Dispatches from the Field: Women in Prison -- An American Growth Industry

 However high the cost of justice,
the cost of injustice is greater still.

Who says “American Exceptionalism” is dead? Not when it comes to incarceration. Nowhere on Earth -- except the USA -- does a country put more of its citizens in prison. And, increasingly, those citizens are female.

In 1980, before the War on Drugs became big business and prison corporations were allowed to regain a toehold, there were 12,300 women incarcerated in the United States. By 2008, that number had grown to 207,700. The rate of increase between 1995 and 2008 alone was a staggering 203%. The $9 million dollars it cost to incarcerate female offenders in 1980 has now ballooned to over $68.7 billion.

Who are these women, and how did they come to be caught in the web of the prison-growth industry?

By and large, these are young women who have less than a high-school education, have a history of being battered and/or sexually abused, and, with that, a resultant history of drug abuse. They are more likely to be HIV positive or infected with Hepatitis C, have either symptoms or a diagnosis of mental illness, and prior to incarceration were unemployed. While young African American women are the fastest growing incarcerated population, roughly 49% of women in prison are white, 28% are African American, and almost 17% are Latina. More than two-thirds are incarcerated for drug, property, or public order offenses. And the vast majority are mothers of minor children.

Here’s one such story.

Oklahoma, Not OK
How do you tell your children you are going
to prison? How do you prepare for this?
~Patricia Spottedcrow

On New Year’s Eve 2009, in rural Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, a 24-year-old Cheyenne mother of four, and her mother, Delita Starr, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana out of Starr’s house for eleven dollars. Two weeks later, the person who sought them out for the first buy came back for a twenty-dollar bag. The buyer turned out to be a police informant.

Spottedcrow and Starr were charged with distribution and possession of a dangerous controlled substance in the presence of a minor, and were offered a plea deal of two years in prison. Having no priors, meaning they’d never been in trouble with the law, and having been busted for such a small amount, they turned the deal down. Both women pled guilty, thinking they’d get “community service and a slap on the wrist.”

Unfortunately, as is too often the case, it didn’t play out that way. Though it was a piddling amount of money and a first offense, in the eyes of Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, because Spottedcrow’s mother made the actual sale of the “dime bag,” and Spottedcrow’s nine-year-old son made change, Spottedcrow had involved three generations in a “criminal enterprise.” Seeking to teach her a lesson for selling thirty-one dollars’ worth of marijuana (and showing up for sentencing with traces of marijuana in a coat pocket), Judge Pritchett gave the young mother twelve years in prison -- ten years for distribution and two years for possession -- to run concurrently, with no probation. In addition, she fined Spottedcrow $4,077.89.

Starr was given a thirty-year sentence, suspended so she could care for her grandchildren. She was also saddled with five years of drug and alcohol “assessments,” plus $8,591.91 in court fees and fines. At $50 a month, she’s now paid off $600 of it. Her monthly income is $800.

Believing she would be released on probation, Spottedcrow made no preparations for her incarceration. When her sentence was handed down, she was taken into custody without having a chance to say goodbye to her children, shackled, and transported three hours away to Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, where she became a minimum security prisoner at a cost to Oklahoma taxpayers of $40.43 a day -- ten dollars more per day than the total cost of marijuana sold in two separate incidents combined, and $25 more per day than it would have cost the state to provide drug treatment, were that available in Kingfisher County.

Eddie Warrior, a state-run facility that opened its doors in 1989, was built to house fifty women to a dorm, one or two to a cubicle. Just six years later it was at capacity. In the four-part documentary, Women in Prison, Eddie Warrior case manager Teri Davis states that shortly thereafter, with the facility already full, “they started hauling people in.” Now there are a hundred-and-twenty inmates to a dorm, some with serious communicable diseases, living in rows of bunks four feet apart.

“The inmates don’t like it,” says Davis. “And who would? Crammed up with another inmate in your face, coughing because she’s sick, coughing all over you . . . packed in like sardines in a can, with no amenities.”

Perhaps most disturbing about conditions at Eddie Warrior is that they are not unusual. Lurking behind the injustice of Spottedcrow’s harsh sentence is a darker story of human rights violations in America’s female prisons. In Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, compiled and edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman, female inmates speak of atrocities “ranging from forced sterilization and shackling during childbirth, to physical and sexual abuse by prison staff.” Describing their lives as harrowing and rife with misogyny, author Peggy Orenstein declares their treatment “utterly unacceptable in a country that values human rights.”

For the privilege of living in these deplorable conditions, Spottedcrow’s sentence means a burden to taxpayers of nearly $150,000 in incarceration costs alone. This is the price to an already strapped society for a person’s having sold 0.105821 ounces of an herb that is considered harmless on the one hand, and highly beneficial on the other. Multiply that by the thousands incarcerated in Oklahoma, and then multiply that by the other forty-nine states. In fact, Oklahoma attorney Josh Welch, who is working for Spottedcrow’s release, predicts that if Oklahoma continues its current practice of incarcerating “anybody who comes before a judge” for drug-related offenses, even for a first offense, “it will bankrupt the state.”

However high the cost of justice, the cost of injustice is greater still.

