Drug War Prisoners

From Behind the Wire: Column by Richard J. Lester for drugwarprisoners.org
May 2001: "What's Your Choice? We Ain't Got All Day Here, Cowboy."


     The sun was falling low in the west, outlining the crest of Bear Butte.
     A lone cowboy was riding his steed through Humboldt County, on his way north.
     The Sheriff jumps from his hiding place, a huge Sequoia redwood tree, one of the last of the giants.
     "Hold up Cowboy!" he hollers out.
     The cowboy reins in his mount and looks into the eyes of the lawman.
     "You're under arrest, Cowboy."
     "Arrest?" the Cowboy questions, dumbfounded by the Sheriff's words.
     "Yep, climb down outta that saddle, son, and cuff up."
     "Why, what for?" the Cowboy screams in disbelief.
     "Conspiracy, son, pure and simple." The lawman flags his pistols at the rider.
     "Conspiracy?" the cowboy repeats.
     "Yep, conspiracy for growin' marijuana."
     "Marijuana?" the Cowboy continues.
     "Yep, marijuana alright, ya see that southern ridge yonder?"
     The Cowboy placed the palms of his hands over his eyes to offer shade against the late afternoon rays, leaving long shadows on the fertile landscape. "Yep, I see that ridge yonder, Sheriff."
     "I arrested a fella over there a couple a days ago in his marijuana patch," the Sheriff said, smiling - more of a smirk than a smile.
     "So?" the Cowboy questioned.
     "So, that fella that was growin' weed, he said he was growin' it for another fella."
     "So?" the Cowboy pressed.
     "So, the fella I arrested over on the ridge told me the fella he was growin' it fer was a cowboy. You're a cowboy, aren't ya, and that's a horse, ain't it?"
     "Yep," the Cowboy answered.
     "Jump down, son, you're under arrest for Conspiracy to grow marijuana, and I'm takin' ya to jail."
     Months later, the Cowboy less his horse was standing in front of a Federal judge. The trial had ended with a guilty verdict.
     "So ya got anything to say for yourself before I pronounce sentence, Cowboy?" the judge asks, his voice all too stern.
     "Yep," the Cowboy answers.
     "Well, Cowboy, spit it out, this is a busy court."
     "I'm innocent, your honor, I was just ridin' north to visit my mamma, she's dyin', your honor."
     "Well, Cowboy, that ain't the way your pardner told it, he sure as hell thought you was guilty, no mistakin' that."
     "But, but …" the Cowboy began but was cut short by the judge's "but."
     "But nothin', if you were innocent why would your pardner say you was guilty, what reason would he have to lie?"
     " I don't know," says the man.
     "That's what Saint Peter said, and I believe we all know how that story ended, don't we Cowboy? You're guilty and that's the end of that. When you come ridin' that fancy horse down through the Emerald Triangle, ya' made a big mistake, and I'm obliged to give you ten years for it."
     "Ten years, your honor, for riding my horse down Highway 101?"
     "Yep, and another ten years for supervisin' your pardner, who cooperated with the DEA and the Prosecutor."
     "Twenty years for ridin' my horse down Highway 101, judge?"
     "Conspiracy, Cowboy, you had your day in court, you could have made a deal with the U.S. attorney and pled guilty. Then I could have went easy on ya', Cowboy, but them mandatory minimum sentencing laws is what did ya' in."
     The gavel fell. The judge never looked at the Cowboy, but turned his head to the bailiff.
     "Bring in the next conspirator."
     A month later, the Assistant Warden at the U.S. prison was explaining to the new arrivals.
     "The advantages of working at the Prison Industries is simple, men. Money. If you decide you want a good paying job, I suggest you hire on at Unicor. You be making 27 cents an hour right from the gate, so to speak." His was the only laugh that exploded at the gate joke.
     "You mean that's the pay, Warden?"
     "That's right, Cowboy, it's either take 27 cents an hour working for Prison Industries or we can get you a job in landscaping picking up those dirty cigarette butts for 12 cents an hour."

(with apologies to Mark Twain)


The author is serving a 16 year sentence for a deeply questionable marijuana offense. He adds:

"I had five young children at home when the DEA, Federal marshals, and FBI busted through our unlocked front door, screaming blasphemies. One of my sons was only 6 years old and it affected his life to the extent that he had bowel movements in his pants until he was 12. My sons were all well adjusted when this tragedy began to unfold, "A" students and altar servers at Saint Bernard's Catholic Church. Of course, all that has changed now. My son that was 13 at the time is now about to become a father at 19, uses drugs, refuses to work, and is disrespectful to his mother with a foul mouth. The next son is undergoing therapy and is following in his older brother's footsteps.

The government meanwhile asks: "What is the problem with the kids?" I ask you, can we make a difference in how our elected representatives respond to our pleas, or are their heads buried in the sand like ostriches with minds so opaque that the light of truth cannot penetrate?"




About COUSColumns SectionContact COUSDocuments SectionDrug War Talk SectionLegalizationLettersLight SideLinksMediaProjectsResearch