The night of Wednesday October 21, 2015, I got to hear Jeff Mizanskey speak in person. Jeff went to prison for 21 years and 9 months for three nonviolent cannabis-related felony charges brought against him. When you have three nonviolent felonies in Missouri, you are “eligible,” as his lawyer Dan Viets put it, for 10-30 or 30-life years in prison. The judge told multiple people not to worry; Jeff would only be going away for 15 years. The day of the sentencing, he changed his mind – and Jeff went away for life without the possibility of parole.
You could tell Jeff was nervous, talking to us like he was with cameras. He even told as at the end that he wasn’t very comfortable, but that if he didn’t tell the story no one would – and his story is important. It made me see cannabis reform from a whole other perspective that I hadn’t considered before.
The most disturbing thing Jeff talked about was watching other prisoners come and go who had committed horrible, unspeakable crimes – and were still violent, sometimes returning to prison. He talked about “baby-rapers and murderers” who had gotten much shorter sentences than he. This fact made me so indescribably angry that I am just going to leave it at that.
Next, it cost taxpayers $57 and some change to keep Jeff in prison every single day. Every single day. If he had been out of prison, though, he could have been paying taxes to the government and making money. Not only that, but his conditions were horrible. He remembered having to crack the ice in the toilet before going to the bathroom, the uncountable cockroaches crawling everywhere, and terrible food. Personally, I want to know why it costs me $57 a day for him to be living in that horrible of a condition. It feels like there may be a little more going on under the radar.
In addition, Jeff talked about the state of the men he was seeing come in and out of there. He talked about a lot of young guys who were coming in who had to take courses like anger management – but since they were going to be locked up for 5-10 years, they were in no hurry to learn anything and never really did; they just sat through the class. Often times, after they’d get out, they’d wind up right back in prison again – either because they couldn’t control themselves, or they couldn’t find a job after having been in prison. The system makes that really hard – so often times, they have to go back to dealing drugs just to survive. And just to brag on Jeff a little: he would take the courses, even though he didn’t have to, so that he would know how to talk to and teach young men in prison to try to help them. Keep in mind, Jeff never thought he was getting out of prison. He’s just that kind of person.
Not only that, but Jeff talked about how much the sentence had hurt his family. They were a middle class family who lost everything to become dirt poor out of nowhere. Any extra money they made they sent to Jeff because they loved him, of course. And a family was left without a dad to provide for them. This isn’t unique, and usually snowballs; the family then has to live off food stamps and government breaks, which only costs the taxpayers more money. It just doesn’t make sense.
I don’t know anything about Jeff’s first two offenses, but he did talk about when he was arrested that last time. He said that he was in a hotel room with a few other men, and didn’t even know but one of the other men he was around or what was going on, and wasn’t too concerned; he was just going about his day, and had met the man the night before. When they left the room, they were surrounded with guns. (Guns!) The man Jeff had known told the police that it was all his fault, but no one seemed to care. That man went on to get out of prison about a decade ago. What the hell?
When Jeff was sent to prison – for his non-violent offense – he was sent to maximum security. Maximum security. The first night, he told us, he shared a room with a man who had murdered someone, chopped them up into pieces, and thrown them in the trash. Imagine that for a minute. And trying to keep what you did a secret was impossible; anyone could go to the library or use the internet and figure out exactly what you did to get into prison. If you weren’t violent, the violent inmates took advantage of you. You had a limited number of options, including working for them or becoming “one of their little girls.” Jeff was threatened with his life to bring in drugs for people, but he refused and actually had to fight, on numerous occasions, to hold his own.
Wait, drugs in prison? Yeah. Jeff informed us that there are just as many drugs inside prison as there are out; you can get literally any drug you want. So prison’s not helping anyone with any kind of addiction. What I found really bothersome about this was that you know that the guards and faculty have to know that drugs are prevalent, and yet they’re still rampant. Nobody’s trying to help stop this problem or the people whose lives it’s messing up. In fact, after the presentation, my friend and I spoke with one of Jeff’s friends from prison who had gone to prison on a violent offense due to the use of narcotics. When he was released, he was not permitted to use medicinal marijuana for his pain – but, get this, was allowed to use narcotics. Prescribing a narcotic addict narcotics for his pain? What the hell is going on?
So Jeff, someone completely nonviolent, was sitting in prison for almost 22 years when he could have been out working as a productive member of society who was paying tax dollars, not using them. Let that settle in your stomach for a second.
I also want to mention that Jeff hasn’t used cannabis in over 18 years. He told us it wasn’t because he wouldn’t like to, but because he couldn’t risk doing something illegal; and that was ok. He even told us that he hoped we wouldn’t illegally smoke or even be around it, because you never know when something like what happened to him could happen to us; you just have to be present to be in trouble for the exact same thing the person with the cannabis is. That’s the problem.
By the end of the presentation, Jeff’s message was clear: we have to inform people about the issues in our government, and the prohibition of cannabis is a big problem for many reasons. Every year, thousands of people are locked up for small, non-violent cannabis offenses – and it’s costing us. The government, as Jeff put it, has us working for them instead of them working for us, as our country was founded on. As citizens, we have power in our votes and voices if we get enough of them together.
Towards the end of the presentation, Jeff reminded us that legalization is a lot of effort and a lot of money; it costs money to get votes, and we’re up against a lot of big and wealthy businesses and corporations who aren’t going to go down without a fight. He suggested that every time you smoke a joint, you put 50 cents in a jar and at the end of the month, send in the money from that jar to help support the cause for legalization in Missouri. He told us that if everyone who smoked did that, we could absolutely raise enough money to make a difference. I thought it was a great idea. Cannabis is about building a community. We need to remember that it all starts with acceptance, and legalization is key to getting it off the black market and receiving the respect it deserves.
It costs money to get votes. The people opposing have a lot of money, and they can afford a lot of votes. We need to contribute in any way we can. Then I realized that Jeff has never done a dab before; I hope that one day he gets to try one! And I got to thinking that we could expand his brilliant idea to include all our new favorite methods of ingestion; drop a piece of silver in every time you consume. The bigger the bowl, dab, candy bar, or blunt, the more money you add to the jar. Tiny dab or a couple hits off a pipe? A nickel. A fat dab or entire bong bowl to yourself? A quarter. You get the idea.
Then, at the end of the month or when the jar is full or whatever – you take it in and donate. Help get our medical patients safe access to the medicine they need. Help make it safe to do what you’re doing because let’s face it, you’re going to do it anyway.
In support of this idea, a few amazing brains and myself came up with a few hashtags to use when you talk about this on social media.
#saveMOsilver / Save your silver coins in a jar every time you use cannabis and donate it to help legalize in Missouri. Help take care of and “save” our state’s medical patients who need safe access to cannabis.
#ShowMeCannabis / This hashtag was not developed by us, but is already being used around Missouri in the campaign for cannabis. This will help us grow our audience and network.
#legalizeMO / This helps add our intent to legalize cannabis medically in the state of Missouri in 2016
#campaign4cannabis / Cannabis is no longer a bi or even tri partisan issue any more, as discussed at the presentation; cannabis is an issue at the level of the individual, and the only way to change an individual’s mind is to educate them on the wonderful benefits of legalizing cannabis. Make your voice heard during this preliminary voting time and support the campaign for cannabis.
We have ideas for some graphics in the works, and hope to release an awesome image in the next couple weeks to help gain support for this fundraiser! And if anyone is interested in collaborating on ideas for creating an identity or raising more awareness for the campaign for legalization in Missouri, please get in touch!