Life for Pot was originally and so far remains a site that features nonviolent marijuana inmates who have received the sentence of Life without Parole in the Federal system.
I started Life for Pot in December of 2008 and put up the site in 2009. The reason for this effort was because my brother had received life without parole as a first time nonviolent marijuana offender.
Of course his family could not believe that the sentence could stand. We didn't understand the criminal justice system. He had been indicted in 1994, imprisoned in1996, tried in 2000. His appeals were not completed till 2008 and that was when I needed to find out if others had received sentences of this magnitude.
When I started the site, a demographic began to appear. I didn't know who I'd find sentenced to life without parole in the federal system. I only knew I was looking for nonviolent marijuana offenders. As they were found, it was clear that these individuals were almost without exception older white men.
It was shocking, as I knew that young men of color are inordinately impacted by the tragic War on Drugs. The web site Life for Pot looked like a cruel and biased visual trick to grab attention and sympathy for a privileged group of white men. It was to a great extent the result of the narrow criteria I used which required that they have no other substance in their charges. In the beginning, these offenders were charged for life style and and drug offenses that began in the 60s 70s and some from the 80s.
I was gathering cowboys and characters from a different age and culture. Their offenses took place before there were large grow operations in various states so they imported, although there were a couple of growers. They had come of age in the 60s and 70s before the harsh sentencing that culminated in the 94 Crime Bill. All the new harsh sentencing was gradually enacted and then they were charged and prosecuted.
Of course I know that the vast majority of individuals arrested and/or incarcerated for marijuana are African American young men. Why didn't I find any of them? Unfortunately the harsh laws for marijuana have been devastating for young men and women of color but cocaine is the urban drug and the harsh sentencing for crack has eroded the social structure of large areas of in our cities.
Life without parole is a significantly hopeless sentence because without commutation or retroactive legislation for sentencing relief, these incarcerated people will die chained to a hospital bed. When the ACLU released the report A Living Death - Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses - the inmates on Life for Pot were featured by Jennifer Turner of the ACLU.
I had felt vaguely uneasy about what the site looked like and had for some time, but I couldn't go in another direction as the sentences of these unfortunate old men were so patently out of line with the offense. This was especially true as marijuana legalization was creeping across the country.
Michael Kennedy and David Holland wrote
the Group Petition for Commutation for
Five Senior Marijuana Offenders
Serving Sentences of Life for Pot
Life for Pot's Letter to The Marshall Project - Article about the Cost of Elderly Inmates
As a result of the discussions on the web and also in print media about sentencing relief, various advocates for nonviolent drug offenders have come to the conclusion that nonviolent offenders who have received sentences of Life Without Parole should take two actions.
A SUGGESTION FOR ADDRESSING OUR PROPENSITY FOR OVER INCARCERATION: CLEMENCY AND THE WAR ON DRUGS
Grant a systemic or group Presidential Clemency to a unique category of nonviolent federal inmates. This group would be nonviolent drug offenders serving sentences of life without parole or de facto life without parole.
Model this clemency on the clemency granted by President Gerald Ford and President Jimmy Carter who gave clemency to those who had violated the Selective Service Act during the War in Viet Nam. The War on Drugs has been an equally divisive war imprisoning a generation of men and women.
To: President Barack Obama
Attorney General Eric Holder
Deputy Attorney General James Cole
Where we've been, What We Found and Where We Must Go
Who Have Received the Sentence of Life
Without Parole For Marijuana Offenses.
Today Larry Duke received notice that he is scheduled for immediate release
Letter to the Editor
“When the United States incarcerated at a rate of 7 times that of any other developed nation, it should be a red flag warning citizens that we have lost our way on the road to freedom.
”Beth Curtis, MSW of Zanesville, OH
Organization That Spotlights Offenders