 years or even life imprisonment are no deterrent at all when the alternative in our material world is a life of minimal financial incentives from legal activity.

You might say, if my proposal is legalization to eliminate this paradox, why not legalize murder, or rape, or robbery. On the surface, uninvestigated, this seems an attractive rejoinder. But once a rapist, or murderer, or bank robber is captured and taken out of circulation, no one competes to replace the murderer or rapist or robber. The commitment of crime has been halted.

But in the drug markets, where forty million Americans are active consumers in the illegal drug market, when one dealer or manufacturer or grower is taken out of the market by imprisonment, dozens of their customers are now looking for a new supplier. The removal of one or several suppliers creates an opportunity for others to profit. Thus we see turf wars, gang disputes, or, if there is no overt violence, new persons entering the marketplace to feed the insatiable appetite of Americans (and Canadians) for these illegal but in-demand substances.

So for every person put in Yazoo Prison for drugs – and that's by far and away most of them – one or more persons immediately moved into the lucrative drug market to profit by feeding that existing demand.

In this way, prohibition manufactures crime by making criminals out of people who wouldn't be dealing in drugs unless these substances were prohibited from distribution in traditional retail methods. In my 'Drug Abuse Awareness' class here at Yazoo, I asked the question, "Would any of us, convicts or guards, be here if all drugs and substances were sold in licensed stores?" The answer is obvious. None of these inmates would be selling illegal drugs if those drugs were sold legally in stores, pharmacies, or any business similar to those that sell alcohol, tobacco, sugar, fatty foods, coffee, prescription drugs, etc.

Every year, tens of thousands of teenagers enter the illegal drug business, usually by buying a substance (typically marijuana) and reselling it to their close friends; their profit in these early stages simply pays for their share of the substance bought and used. But imagine the immediately corrupting effect when one person in a peer group becomes a "dealer", and is seen soon after with expensive clothing, the latest electronics, a fine car, sexy women, and plenty of money to flash around.

It is easy to imagine the invidious effect this has on all the other teenagers who can see this rapid financial enrichment, making it very challenging for the teenager with a minimum wage job at McDonalds to maintain a work ethic in the face of such contrast. In fact, that is reasonably impossible for most young people, particular those with no job or very limited prospects.

But if these drugs were regulated and manufactured under controlled circumstances in the usual economy of scale, they would go from being lucrative and profitable illegal drugs to being mundane and no more profitable than lettuce or tomatoes, or liquor, or Viagra, or any such mass-produced commodity. There would be no young people selling drugs on the street or to their friends. None.

Consider the impact on children and families of the convicted prisoner caused by the kinds of sentences that Americans routinely receive in the grotesquerie called the US criminal justice system. In my drug abuse awareness class we were told that 70% of all children of convicts will themselves be in prison eventually. Well, whose fault is that? Broken homes manufactured by the War on Drugs produces a prison population in perpetuity. Whom is that designed to help, and whom does it destroy?

It costs, in the US, about $50,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner; in Canada, it's $100,000 (male) and $190,000 (female). But the US has 2,500,000 prisoners at any one time, and 7 million more on supervised release, house arrest, bail, probation, parole – all very expensive, unwieldy extensions of the prison punishment complex.

The net effect of an infinitely expanding prison population is the draining of the treasuries of the municipalities, states and federal government, for absolutely no benefit to the taxpayer. The prisoners themselves have no money, and their families lose a breadwinner, and often go on welfare as a consequence. The families are usually decimated financially by legal fees and loss of the income earner(s). The children are permanently affected. The families can rarely afford to visit, or can’t at all – in many cases, they won’t even see their loved one again in their lifetime!

Bill C-10, introduced by the Canadian Conservative government, provides mandatory minimum jail sentences of six months for six marijuana plants (nine months if you’re renting the property), to 18 months for making extracts like hash or cookies, two to three years for cocaine offenses, 10 years for a second offense, up to 14 years for marijuana offenses, and longer for other substances. It is draconian in its punishments for Canada.

Here, however is a short resume of ten fellow inmates, all but one who live in my unit here at Yazoo Medium. This is how mandatory minimums become medieval and outrageous crimes against humanity, all under the guise of fighting crime. I have provided their proper name and inmate registration number so you can confirm these sentences as I have stated them at the Bureau of Prison website,, so you know I am not exaggerating or misstating the facts.

1) Christopher Norman, 24635034: sentenced to 21 years, 10 months (262 months) for conspiracy to distribute five kilograms of cocaine. Sentenced July 2000, Release date: 2019. Black American.

2) Jacob Esquibel, 40652018: 21 years, 3 months (255 months) for 'Possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine'. Inside since 2001, release date: 2021. First time offender as an adult. Mexican/Native American.

3) Travis Rogers, 21111045: 252 months (21 years), inside since 2010, release date: 2029. Conspiracy to distribute 500+ grams of methamphetamine. One previous state conviction. White.

4) Antonio Andrews, 15054040: Convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms, sentenced to 48 years, sentenced in 2010, release date: 2053. Current age 34, release at age 77. Andrews makes a point of saying no one was harmed, nor were guns used in any way. Black.

5) Cedric Jones, 29464-077: "Conspiracy to possess and distribute crack cocaine." Received "mandatory life sentence" in 1995 at age 24. Now 40 years old. No drugs were ever found on his person nor was any amount specified in his indictment. Because of two previous convictions, he received LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE. No release date. Black.

6) Nathan Carter, 14989076: "Possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine". Sentenced in 1998. Because of two previous drug convictions, was declared a career criminal, and given a life sentence. Received LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE. No release date. Black.

7) Bryan Jones, 01156748: "Conspiracy to Distribute Crack Cocaine". Sentenced to LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE, PLUS 5 years (!) in 1999 for having a gun in his possession at the time of arrest. First offense. Age 27 when incarcerated, 39 now. No release date.

8) Billy Wheelock, 60161080: Sentenced to "LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE" in Waco, Texas in 1993 for 99.64 grams of crack cocaine. In jail 19 years, 48 years of age.

9) Curtis Bell, 09304002: "Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine", Life without parole. In jail since 1993. 10 of the 19 people indicted received sentences of Life Without Parole, including a mother of 22 children, Mary Morrow. A book was written that included information about Curtis Bell, called "Drug Conspiracy: We only Want the Blacks" by Richard 'Squirrel' Thomas. The title is taken from testimony by a government informant who testified against 30 black men, only 15 he had actually met. When the informant said he has information about a white man selling drugs at a club, a police agent said, "With all due respect, Derrick, we only want the niggers."

I have included only a few of the people I live with; all have over 20-year sentences, all for non-violent offenses. There are several convicts here who are serving 10 years for marijuana, including Fred, whose family visited here once with Jodie (she paid for their hotel for driving her here to Yazoo City from Jackson, to and from the prison, and back to Jackson). Fred has three wonderful children, a wife, and a mother who misses him greatly; all are under great duress not having Fred home. He and his brother received 10 years each (mandatory minimum) for interstate transportation of marijuana.

My cellmate Wally received 15 months for receiving 2.5 pounds (a little over a kilogram) of marijuana in the mail from Oregon. Once it’s interstate, it’s a federal offense and penalties are very harsh. One of my correspondents, Linda, lives in Bakersfield in California and has a son, Corey, in Taft camp serving the last few years of an 11.5-year sentence for distribution of marijuana. Taft camp is a private prison in the California desert that I was originally designated to go to. Linda describes the many challenges Corey has encountered trying to get through his time there. After he goes through the RDAP (Residential Drug Abuse Program), he will be released late next year.

The US prison system, both the state and federal, is stuffed with hundreds of thousands of inmates serving outrageous, cruel, expensive, and pointlessly long sentences. Their offenses are manufactured by government policy – the policy of prohibition.

In Canada, the cruel mandatory minimums for cannabis and drugs soon coming into law will be augmented by the on-going appointment of Conservative judges to the courts. This situation will produce much longer and harsher sentences, fill the jails, increase the debt, expand police powers, reduce the safety and freedom of the citizens, escalate the drug war, raise drug prices, increase the lucrative nature of the drug trade, and drain the taxpayers.

The only people who will benefit are politicians, police, and gangsters.


Mayors Endorsing Legalization, and Activists Protesting the Prime Minister

submitted by on December 1, 2011

Dearest Miss: This was such a good week! You were magnificent in capturing the zeitgeist of the current politics affecting Canadians. In the last two weeks alone you've been quoted in newspapers, appeared on TV in Vancouver, were interviewed on Toronto and Vancouver radio, did a London, England podcast and the Free Talk Live radio broadcast (talking about your upcoming appearance at the prestigious New Hampshire Liberty Forum on February 23-26), and confirmed a Sun TV news appearance for Monday, and a radio interview in your hometown Kamloops Thursday.

Even I got in on the current big debate. On Thursday, November 23rd, four previous Vancouver mayors issued a call to legalize marijuana and end cannabis prohibition, particularly imploring the Canadian Prime Minister Harper not to proceed with mandatory minimum jail sentences for cannabis under Bill C-10, which is likely to pass in the current Canadian Conservative-controlled Parliament.

The news department of CTV news, a major television network, asked you for my opinion of this statement from the four former mayors, then showed the remarks I issued from Yazoo federal prison on that night's TV news broadcast, and published me in the online CTV news story too.


On Friday morning, the Province newspaper led their Letters to the Editor page with my full letter and remarks under the bold headline, "Politicos only say war on drugs is a failure after they’ve quit", and a photo of you with the massive FREE MARC banner in the background. In my letter I impugn the integrity of the current elected officeholders in Canada and the US who refuse to concede to the democratic will to legalize marijuana and recognize the folly of prohibition.

Marc's LTE in The Province (click to view)Right: Marc's LTE in The Province (click to view)

While it's hopeful that four former mayors have made crystal clear the urgency and necessity of ending prohibition to restore justice, the safety of our streets and our individual freedom to choose, it remains disturbing that virtually no politician currently in elected office at any level advocates this.

It is a political irony that these former mayors, former presidents of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, former governors, hundreds of other previously elected and now former officials throughout the world, along with hundreds of former police officers, all declare the war on drugs a counter-productive failure, a gift to organized crime and a threat to the stability of several nations, but none of them acted on this while in the political authority of their elected or appointed office.

There is an unfathomable disconnect between actually holding political office and doing the right thing when it comes to ending prohibition. Even with majorities in the U.S. and Canada favouring the legalization of marijuana, no serious action occurs in the parliaments, statehouses, legislatures and congresses of Canada, Mexico or the United States to further this desire. Nor is any rational explanation for this dereliction of democratic will and common sense offered by the authorities in office. Why?

– Marc Emery, U.S. federal prison, Yazoo City, Miss.

As the media continued to cover the news about the four former mayors joining Stop The Violence BC to condemn prohibition, and question the current Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson, in this regard, they noticed he had added his voice to the call and issued the following Tweet online Thursday night:

@MayorGregor: Good to see 4 Vancouver ex-mayors calling for end of cannabis prohibition. I agree, we need to be smart and tax/regulate.

The news coverage of that Tweet got a number of quotes from the current mayor about how prohibition is a failure. And this happened right after my recent blog called him and others out for never publicly endorsing legalization despite knowing he ought to. So now he is on record endorsing legalization as the newly re-elected mayor. Oh, my sweet wife, this is wonderful to see!

On that very same Friday, you held signs up and delivered slogans with your enviable lung power at an appearance by the Prime Minister and the Premier of BC at Telus Science World in Vancouver. Your message that prohibition only benefits the politicians, police and gangsters was the dominant media talking point of the day, thanks to you, despite both the PM and Premier being there announcing funding for the facility.

Your presence even had the media grilling the Prime Minister on the crime bill, and while he rejected your assertions categorically, as he insists always on doing, you had the media being your conduit to the PM! Fantastic! I loved hearing your appearance on the CTV news segment about the mayors and Harper's visit, when you played it over the phone for me. Oh, dear Jodie, you've done such a great job. Almost every media outlet had your message, succinct and to the point.

[See Jodie's quotes from the news stories here.]


You are so inspiring! Together, Team Emery made tremendous political impact in these last few days! And to top it all off, on that Friday night, as part of the Thanksgiving weekend concerts here at the prison, my rock and roll band THE YAZOO 5, played a 55-minute performance from 7pm to 8pm. Our nine-song set went very well, I had a wonderful time! I knew our songs and had them thoroughly practiced. We were outdoors with fully amplified electric equipment and were deliciously loud on a clear evening with 65 degree Fahrenheit temperature, just the right amount of light, playing under an open big sky. My bass guitar work was so improved, I wasn't even nervous at any time throughout the concert or even before.