A Clear Case of Civil Rights Violations

I’m just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of being human.
~ John Trudell, a “blue Indian”

A growing civil rights movement in Oklahoma is demanding Spottedcrow’s release. The Society to Preserve Indigenous Rights and Indigenous Traditions (SPIRIT) got involved in Spottedcrow’s case “because she is Native American, poor, and a minority,” says Brenda Golden of SPIRIT. “We are not pro-marijuana and do not advocate breaking the law. But we do believe Patricia's sentence is way too harsh for the crime she committed and is indicative of the treatment we receive in Oklahoma….  We are committed to continuing the fight to get this sentence reduced so Ms. Spottedcrow can be reunited with her four small children.”

Trial Attorney Josh Welch took her case pro bono. Calling it an “abuse of judicial authority,” he filed a motion in Kingfisher County to modify her sentence, saying, “A judge’s responsibility is to help people, not just punish them.” On Monday, October 3, Mr. Welch received an Order from Associate District Judge Robert Davis modifying Spottedcrow's sentence from the original twelve years to eight years in prison with four years’ probation. Welch says he’s happy the sentence was modified, but not happy that only four years were removed. "The new judge didn’t back off the first sentence. He said the reduction was because she had done well while incarcerated. We disagree with the sentence. She shouldn’t even be in jail.”

“This may not be easy,” Welch told SPIRIT’s Brenda Golden in an email, “but we will not stop until she's released.” Welch plans to file an Application for Post-Conviction Relief. has created a petition to the Governor of Oklahoma requesting a pardon for Spottedcrow. As of this writing, they’ve gathered almost 35,000 of the 50,000 signatures needed.

A Trail of Tears

In the Women in Prison documentary, Judge Susie Pritchett, who imposed the original sentence, states that Spottedcrow “needed to learn that there were consequences to this lifestyle she had chosen.” Tragically, and in direct opposition to the sort of outcome the judge would seem to favor, Spottedcrow’s lifestyle was indeed forever changed. Because of her conviction, she can never again pursue her chosen field. Her “chosen lifestyle” was that of a certified medical assistant employed by a nursing home. When the economy tanked, not because of any choice Spottedcrow made, she lost her job. In fact, almost half of all incarcerated women were unemployed in the month before their arrest. Spottedcrow was not the first to look for a way to make some “easy money” when things got tight. But as she conceded in an interview with Ali Meyer of Oklahoma News Channel 4, “It was a stupid mistake that I paid an awful lot for.”

Speaking of consequences, however, what about the consequences of Judge Pritchett’s actions? Seventy-five percent of incarcerated women are mothers, most of them parents of children under age eighteen. What happens when the state takes a mother away from her children for an entire decade?

Children do hard time for their parents’ crime

Children of female inmates are at enormous risk to continue the cycle and end up in prison themselves, according to another Women in Prison participant, Dr. Laura Pitman, Deputy Director of Female Offender Operations for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, who adds that thirty percent of the female prison population had at least one incarcerated parent themselves. African-American children are nine times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison and Hispanic children are three times more likely than white kids to have an incarcerated parent. All told, a million and a half children in America have a parent in state or federal prison, which, according to the Family and Corrections Network, “means a crisis for that child.”

The effect on Spottedcrow’s children has been devastating. Aged 1, 2, 4, and 9 at the time of her arrest, all but the eldest are unable to comprehend her disappearance. And because Spottedcrow is housed a full three-hours’ drive from her mother’s home, her family is unable to visit. As the youngest learns to talk, she knows her mother only as a voice on the phone. Meanwhile, Starr tries to explain to her grandkids. “It’s hard. The little girls do not understand why their mom’s gone…. The baby had a real hard time. We’ve spent nights crying. . . . She goes to the bedroom door and knocks: ‘Mama! Mama!’ And we cry.”

In Long Beach, California, when members of The Human Solution learned of Spottedcrow’s plight, they took up a collection and arranged for her children to receive new clothes to wear on a trip to visit their mom. In return, the Oklahoma woman who helped arrange the clothing donation made a cash contribution to The Human Solution so people would have gas money for court support. Thus, the movement to free prisoners of the drug war grows bigger and stronger.
The Two Joes: “We’ll Do This My Way”

It also grows louder. On Wednesday, November 2, 2011, angry protesters screamed in frustration outside Long Beach Courthouse, where former medical marijuana dispensary owners Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron were quickly losing ground. In preparing for their upcoming trial, Judge Charles D. Sheldon had eliminated as “irrelevant” all medical evidence. “We’ll do this my way,” he said, ruling out the two doctors who were prepared to testify that the Joes were, at the very least, qualified medical-marijuana patients. Having already been denied the right to defend themselves as legally compliant dispensary owners, the Joes had retreated to their fall-back position -- that of being patients first. But with his latest decision, Judge Sheldon had taken that away, too.

Protesters claimed the judge had denied the Joes their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. In two previous California medical-marijuana cases, defendants had been allowed an affirmative defense, meaning they were able to tell the jury they were legally compliant dispensary owners, as well as qualified medical-marijuana patients. In one such case, the defendant was found not guilty. In the other, the case was dismissed "in the interest of justice." Not so for the Joes.

Kangaroo Court

Like Patricia Spottedcrow, Grumbine and Byron have turned down plea deals, choosing instead to exercise their right to a jury trial. Motivated by the same do-good instincts that led them to create a medical-marijuana collective in the first place, they put their fate in the hands of a jury for the sake of all medical-marijuana patients and caregivers. They hoped to solidify the legal standing of their fellow patients and dispensary owners, along with their own, in a precedent-setting case. They thought the jury would hear all the facts. They were wrong. Instead, says Grumbine, it’s “a steamroller to conviction.”

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
~ Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”

At a November 9 hearing -- their twenty-second court appearance -- the Two Joes suffered yet another defeat. Having filed a motion to quash the warrant that triggered a massive tri-county raid and turned their lives upside down, Grumbine and Byron had to appear before Judge Judith L. Meyer, who signed the original warrant. She denied the motion. After opining that the medical-marijuana-dispensary thing “is all a sham,” Judge Meyer reminded the defendants that their next court date with Judge Sheldon was on November 23 "in Department K, as in Kangaroo.” To quote Dr. Hunter S. Thompson out of context once again, “Jesus! How much more of this cheap-jack bullshit can we be expected to take?” Kangaroo court, indeed.

Don’t get out of jury duty, get into it!

Grumbine and Byron have only one defense left: the defense of last resort – Jury Nullification. Simply put, Jury Nullification (or “Juror Nullification”)  means a juror has the power – nay, the awesome responsibility – to refuse to convict if they believe the law is corrupt or the proceedings have been compromised. The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) was created to inform American citizens that “juror veto – juror nullification – is a peaceful way to protect human rights against corrupt politicians and government tyranny.” With thousands of people in the street, and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators getting arrested in droves for rising up against government tyranny and abuse of power, the time for J-Null may have come.

Jurors Can Stop Government Tyranny by Refusing to Convict

As a juror, your first and greatest duty is to your fellow citizen. While jury duty may sometimes require you to punish a fellow citizen for breaking the law, it may also, at times, require you to protect your fellow citizen from tyrannical abuses of power by government officials.

Jury convictions, right or wrong, just or unjust, are almost never overturned. In a recent case in Georgia, Troy Davis was executed even after many jurors, upon hearing new evidence, tried to take back their guilty verdict. Imagine having to live with the knowledge that you sent a man to his death, based on insufficient or false evidence. In the case of Grumbine and Byron, there was no victim. Both defendants were motivated by a desire to help end suffering by providing patients legal access to a plant that helps and heals. For this, each now faces up to seven years in the slammer.

“Jurors cannot be required to check their conscience at the courthouse door,” says FIJA. Rather, they are empowered to use it in court, with absolutely no fear of retribution. So, in the future, don’t get out of jury duty, get into it. The life you save could be Joe Grumbine’s.

We’ll take a closer look at Jury Nullification in an upcoming post. In the meantime, FIJA has created a Juror’s Handbook to help inform potential jurors of their legal authority to refuse to enforce corrupt laws. “Short of being elected to office yourself,” says FIJA, “you may never otherwise have a more powerful impact on the rules we live by than you will as a trial juror.”


In 1995 Cynthia Johnston directed public relations for an online publication, Sources eJournal, covering intelligence, espionage and terrorism. There, she wrote a three-part series, “Confessions of a CIA Brat.” She also wrote a business column, “In the Loop,” for an independent filmmaking web publication and several pieces for Bay Area computer magazine Micro Times. After Sources went down in the crash of the late Nineties, she took a leap of faith, moved into a funky cab-over camper, and started living curbside on the streets of San Francisco. She began her first blog before blogging was a word. Her online journal earned her the opportunity to write a piece, “Mobile Homeless,” for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s been blogging ever since.
Johnston began writing about her experience as a medical marijuana patient as soon as she “got legal.” She went public on behalf of legalization in 1980 with the California Marijuana Initiative and a headline: “Marijuana Protester Busted at High Noon.”

Dispatches from the Field: Prisoners -- America's New Cash Crop

A disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
~ Hannah Arendt

At the 2011 dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, many speakers, including President Obama, quoted from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which King eloquently spoke out for freedom and justice. Yet almost fifty years later King’s son, Martin Luther King III, says his father’s dream has not been realized, that America has “lost its soul,” in part by “having more people of color in prison than in college.” He is not wrong. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the last decade nearly one in three African-American men aged 20-29 was under criminal-justice supervision, while more than two out of five had been incarcerated.

At his 1963 March on Washington Dr. King said, “We have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.” And so we have. Because today, with for-profit prisons a burgeoning growth industry, the incarceration rate of people of color can be extrapolated to the population at large. Indeed, one out of every one hundred adults in America today is incarcerated, and one out of every thirty-two is somewhere in the system – either on probation, on parole, or behind bars. Put another way, the United States has five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. And more than half of these arrests are for marijuana.

The FBI puts the number of marijuana arrests over the last decade alone at 7.9 million. This was not caused by the laws of supply-and-demand for weed. This was caused by the laws of supply-and-demand for prisoners and, hence, for profits. Since 1984, when privatization of prisons was made legal again, after having been stamped out in 1928 due to gross abuses against prisoners in the name of profit, the for-profit prison industry has moved quickly to expand into as many states as possible before enough resistance could be amassed to stop them. And with each new prison constructed, there is a need for more prisoners to fill it.

In the intervening years, lobbyists for the corporate, for-profit prison industry have spent millions of dollars per year writing laws and implementing strategies to put people in prison for as long as possible. The harsher the policies and the longer the sentences, the more money flows into these corporations from the government. And nothing grows the prison population better than the War on Drugs -- a war funded by taxpayers, some of whom are later fed into the machine, including those you’ve met, and others you will meet, in these pages.

Big Money Machine

Back in my political days there was a running joke in Washington: the “building trade” unions would build their own prison camps for the jobs. Not so funny any more, given that California’s prison guard union -- the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, or CCPOA -- was a driving force behind California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, a law that requires a mandatory 25-years-to-life sentence for a third “similar” felony, even if that felony is shoplifting.

Three Strikes is one of a systematic web of laws designed to incarcerate the maximum number of people for the longest possible time; a web of laws that creates a self-perpetuating money machine for its creators – a cabal of corporations and lawmakers with the shared goal of growing America’s prison population for profit; a web of laws written by special interests and introduced by the legislators they have bought with campaign contributions. Just one small example of the way our democratic system of government has been hijacked by the corporate thugs, greed-heads and fixers of America’s sprawling prison cartel.

Former Navy journalist and “conserva-tarian” co-founder of All American Blogger, Duane Lester reports that in only three decades CCPOA has become one of the most powerful political forces in California. In an article published by, he wrote that the union has contributed millions of dollars to support Three Strikes and other laws that lengthen sentences and increase parole sanctions (the sentences imposed when a parolee violates the terms of parole). After then-governor Pete Wilson backed Three Strikes, the prison-guard union donated a cool million to his campaign.

Don’t Look For The Union Label

On a much more insidious scale, a right-wing lobby group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), writes ‘model bills’ (legislation to be enacted in one state and replicated in others, also known as ‘copy-cat laws’) for corporate sponsors like Koch Industries, Exxon Mobile, BP, American Bail Coalition, R.J. Reynolds, Wal-Mart, Phillip Morris, Pfizer, AT&T, and Glaxo Smith Kline, to name a few – including bills specifically designed to exploit cheap prison labor on behalf of profit-making corporations.

Writing for, labor journalist Mike Elk and blogger Bob Sloan detail ALEC's “instrumental role in the explosion of the US prison population in the past few decades,” explaining how ALEC pioneered some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today – mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders, Three Strikes laws, and so-called truth-in-sentencing laws, which require violent offenders to serve 85% of their sentences before being considered for release. After ensuring that more prisoners would be incarcerated for longer and longer periods, ALEC then “paved the way for states and corporations to replace unionized workers with prison labor.”

The “convict lease program,” instituted in the South after the Civil War, was the precursor to today’s for-profit prison industry. The then-governor of Mississippi imprisoned freed slaves and then leased them out to a private party who could work them to death, and often did, with no pay. It took churches, families, and civil libertarians sixty years to wipe these laws off the books and the Reagan Administration no time at all to bring them back.

Only a lobby funded by profit-driven corporations would replace preexisting laws with legislation like the Prison Industries Act, allowing “the employment of inmate labor in state correctional institutions and in the private manufacturing of certain products.” A federal program called PIE (Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program) conveniently certifies prison work programs for exemption from federal restrictions on prisoner-made goods in interstate commerce.

Prison labor for private profit was illegal before ALEC came along. Now the lobbyists have instituted two federal programs to regulate and certify prison labor. Just goes to show what money can buy.

In Florida, an outfit calling itself  PRIDE (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises) now runs forty work programs where inmates manufacture “tons of processed beef, chicken and pork,” as well as office furniture and other commercial items – for twenty cents an hour.
Aside from the obvious slave labor issue, here’s another concept for you: the intersection of processed meat with prison hygiene. I’ve heard the stories about prison conditions -- a hundred-and-twenty to two-hundred inmates in gym-sized rooms; fifty or more sharing a single filthy toilet, without privacy or sanitation. “Some guys just shit in the shower,” said a friend who spent a few eye-opening nights at L.A.’s Twin Towers. And these guys are processing tons of meat that wind up, among other places, in school lunches.

Granted, prison laborers featured on a recent exposé on CNBC, entitled “Billions Behind Bars,” worked in facilities outside the prison, and wore gloves. But that was a single example in Colorado – a 6,000-acre complex with fifty businesses, including a goat farm and a fish farm, staffed by inmates. Colorado Correctional Industries, a division of the state Department of Corrections, which runs the complex, is on “a mission to save taxpayers’ money while helping to rehabilitate Colorado’s inmates.” Perhaps. They also happen to garner $56 million per year in revenue. But elsewhere, and for twenty cents an hour, how motivated could long-term prisoners be to maintain pristine job-site sanitation standards? Especially when they work under threat of punishment if they refuse to work?

In a 2007 letter to, an inmate wrote that he and other prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary had been trying for seventeen months to call attention to inhumane conditions such as “broken toilets that leak profusely, the urinals that overflow onto our feet, and the lack of ventilation that results in fumes and condensation that are unbearable at times.” Even if they are transported elsewhere to work, how clean can they be? Yet, these are the living conditions many inmates endure. Conditions bad enough to cause one man to commit suicide at Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas – a prison run by the for-profit prison company, GEO Group, Inc.

How could GEO, or any corporation, justify making people live in such deplorable conditions? Because it’s cheaper, according to the inmates’ rights group Partnership for Safety and Justice in Portland, Oregon. In an article entitled "Suicide Reveals Squalid Prison Conditions," the organization’s program director, Caylor Rolling stated, “they cut corners because the bottom line is making money.”

Papers, Please

Another way for-profit prisons make millions of dollars is by detaining immigrants. The  Department of Homeland Security pays local, county and state prisons up to $200 per person per day to house “apprehended aliens,” reports The Huffington Post. Singling out another Los Angeles County horror show, HuffPost’s Gabriel Lerner says California’s prisons in particular “benefit from the largesse of the federal government and vie for a piece” of this profitable pie. He cited a detention center in Lancaster, run by L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, currently under federal investigation for prisoner abuse throughout the system, where immigrants rounded up in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were held for more than two years instead of the customary few days. According to a group of Latino filmmakers and “instigators” called Cuéntame (meaning both “count me” and “tell me your story,”) it doesn’t even matter whether these immigrants are documented or undocumented, “as long as they fill the detention facilities for days, months or even years.”

In the old days of publicly run prisons, it paid to let a prisoner go when his time was up or his rights were about to be violated. Not only was it the right thing to do, it saved the public money. And therein lies the rub.

In voters’ minds, the chief attraction of private, for-profit prisons is that they’re thought to save taxpayer dollars. Not so. In fact, just as health-care costs ballooned when corporations got in the game and began charging fifteen dollars per box of tissues -- as if a patient in a hospital bed were raiding the mini-bar in a luxe hotel rather than receiving medical care -- so have prison costs increased by virtue of the profit incentive of private-prison corporations. And where do their profits come from? Some come through the newly-legalized exploitation of the prisoners themselves, but the bulk come from you, the taxpayer. When prisoners, a public commodity, are managed by a private institution, the public pays. We are not creating savings. We are creating more prisoners and, these days, turning incarcerated human beings into corporate assets. Why would a private prison want to see a prisoner released if with him goes a piece of their income?

To find the really heavy hitters in the game of jailing undocumented immigrants for fun and profit, we must go to Arizona, where Republican State Senator Russell Pearce teamed up with ALEC and another for-profit prison company, Correction Corps of America (CCA), to create Senate Bill 1070, Arizona’s notorious “Papers, Please” anti-immigrant bill. Courtesy of SB 1070, local detention facilities rake in $200 per inmate per day ($6,000 a month, or $72,000 a year). According to “Immigrants for Sale,” Cuéntame’s shattering exposé, “these private prisons have spent over $20 million lobbying state legislators to make sure they get state anti-immigrant laws approved,” thus securing an endless supply of immigrant inmates. Replicated in Utah, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee and Iowa, ALEC and CCA have built themselves a “perfect money machine.”

Corporate Corrections Companies

Meet some of the players in the new, for-profit prison industry. Correction Corps of America (CCA), headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, touts itself as “America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections.” CCA designs, builds, manages and operates correctional facilities and detention centers for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Marshall Service, a couple dozen states, and nearly a dozen counties across the USA. CCA pocketed $2.9 billion in 2010.

Management Training Corporation (MTC), headquartered in Centerville, Utah, with branches in Texas, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., operates twenty correctional facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas. They have the capacity to “secure and train 25,310 offenders and detainees at federal and state correctional facilities across the United States.”

Formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections,  GEO Group, Inc., of Boca Raton, Florida, manages and/or owns 116 correctional, detention and residential treatment facilities, boasting some 80,000 beds. GEO ran the Texas prison where the previously mentioned suicide took place. Among the many services GEO provides are Secure Prisoner Escort and Secure Detainee Transportation. Since its inception in 2008, GEO has transported over 200,000 prisoners and detainees by land and air.

Among the three of them, these for-profit prison companies own over two hundred facilities with 150,000 bed-spaces, cranking out a tidy five billion dollars a year in profit.

A perfect money machine, indeed -- but only if the system keeps them supplied with prisoners. And how does it do that, besides detaining defenseless immigrants? By feeding more and more marijuana and medical-marijuana users into their giant corporate maw.

War on (Wonder) Drugs

It’s worth repeating here that cannabis was only outlawed in the first place as an accommodation to corporate interests. There was no moral imperative to make it illegal, nor is there one today. It doesn’t kill people, the way alcohol and tobacco do. According to Lester Grinspoon, M.D., Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has studied it extensively, cannabis is safer than aspirin! To quote him directly, “Compared to aspirin, which people are free to purchase and use without the advice or prescription of a physician, cannabis is much safer: there are well over 1000 deaths annually from aspirin in this country alone, whereas there has never been a death anywhere from marijuana.” He went on to say that “it will eventually be hailed as a ‘wonder drug’ just as penicillin was in the 1940s.”

Yet the practice of jailing people for growing, transporting, buying, selling or possessing marijuana, and locking them up for longer and longer periods of time, continues. In Louisiana this year, 35-year-old Cornell Hood II was sentenced to prison for life for having been caught four times for possession and/or distribution of a substance more innocent than aspirin and with fewer side effects than any pharmaceutical painkiller on the market. In Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, whose case we examine in an upcoming post, was sentenced to prison for ten years for having sold $31 worth of marijuana. Ten years. Second degree felony assault, in which a person bludgeons another person with a deadly weapon, causing severe bodily injury, carries five years. Yet you can sell a few “dime bags” of weed and get locked up for a decade, even when you have no prior arrests and four young children at home depending on you.

Just as the for-profit health-care industry relies on sick people for profits, and thus has an interest in keeping them sick, the for-profit prison industry relies on prisoners for profits, and thus has an interest in keeping them incarcerated. And though a recent Gallup poll  shows that fully fifty percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana and another seventy percent favor allowing doctors to prescribe it, the fight will really heat up when all those who profit from the War on Drugs mobilize their efforts against legalization.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
~ Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”

No Defense for Grumbine and Byron

Meanwhile, back in Long Beach, California, Judge Charles D. Sheldon on September 22, 2011, denied Joe Grumbine and his former partner Joe Byron an affirmative (medical marijuana) defense against the felony charges they face for operating two legally compliant medical marijuana collectives. Consequently, the jury who decides their fate will not hear a single word about their activities in providing medical marijuana to patients with a legitimate prescription. The two Joes will be presented as ordinary street-level drug pushers. In a political climate where state and federal law enforcement agencies are targeting dispensaries and their landlords in an apparent effort to wipe out medical marijuana dispensaries entirely, this is very bad news for the Joes. If convicted, each will face at least seven years in state prison.

At a pre-trial hearing on October 12, Judge Sheldon asked for a list of defense witnesses. Attorney Chris Glew, representing Joe Grumbine, told the judge that, because his client had been deprived of a defense, he had no witnesses. Incredulous, the judge repeated his request. Glew repeated the same answer. Commenting that he’d set aside time for a month-long trial, Judge Sheldon expressed reluctance to forfeit taxpayer dollars on a trial that would be considerably shorter than he’d expected. “We didn’t accomplish very much today,” he groused, and continued the hearing until November 2.

Citizen Outrage Grows

Outraged over “juror abuse,” a growing coalition of medical marijuana patients and advocates gathered outside the courthouse to protest the judge’s ruling. They claim that by denying the Joes an affirmative defense, Judge Sheldon is denying the jury the ability to return a fair verdict based on the facts. “A juror can not take back a guilty verdict,” said one of the protesters, citing the recent execution of Troy Davis in Texas. In similar cases across the country, countless jurors are forced to live with the pain of having returned guilty verdicts based on insufficient or false evidence. Along with the defendant, the juror pays the price for this abuse of judicial authority.

How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game
 ~ Bob Dylan, “Hurricane”

The next court date is set for Wednesday, November 2, 2011, at the Long Beach Courthouse. There will be a rally outside the courthouse at 8:00 AM. Court Support meets at 8:30 AM in Room 508. The trial begins on November 28.

Those wishing to join the rallies, participate in court support, or donate to Grumbine’s and Byron’s legal defense can do so at The Human Solution or phone 951-436-6312 for additional details.


In 1995 Cynthia Johnston directed public relations for an online publication, Sources eJournal, covering intelligence, espionage and terrorism. There, she wrote a three-part series, “Confessions of a CIA Brat.” She also wrote a business column, “In the Loop,” for an independent filmmaking web publication and several pieces for Bay Area computer magazine Micro Times. After Sources went down in the crash of the late Nineties, she took a leap of faith, moved into a funky cab-over camper, and started living curbside on the streets of San Francisco. She began her first blog before blogging was a word. Her online journal earned her the opportunity to write a piece, “Mobile Homeless,” for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s been blogging ever since.
Johnston began writing about her experience as a medical marijuana patient as soon as she “got legal.” She went public on behalf of legalization in 1980 with the California Marijuana Initiative and a headline: “Marijuana Protester Busted at High Noon.”


Dispatches from the Field: War Without End

It does not matter if the war is not real, or when it is, that victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous.
~ George Orwell, 1984

While it’s fairly well known that the United States Constitution was written on paper made from the controversial hemp plant, it may come as a surprise to know that growing hemp, also called cannabis, or marijuana, was once mandatory. Indeed, our first marijuana law, written in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, ordered all farmers to grow “Indian hemp seed.” During hard times in the mid-1760s, a farmer could be thrown in jail for not growing it. By 1850 we had over eight thousand hemp plantations, boasting at least two thousand acres each.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp. In a 1794 note to his Mount Vernon gardener, Washington said, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere!” Washington and Jefferson were known to exchange gifts of a smoking mixture that was definitely not tobacco.

Many of our forefathers were said to have smoked marijuana. Given the inspired concepts inscribed in the Declaration of Independence -- that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of  happiness -- enthusiasts like to say it was written on marijuana.

However, long before the birth of our nation, from the 5th century B.C. until the advent of the steamship in the 19th century, hemp was a mainstay in commerce. In the shipping industry, for instance, ninety percent of all rigging, ropes, wood sealant, flags, maps, logs, Bibles and clothing, as well as the canvas sails themselves, was made from hemp. Today’s industrial uses include biodegradable plastics, construction materials, biomass fuels (renewable energy,) health food and medicine.

Proponents claim that hemp, the world’s only known fully-sustainable natural resource, can meet our paper, textile, transportation and home-energy needs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean the environment, and rebuild depleted soil, all while healing the sick. “In other words, it’s the greatest plant on Earth,” concludes a narrator in Melissa Balin and Jack Herer’s short film, The Emperor Wears No Clothes.

So, after a couple dozen centuries of being the greatest plant on Earth, how did marijuana suddenly become Public Enemy #1?

Greatest Plant or Loco Weed?

Between 1910 and 1920, during the Mexican Revolution, destitute immigrants from Mexico provided cheap farm labor, especially in the Southwest. This created tension with local workers, as unemployment and the encroaching economic depression stretched racial tensions past the breaking point. The use of marijuana in Mexican culture made easy targets of both marijuana and Mexican people.

All Mexicans are crazy and this stuff is what makes them crazy.
~ Texas lawmaker, 1919

California was the first state to outlaw “loco weed.” At the time, 1913, Congress lacked the power to outlaw drugs or alcohol at the federal level. Alcohol prohibition, which lasted from 1919 to 1933, required an amendment to the Constitution, while drug laws were passed piecemeal, behind closed doors. But the nasty business we know as the War on Marijuana began in earnest in 1930 with the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a Division of the U. S. Treasury Department.

Its first director, the ruthlessly ambitious Harry J. Anslinger, made cannabis prohibition his personal mission in life. He fanned the flames of racism with statements like, “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races. . . . There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers,” baited Anslinger. “Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

(Quoting Dr. Hunter S. Thompson only slightly out of context, “It always worked for me.” But I digress.)

The U. S. government responded with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, making possession of cannabis illegal under federal law, except for medical and industrial use. Meanwhile, other fibers and fabrics were gaining popularity, edging hemp out of the marketplace. After we stopped producing it, we imported Manila hemp from the Philippines.

Enter World War II. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, we stopped importing hemp from Asia. Once again, the U. S. government had to encourage American farmers to grow it. If you’re looking for an unabashed ode to hemp, forget the hippies. Look instead to the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s 1942 promo film, Hemp for Victory: “Long ago when these [pictured] ancient Grecian temples were new, hemp was already old in the service of mankind.... For centuries prior to about 1850 all the ships that sailed the western seas were rigged with hempen rope and sails….. For the sailor, no less than the hangman,  hemp was indispensable.”

Praising the patriotic farmers who planted 36,000 acres of seed hemp in 1942, the U. S. government set the 1943 goal at 50,000 acres of hemp. (I love the smell of seed hemp in the morning. It’s the smell of….) The film whipped farmers into a frenzy of hemp-based patriotism over the Navy’s quickly dwindling supply of Manila hemp. “When it is gone, American hemp will go on duty again…. Just as in the days when Old Ironsides sailed the sea victorious with her hempen shrouds and hempen sails. Hemp for victory.

After the war ended, the government shut down all the hemp processing plants and the industry died. Enter William Randolph Hearst, Lammont DuPont and Andrew Mellon to make sure it stayed dead. This unholy alliance set out to destroy the hemp industry once and for all, and they succeeded – to this day.

Although they used racism to whip up anti-marijuana public sentiment, in reality it was just a handy sales tool. The real motive – then and now – was corporate greed and corruption. Newspaper mogul Hearst had a corner on the timber and paper manufacturing market, which was threatened when new techniques and a more efficient hemp harvesting machine promised to undercut papermaking costs by more than half. Unlike trees, hemp was annually renewable and required fewer chemicals in the pulp-making process, so it was easier on the environment, as well. It had to be stopped.

DuPont Chemicals manufactured paper and textiles. Lammont DuPont and William Randolph Hearst were partners in a multi-million dollar paper-making deal. DuPont shared Hearst’s zeal for stamping out hemp as a potential competitor in making plastics and synthetic fabrics. His company had just come out with a new fabric called nylon.

Bankrolling DuPont’s nylon enterprise was Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon – the richest man in America and banker to the stars. He and DuPont believed nylon’s success was dependent upon hemp’s failure. To ensure that outcome, Mellon installed his nephew-in-law, one Harry J. Anslinger, as head of the Bureau of Narcotics.

Meanwhile, Hearst used his newspapers and magazines to smear hemp, calling it “marijuana” and linking it to job-stealing Mexicans, over-sexed African Americans, violent crime, and promiscuity. (Another lasting by-product of Hearst’s personal war on marijuana was “yellow journalism.”)

Though advocates claimed hemp had the power to revitalize the failing U.S. economy, Hearst did such a bang-up job of demonizing it, his propaganda still passes for truth today. And advocates are still claiming it could revitalize the failing economy.

Nixon’s “All-Out War” on Weed

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, President Richard M. Nixon found a way to use the new and improved War on Drugs to target anti-war protesters, liberals and anyone else who got in his way. “You see,” he explained on a May 13, 1971 White House tape, “homosexuality, dope, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff. They’re trying to destroy us.”

The Controlled Substances Act, which Nixon signed into law on October 27, 1970, created five “schedules” for regulating drugs based on medicinal value and potential for addiction. Marijuana was listed as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal benefit. The following year, Nixon created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, known as the Shafer Commission after “law and order” Governor Raymond P. Shafer of Pennsylvania, whom he personally appointed to head it up.

The Shafer Commission, after conducting the most comprehensive study of marijuana in American history, wound up recommending that possession and non-profit transfer of marijuana be decriminalized, stating, in part, that the actual and potential harm from using it “is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

President Nixon did not share that reluctance. His reaction was to declare “all out war, on all fronts” against marijuana’s legalization.

Common Sense for Drug Policy posted transcripts of the infamous Nixon White House tapes on their website in March of 2002, including this excerpt from a meeting between Nixon and his Chief of Staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, on May 26, 1971:

Nixon: I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofabitching Domestic Council? [The Domestic Council was created to shape Nixon’s domestic programs and policies.] 

Haldeman: Sure.

Nixon: I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them….  You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists, you know, there’s so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish. By God, we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss….

Those were the days, my friend. They don’t write comedy like that any more. But seriously, if you’ve been wondering where our insane marijuana laws came from, welcome to the Mother Lode.

It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character almost every other country in the world has learned to fear and despise.
~Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72

 Declaring drug abuse Public Enemy #1, Nixon established the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1973. As a measure of the extent of his geographical reach, author Jerry Beisler wrote in The Bandit of Kabul, “President Richard Nixon offered the King of Nepal $200 million to build a sewer system for the capital city of Kathmandu. The string that was attached to this bribe was that the Kingdom of Nepal would then become the last country in the world to finally criminalize ganja.”

Profiteering in the Drug Wars

These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.
~ George Washington

Who stands to gain the most from marijuana prohibition? All those who work for government agencies involved in prosecuting the so-called war on drugs, and all those whose businesses gain by having hemp and its derivatives made unavailable for private, commercial, or medical use.

In the public sector, whole bureaucracies have flourished in the war on drugs, including the Drug Enforcement Agency and its precursor, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Office of National Drug Control Policy; the Federal Bureau of Prisons; the State Department; the Treasury Department; the Justice Department; the Central Intelligence Agency; and the National Clandestine Services, for starters.

To date, more than one trillion tax dollars have been spent on the so-called war on drugs. Over ten billion dollars a year is spent enforcing marijuana laws alone. This gravy train feeds millions of government employees -- from cafeteria workers to bailiffs; from cops to prison guards; from clerks to prosecutors and judges; even legislators -- all of whom collect government paychecks with benefits and retirement packages. And that’s just in the public sector.

In the private sector, where the practices of Hearst, DuPont and Mellon are still very much in play, today’s war on marijuana benefits energy companies intent on killing competition from renewable biomass fuels made from hemp; pharmaceutical companies who stand to lose billions when people discover the specific marijuana strains that allow them to get off prescription drugs, replacing harmful side-effects with harmless feel-good effects; and alcohol and tobacco companies for obvious reasons.

Lesser known cash cows include rehab facilities dependent upon addicts who could be using cannabis to kick hard drugs, and drug testing companies getting fat from mandatory workplace and court-ordered drug testing. Witness the fact that the companies building and operating private prisons are growing while the rest of the economy is shrinking.

Prison Industrial Complex

It’s fixed across the grid, don’t matter what you did
’cause the companies that own the prisons keep the bodies comin’ in.
~ Buxter Hoot’n, “Chief Justice Shepherd”

During alcohol prohibition, organized crime flourished, and so did “law and order.” The same thing is happening today. An entire industry is growing up around the prosecution and incarceration of drug offenders, most of them non-violent users of medical or recreational drugs, even as the truly dangerous drug cartels get bigger. Among these prisoners are medical marijuana cultivators and dispensary owners who, when they were busted, were operating in full compliance with state law.

Because marijuana is still prohibited at the federal level, medical marijuana dispensaries and gardens are being raided and people imprisoned, even in states where voters have legalized it. An undercover cop with a fake ID and a legitimate doctor’s recommendation need only make a few purchases from a medical marijuana dispensary and…gotcha!... he’s caught himself a kingpin. By listing the same “crime” –  selling marijuana – over and over, police can pile on felonies, including conspiracy charges, setting up hapless dispensary owners as “kingpins” while the real kingpins go free.

Once in court, prosecutors “for the People” determine the charges, some of which come with mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimums, enacted by Congress in 1986 during the Reagan/Bush administration, were intended to stop trafficking by international drug cartels. But by taking sentencing control away from judges and putting it in the hands of prosecutors, they also stopped judges from judging. