Drug War Prisoners

Letter from [a POW] (16 years for pot), August 29, 2003:
No Help for Rats

Dear Committee on Unjust Sentencing,

It’s Friday, the last day of the last week of August, and a holiday weekend coming up. As you probably know, I’m usually engaged in a legal filing, whether for myself or another POW. After a 3 week, 6 draft effort, I finally completed one fellow’s PETITIONER’S RESPONSE TO GOVERNMENT’S MOTION IN OPPOSITION TO THE PETITIONER’S 2255 MOTION.

For viewers who aren’t familiar with the federal post conviction legal system, a 2255 motion is a collateral attack on a perceived error in the prisoner’s earlier direct adjudication, whether ineffective assistance of counsel (defense lawyer error) was involved or not. I studied this area of law for about 2-3 years before I attempted to do one of these motions. Now it has become second nature to me.

As such motions involve copious amounts of reading and writing, it isn’t unusual for one to take a month or so. I normally only do them for “standup” inmates, usually older honorable persons who didn’t rat out their family to get a sentence reduction. Some inmates have actually shown me documents showing the extent of their “substantial assistance” in another’s prosecution, as if to brag for being a rat. That blows me away. My practice then is to tell them that they got what they sold themselves for (the sentence they are serving), and I don’t do legal work for compromised persons who have 5K.1 deals with the government. If they want legal help they should call their buddy, the prosecutor.

Here at the camp it boggles the mind that somewhere between 75-80 percent of the inmates have 5K.1 downward departures, reduced sentences for aiding the prosecution of another person. Many of them can’t return to their home town where they snitched out someone in their family or friend or neighbor. Of the 24 persons in last drug class – we have drug classes here – 8 had transfers to other parts of the country. They are here usually for a short time, 2 years or less, to get through the drug class for an additional departure, and they are usually the ones doing most of the crying and complaining about how hard they have it. We all miss our friends and family. I can’t stand to be around someone who cries about doing his “skid bit” (a short sentence, 36 months or less, which is how much credit for good time the BOP will deduct from my 16 year 4 month sentence!

16 years 4 months, and no one got even so much as a paper cut.

Recently I read about the theory of a drug legalization advocate which said that one of the reasons for the government to not reverse its drug policy is fear the info will get out that pot is not only harmless, it actually has therapeutic value, and the government can’t stand the thought of admitting its mistake and apologize for destroying the thousands and thousands of lives and families with its insane policies.

I don’t know about you, but my belief is that if you aren’t doing something about it or at least speaking up, you are part of the problem yourself. People are really hurting, and sitting back and expecting someone else to fight your battles for you is a copout. Everyone needs to stand up and demand a saner policy. Sadly, many people here – I meet them each week when the new batch of inmates arrives – figure someone else will take care of the problem for them. Now they see the light, albeit from the perspective of an incarcerated person. Did you read the study which reported that of all adult males in the United States between the ages of 18 and 35, 37 percent are either serving a prison sentence or have a criminal record!

I’m really starting to see the effect here too. It seems only the faces and ID numbers change. The turnover is nothing short of amazing.

Well, I have to get going, as we are closing in the warehouse where I work, and then it will be a long weekend with a lot of legal work to do. Before I forget, I wanted to tell you that for the last few weeks, across the street in the medium security prison, the inmates have been battling each other again, with gangs vying for the upper hand. I’m told by sources that over 100 inmates have been placed in seg (SHU, Secure Housing Unit) and dozens shipped to other facilities. As soon as they are let out of their cells they’ll go right back to rumbling – lots of stabbings, beatings, and stitches. I have a front row seat for the next Attica.

Yours, [a POW]




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