Drug War Prisoners


The Committee on Unjust Sentencing is a service organization devoted to the interests of prisoners of the War on Drugs. The long-term goal is release from prison of all prisoners of the War on Drugs and reform of a criminal justice system that punishes illegal drug use with incarceration. The short-term goal is to help prisoners of the War on Drugs by all means within reach.

Consistent with these goals is the belief that the policy in force in the United States, known as the War on Drugs, is both immoral and irrational, immoral because it is wrong to punish people who use illegal drugs, irrational because the "drug-free America" or "drug-free world" that Drug War policy-makers imagine is a fantasy impossible to realize.

Resistance to the War on Drugs is necessary in order to prevent the disaster that will follow if Drug War policy is allowed to run its course. The principles of privacy, the right to property, and personal autonomy have already been eroded, to an extent unthinkable a quarter-century ago, on the assumption that the importance of winning the War on Drugs exceeds that of defending the values of liberal democracy. Rather than sit back as though spellbound and watch the consequences of Drug War policy unfold in their predicted course, Committee on Unjust Sentencing policy is to act at appropriate times and places to dispute this assumption.

Sharing the belief that the American public is kept in ignorance of the Drug War's intellectual pretensions by means of deliberate propaganda and a compliant press, different groups have set out to counter the propaganda and inform the public of the danger to democracy the War on Drugs presents. The success in this direction of organizations like the Drug Policy Foundation in Washington is evident in the mistrust of Drug War policy that is starting to inform the public. The waste of public funds, the futility of embarking on another round of Prohibition, the sacrifice of principles embodied in the Bill of Rights - discussion of such issues is beginning to re-shape the public's image of the War on Drugs.

The problem of opposing Drug War propaganda with rational argument on the lines suggested by the above is that one rational argument can be produced to counteract another. For example, against the argument that prosecution of the War on Drugs consumes excessive public funds, it can be argued that war never comes cheap: drug use constitutes a threat to American security, and America must win the War on Drugs at any cost. A contrary argument can always be produced to oppose one already in place. On purely rational grounds there may be no cause to prefer one set of reasons to another. Rational objection may shake confidence in Drug War policy, but not decisively.

The Committee on Unjust Sentencing since its inception in 1993 has maintained that confidence in Drug War policy is shaken more effectively by letting the public in on the Drug War's dirty secrets. This can be done by affording those who know and are in a position to reveal the Drug War's dirty secrets - the prisoners - an opportunity to communicate with the public directly. Committee policy is to promote direct communication between prisoners of the War on Drugs and members of the public outside prison. Examples of this policy in action include a First International Conference on Prisoners of the War on Drugs in Heidelberg, Germany (1996) and a Second International Conference on Prisoners of the War on Drugs in Toronto, Canada (1999). At both these conferences, papers by Drug War prisoners were read in absentia along with papers by activists and academics. Other examples include publication of The Tallahassee Project, a compilation of 100 photographs and stories by women prisoners of FCI Tallahassee, and the strategy of posting messages from Drug War prisoners on a web site constructed for this purpose.

Sponsoring communication between Drug War prisoners and the public outside prison is beneficial to the interests of prisoners and public alike. Important to prisoners is the potential for self-empowerment it affords. Confined in the brutal environment for which US prison culture today is notorious, deprived of education and other forms of rehabilitation, prisoners sink into a state of apathy and depression from which escape is difficult. Proof of the rise in self-esteem that comes with dialog with the public outside prison is evident in correspondence the Committee receives from prisoners.

Awareness of the injustice and suffering inseparable from Drug War policy, which Drug War prisoners are in a position to confer, cuts through unthinking acceptance of Drug War propaganda with emotion that bites into the soul. If people are aroused by the presence of injustice and the wanton infliction of suffering, as the history of democracy suggests, there is no more effective means of bringing the Drug War to an end than bridging the gap between the prisoners of the Drug War and the public.

The Committee on Unjust Sentencing, Summer 2001




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