Our band is made up of TC, a black Mississippian, originally of Detroit, who loves soul, country and R&B; Sapp, a terrific black drummer from Florida who picks up on an unfamiliar song immediately; Victor, also our vocalist and wonderful rhythm guitarist, an Hispanic American who loves rock and country; my good friend Terry, the virtuoso Hendrix guitarist with 20 years of professional performing experience (who knows how to play almost every song ever!); and I, who, after six months of playing bass, have done three concerts now and am getting pretty good! TC is a brilliant singer and does soulful vocals on Stormy Monday, Hotel California, I Can See Clearly Now, and Red House. Victor does wonderful country vocals on Way Out Here, Out in the Backwoods, Killing Time, and he finally nailed the vocals to Voodoo Child and Purple Haze.

My only disappointment is that I'd love to put on a show with the band every weekend – it's so thrilling. Our next concerts will, in fact, be over the Christmas and New Year's Day holiday weekends. We'll be adding Don't Stop Believing (Journey), Blue on Black (Kenny Wayne Shepherd), Don't Blink (Kenny Chesney), and Sitting on the Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding) for those shows, and probably dropping Purple Haze. I also know how to play bass on White Room, Wind Cries Mary, Money, All Along the Watchtower, Sunshine of Your Love, Johnny B. Goode, I Shot The Sheriff, Stir It Up, No Woman, No Cry, and Tightrope. Terry knows the lead on all those songs too, so we might bring some of those out in the new year.

I've just finished a terrific 850-page time travel novel that had me absorbed over eight days, written by Stephen King, called 11/22/63. I enthusiastically recommend this book. In a sleepy town in Maine (where else for Stephen King?), a modest teacher named Jake is shown a time travel portal at the back of the diner owned by his friend Al. Through this portal, you go from the year 2011 back to September, 1958. Always the same day, same time, same place. Al has been going back to September 1958 hundreds of times over the past few years to buy meats at 1958 prices for his diner. With each trip into 1958, Al does change the past, and it's fixed in time, until the next jaunt back into '58, and then the past is reset back to the status quo. And when he returns from 1958 through the portal, only two minutes has elapsed in 2011 time, no matter how long Al or Jake has stayed in the past. Al gets it in his head to go back to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President John Kennedy, which Al hopes will prevent the Vietnam War, the assassinations of M.L. King and Robert Kennedy. But by 1962, while shadowing Oswald, living off the winnings from gambling on sports he knows the outcome of, Al gets irreversible cancer, and has to return to 2011 to recruit English teacher Jake to do the job.

What I've told you is established in just the first 40 pages, the next 800 are engrossing, thrilling and disturbing. Throughout the book the reader is teased with the premise "if you could, would you, should you?" The past is obdurate – a new word I learned, meaning the past resists changes. The past doesn't want to be disturbed, and puts roadblocks in the way of those change agents who come into the past. With every page I was thinking about the implications of the premises established by this book, so when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it.

It's also a touching love story, Jodie, and it made me think of us. The distance between us, the time (955 days) remaining until we're together again, the strength of our commitment, and the romance we have always had. Time and space. I love my incredible Mrs. Emery!

And when I wasn't thinking about the implications of changing the past, it was because those nine songs for my concert were in my head, morning, noon and nighttime too! Waking up and as I fell to sleep, I could hear my bass lines to Killing Time, Way Out Here, Stormy Monday, and the others. That's something new in my life, Miss, that I'm really enjoying, this hearing songs I am working on in my head at all times of the day.

Can't wait to see you on December 10th and 11th! Congratulations on your terrific work getting the Prime Minister's attention, and getting our message into the news. I'm excited to have you seek a Liberal or NDP nomination in the 2015 election. Qualified as I feel I am, I might have too much baggage to seek elected office successfully – but you, everyone loves you, Miss, you are so classy and so wise for your age. I am so honoured to be your husband!

Forever your grateful prince,

Part 2: