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Sep 25 2012

One Woman’s Experience With the Drug War

My friend Juliet has finally written up a very long story of a situation that has been going on for a few months now. It involves many of the things I’ve long been writing about — the abuses of the war on drugs, the use of SWAT teams for no good reason, our dehumanizing criminal justice system.

The whole thing started the day after she and her boyfriend Shawn had moved in together. Shawn’s former roommate had a medical marijuana card and, as is allowed by law, had grown marijuana in the basement. He hadn’t lived there for months, but it turns out that the day before all of this he’d been pulled over and had more pot in the car than he was legally allowed to have under the marijuana laws. But he’d never changed the address on his driver’s license, so the police went and got a warrant to search the house.

They sent a SWAT team for that purpose, heavily armed and equipped with a battering ram to break down the door and burst in as though the James Gang was waiting inside. Juliet and Shawn, meanwhile, are sitting on their couch in their underwear, watching TV. But they saw one of the SWAT officers on the front lawn and, rather than letting them break down the door, they opened it and asked them what was going on. They told the officers that the guy they arrested hadn’t lived there for months, but did say that he’d left a few things in the basement in boxes.

A search of the house found a tiny bit of marijuana, not even enough to file a possession charge, and a tiny bit of psychadelic mushrooms, long forgotten in a container in a basement drawer. They took the evidence and left, saying they’d call them if any charges were to be filed. A few weeks later, Juliet was charged — not Shawn, who was on the lease, but Juliet, who had lived there less than 24 hours.

The rest of the story is about how dehumanizing the whole experience was, and how pointless. This is hardly some threat to society that needs to be locked up. She hasn’t done anything that could even remotely harm another person or violate their rights. Yet she is deemed a danger and is forced to face a massive and unjust criminal justice system that yanks her around in every imaginable way. It’s a long story, but all worth reading. A small taste:

I came prepared to convince a judge that I wasn’t a threat to society. I came in a pair of nice slacks I bought from the GAP on Black Friday, a button-up shirt I bought from a Goodwill, but the tag said Banana Republic. But now, I am in a prison uniform and I am not a human being with a job and obligations and loved ones. So I sit at a table with a bunch of other non-humans and try not to cross into that dangerous territory of having lost it.

A woman there tells me she is in there often because she can’t stop doing drugs. She is an old-timer and she tells us we’re doing well as first-timers, who usually cry a lot. I have not cried even once. She tells me if that if I pretend to want to kill myself to get into another pod, I will be kept for an additional two days. She also says that if I want to go outside, I can go into the God-pod with all the Christians, but I’m not ready to pretend. She says that if I want clean underwear, I need money in my commissary, and that needs to be in cash and that means I need to release my debit card to someone else who will get cash from it and bring it back, but I can only have access to a commissary once I’ve been classified which occurs only after I’ve been set a bond or had an arraignment and that can take up to 72 hours. So, here we are and here I am.

It’s now that I begin to wonder if they will really keep me for 72 hours without an arraignment. All the guards are too amazingly busy wandering about and insulting prisoners to answer questions, but I know one thing. And that’s if this takes 72 hours, I will not be able to publish the website I run and maybe my staff won’t get paid and maybe I’ll get fired. So maybe everything is over. Maybe everything I’ve worked for in my life is done. Just like that.

Read the whole thing.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    Ace of Sevens

    The sad thing is that she’s one of the lucky ones. If she worked in a field other than music journalism, this could mean she would never work a real job again.

  2. 2
    kennethhansen

    This is just incredible… You should put warning signs on your borders saying “Warning, you are now leaving the free world” or “Warning, Police State Ahead!”

  3. 3
    pembroke529

    Another sad casualty in this BS “war on drugs”.
    Home of the brave, land of the free? Bah…

  4. 4
    baal

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the entire criminal justice system is a farce and needs to be thrown out and restarted with new people making the decisions with a new set of laws. It’s broken beyond repair.

  5. 5
    Anthony K

    She hasn’t done anything that could even remotely harm another person or violate their rights.

    My apologies if this appears as a derail, but given the recent events in the Middle East: how is this, in practice, really different than a blasphemy law?

    Compare the religious zeal with which drug offenses are prosecuted in the US, with which the way those convicted with drug offences are viewed by a large proportion of Americans, with how a drug conviction can destroy a person’s life, and the way in which these laws tend to prey on already marginalized people; with the reaction that we’ve seen to blasphemy elsewhere?

    Obviously there are differences in scope and severity, but really, this person is now fighting for her freedom for having a small amount of a profane object in her possession. The parallels are there, to be sure.

  6. 6
    davidhart

    You can berate other countries for blasphemy laws, but criminalisation of cognitive liberty is just as disgusting … and the fact that the whole criminal justice system seems to have cared more about punishing someone for a violation of the cognitive libert laws than that person actually have been an active participant in the ‘crime’ … what the i don’t even.

    Still, a good opportunity to remind people who can afford it to chip in to the legalize-personal-possession-of-cannabis ballot initiatives in Washington, Oregon and Colorado states in time for the November elections; none of them can afford to be complacent, but if one of them passes, it will, I reckon, be the first real crack in the wall of Prohibition in the USA.

    Also, let’s not forget, once we stop criminalizing people for personal possession of some drugs, to keep on campaigning for the retroactive annulment of all criminal records for personal possession. We here in the UK failed to do that when we decriminalized male homosexual activity in 1967, and as a result, we still have people going around with convictions for something that was recognised as an imaginary crime over 40 years ago.

  7. 7
    uncephalized

    @Brownian–that’s a good point, and they’re not substantially different, and that’s why reasonable people like Ed continuously write in opposition to both.

  8. 8
    lofgren

    Obviously there are differences in scope and severity, but really, this person is now fighting for her freedom for having a small amount of a profane object in her possession. The parallels are there, to be sure.

    The parallels are there, but there are at least solid reasons for treating some mind altering substances as a public health problem and limiting public access to them. Epidemics of drug use have been legitimate social problems in the US on a massive scale, including heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and tobacco. (Although, interestingly, to my knowledge this has never been true of marijuana.) There are similarities but there are also very important differences.

  9. 9
    uncephalized

    @myself #7 that should read “continually write”, not “continuously”. I don’t think Ed writes 24/7 with no sleeping or eating, lol.

  10. 10
    matty1

    I’m still a little unclear why she was arrested and not Shawn. Was it just random or was she targeted as a likely ‘druggie’ for supporting decriminalisation?

  11. 11
    Anthony K

    @Brownian–that’s a good point, and they’re not substantially different, and that’s why reasonable people like Ed continuously write in opposition to both.

    Oh, I’m not criticising Ed. I’m more criticising others in the atheoskeptic sphere who seem to be all OMGWTFMUSLIMS!one! and I’m a little frustrated to have been dealing with the bigots who seem to think they’re vindicated in their beliefs that there’s nothing worse than Islam.

    I was actually soliciting others’ thoughts on this, but I’m happy to leave it at this if it’s too much of a derail.

  12. 12
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    The parallels are there, but there are at least solid reasons for treating some religions as a public health problem and limiting public access to them. Epidemics of religion have been legitimate social problems in the US on a massive scale, including cult suicides, corruption of education standards, rejection of the validity of science, and pure concentrated hate. (Although, interestingly, to my knowledge this has never been true of atheism.) There are similarities but there are also very important differences.

    Look how well that works.

  13. 13
    Anthony K

    @lofgren,

    Yes, that is a very important difference, and one in which the comparison fails. The drugs you mention, including marijuana, are public health concerns. Not so with blasphemy.

  14. 14
    lofgren

    Look how well that works.

    Substituting words for other words doesn’t actually make it “work,” automatically. The substitution has to result in a coherent statement, and not facile idiocy like you have produced.

    The parallels are there, but there are at least solid reasons for treating Stevarious as a public health problem and limiting public access to him. Epidemics of comments by Stevarious have been legitimate social problems in the US on a massive scale, including rampant stupidity, ignorance, and brain cell death in those who read his blatherings. (Although, interestingly, to my knowledge this has never been true of me.) There are similarities but there are also very important differences.

