The cruel and inhumane US (in)justice system

The absurdly disparate sentences that are issued in the US legal system is vividly on display in the case of Michael Thompson, aged 68, who has served 25 years of a 40- to 60-year sentence in a Michigan prison. Tana Ganeva describes his case.

In 1994, Thompson sold 3 pounds of pot to a police informant. Michigan legalized pot in 2018, laying the groundwork for a profitable legal industry, making it that much harder for him to understand why he’s still behind bars. “You know after 25 years, you don’t feel nothing no more. You just feel numb,” he said.

In the 25 years he has served, Thompson has watched the rise of a bipartisan criminal justice reform movement and knows that his case illustrates its limits. The movement has focused on “nonviolent” criminals — preferably first-time offenders, preferably drug users — in its effort to roll back mass incarceration. But penal codes across the United States have become adept at stacking charges on defendants that legally qualify as violent — even if they didn’t commit a violent act — undermining that push. The problem is particularly pernicious as it relates to gun ownership, which is not just legal in the U.S., but fetishized as the pinnacle of patriotism. But when it comes to drug crimes, if a gun is anywhere in the picture — or even anywhere off-screen — the crime instantly becomes violent, and in Thompson’s case, as in so many others, the criminal unworthy of clemency. With a nation awash in weapons, the result is predictable.

Thompson’s underlying crime was the pot sale, but his long sentence comes from the fact that police found guns on his properties and that he had a record. Yet he didn’t have a gun on him when he sold the pot, he just happened to be a gun owner. One of the guns that police found was an antique rifle, another belonged to his wife. Gun ownership is also legal in Michigan, including open carry.

Did I mention that Thompson is black? Do I need to?

It is people like Thompson who need pardons, not the well-connected crooks and war criminals who are the usual recipients.


  1. ardipithecus says

    The well connected crooks and war criminals can still do something to support the pardoner in some way. The poor schmucks like the rest of us can’t support them enough to warrant a pardon.

    It is not, and never has been about mercy or clemency or justice. It is always about who can most help the pardoner retain power.

  2. deepak shetty says

    e just happened to be a gun owner

    Im guessing the NRA and Republicans are going to get on the case, now.

  3. file thirteen says

    I try to pretend to myself that I’ve become numb to the injustice in the world, but stuff like this upsets me every time.

  4. Dunc says

    It is not, and never has been about mercy or clemency or justice. It is always about who can most help the pardoner retain power.

    It’s mainly about money -- there’s a lot of money being made in the prison industry. But yes, it is also about power -- all those slaves convicts count towards a state or district’s population for representation purposes, even though they can’t vote. And funnily enough, a lot of prisons are located in majority-white, Republican-voting districts.

    The US prison industry really is the new plantation, only without the three-fifths compromise.

  5. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I can relate to this. I have a friend in Michigan, with no criminal record, who sold his prescription meds to an undercover cop. They did a SWAT raid on his family’s home 3 days later -- why? Who the fuck knows. Probably just because they can. Why have a SWAT team if you cannot use it? They found a legally owned gun that was sitting in a gun safe, and because my friend is being charged with a drug offense, and they found a gun, that instantly upgraded it from a 2 year offense to a 10 year offense. My friend did what most people do in that situation -- plead guilty to the lesser offense. End result was 2 real years in prison. Fucking drug war, and fucking ridiculous laws concerning guns when the gun was legally owned and -- for the moment -- it’s a constitutionally protected right.

    My friend is also white. While this does disproportionately affect people of color, the commensurate police and prosecutor corruption spills over onto white people too. If you know any racist friends -- remind them of this fact.

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