  15. 15
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    there are at least solid reasons for treating Stevarious as a public health problem and limiting public access to him.

    That was genuinely funny!

    Are you claiming, perhaps, that religion has not, in the US, been responsible for cult suicides, corruption of education standards, rejection of the validity of science, and pure concentrated hate?

    I can provide citations if you like, but it seems like a lot of work if I’ve misunderstood your meaning.

  16. 16
    Anthony K

    Are you claiming, perhaps, that religion has not, in the US, been responsible for cult suicides, corruption of education standards, rejection of the validity of science, and pure concentrated hate?

    And we’re back to the problem of prison.

  17. 17
    lofgren

    Are you claiming, perhaps, that religion has not, in the US, been responsible for cult suicides, corruption of education standards, rejection of the validity of science, and pure concentrated hate?

    Are you, perhaps, being deliberately obtuse? I could actually get into a discussion over why limiting public access to belief systems and treating speech and faith as public health problems similar to mind-altering chemicals is a shallow comparison that fails to hold up to even a cursory analysis, but it seems like a lot of effort if you are not actually an arch authoritarian asshole.

  18. 18
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    I could actually get into a discussion over why limiting public access to belief systems and treating speech and faith as public health problems similar to mind-altering chemicals

    Oh, I see what’s happening here. You thought I was arguing for regulating religion just like we regulate drugs. I thought you were trying to claim that religion shouldn’t be regulated because it’s not harmful.

    No, I was actually going the other way with the comparison. Just because religion is potentially harmful does not necessarily mean it should be banned or over-regulated, like drugs currently are. After all, one is a mind-altering chemical, and the other is a mind altering thought pattern – how different are they, really?

    I suspect we’d actually find, if we went ahead and had the argument, that we more or less agree that drugs are absurdly over-regulated and religion is only very slightly under-regulated.

    I’m keeping the title though, I’ve never been given such a hilarious insult before, I quite enjoyed it.

  19. 19
    lofgren

    No, I was actually going the other way with the comparison. Just because religion is potentially harmful does not necessarily mean it should be banned or over-regulated, like drugs currently are. After all, one is a mind-altering chemical, and the other is a mind altering thought pattern – how different are they, really?

    Ah, yes, I see how I became confused.

    Yes, I suppose in an ideal world any 7-year-old could walk into a 7-11 and buy himself a few tabs of LSD, a cocaine energy drink, and a heroin pop for the come-down, but I really don’t see it as a very likely scenario without leading to a situation where the government would have to expend additional resources and manpower as a proxy for those of us who find trailerparks full of crackheads slowly starving to death to be morally unacceptable.

    Of course, in an ideal world we wouldn’t need any laws restricting tactical nuclear warhead ownership or forcing landlords to make their property safe for tenants or even against deliberately stabbing another person in the eye, because it would never come up. Besideswhich, I know that we do not live in an ideal world because I am not awakened each morning by a magically caffeinated blowjob from a nubile woman with pixie wings before I head to my job as Roving Teddy Bear Gifter, wandering the countryside giving teddy bears to any children I should happen to meet. So, yeah, I’m going to stick with my position that some restrictions on access to toxic chemicals is warranted, while the same is not true for speech, your inane cut-and-paste rejoinder notwithstanding.

  20. 20
    Olav

    Lofgren, #19:

    Yes, I suppose in an ideal world any 7-year-old could walk into a 7-11 and buy himself a few tabs of LSD, a cocaine energy drink, and a heroin pop for the come-down, but I really don’t see it as a very likely scenario without leading to a situation where the government would have to expend additional resources and manpower as a proxy for those of us who find trailerparks full of crackheads slowly starving to death to be morally unacceptable.

    In an ideal world the sale of drugs that are now illegal would be legal and regulated. That would mean that people under a certain age would be restricted from buying them; the quality of the drugs would be controlled; people would be educated about the drugs (the good and the bad); addiction would be seen as a health problem – something that people need a little help with instead of incarceration or other punishment. The use or even just simple possession of drugs would not be a crime that the criminal “justice” system can use to ruin your life.

    Naturally, the cost of the drugs would come down, even when taxed. People would not be bankrupted by their addictions quite so quickly, would not have to steal, beg or prostitute themselves at the rates they do presently. Organised crime gangs would be robbed of their main source of income. Some of them might even have to go look for honest work. Of course anyone who would still deal drugs outside the regulated system would be prosecuted just like cigarette smugglers, moonshiners and such are prosecuted right now.

  21. 21
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    @lofgren

    What?

    Seriously, what?

    I mean, that’s a nice rant and all, and I’m sure if I was advocating some sort of freakish Glibertarian dystopia (which I’m, uh, not) I would be checking those sick burns into the ICU right now. Seriously, call the next of kin, these guys are at death’s door, trying to kick it down in a manner that only critically ill scorch marks can do.

    I can’t be THIS bad at communicating, can I? Surely SOME of the blame must lie upon you, for either accidentally or maliciously mis-interpreting my comments? I dunno. I guess if you want to blame me, you can (and judging by the previous comment, probably will…)

    So, let me state for the record: The war on drugs is the problem which I am stating there should be less of. I am not saying that you should be allowed to stock LSD in the candy aisle. I am morally opposed to trailer parks full of starving crackheads. I am ALSO morally opposed to the religious brainwashing of children – I think it’s exactly as morally indefensible (if not as obviously harmful) as if you raise your kid to be addicted to crack. I don’t exactly know what to DO about it – directly outlawing or explicitly restricting religious beliefs is a non-starter, because it doesn’t (and this is the point I was trying to make) even work for things as obviously harmful as crack.

    Honestly I don’t think you’d make a very good Roving Teddy Bear Gifter. “What, you don’t want my bear? It’s a free fucking bear! Who the hell doesn’t like teddy bears?! Fuck you, kid!” *PUNT!*

  22. 22
    mantistoboggan

    If you do not own your body, what do you own free of Total State taint?

  23. 23
    lofgren

    I can’t be THIS bad at communicating, can I?

    Let me recount the conversation, roughly as I understood it:

    (The following is paraphrased, obviously.)

    Brownian: Anti-drug laws are just like blasphemy laws.

    Me: No, because blasphemy should not be regulated at all, but drugs should be regulated a little.

    Stevarious: But I can take your comment and replace the word drugs with the word religion, and then pretend that isn’t totally vapid. And then pretend that I have made some kind of cogent point.

    Me (thinking Stevarious is arguing that religions should be regulated like drugs): You’re an idiot and an enemy of liberty. FREEEEEEEDDOOOOOM!

    Stevarious: No, I actually mean that drugs should be regulated even less, just like religion.

    Me (now thinking that Stevarious believes that drugs should be totally unregulated, the way that religion ought to be in a free society): You’re an idiot and you hate children. BLOOOOWJOOOOBS! BEEEEEEAAARRSSS!

    Stevarious: No, I actually think that drugs should be regulated a little. I actually have no point whatsoever. I just wanted to say, apropos of nothing, that I hate religion. My original comparison was in fact utterly ridiculous, so even though I explicitly stated that the same arguments against drugs can be applied without modification to religion, and pretty clearly implied that we should reach the exact same conclusion regarding religious belief and chemical intoxicants, I am now backing away from that comparison entirely and blaming you for somehow not understanding that my initial direct comparison, which I took the time to type and post as a comment, was not actually intended to actually mean anything at all.

    Have I got that?

  24. 24
    aluchko

    @matty1

    I’m guessing she got arrested instead of Shawn since she had a more public profile with her writing and website. It was easy to see that as a social activist/music journalist she was part of a social circle where some level of drug usage was common, so even if those drugs weren’t hers they figured that she had done enough drugs in the past that it was justified.

  25. 25
    lofgren

    I doubt that much thought went into it.

    I would have guessed that they figured for whatever reason she would roll over faster and everybody could add one more arrest and conviction to their stats for that month/quarter/year/whatever.

    If I am a prosecutor or cop looking to bust somebody on flimsy evidence just to put another notch in my belt, a public profile is the last thing I want, precisely because people with public profiles go and write things like this which make me look like an idiot.

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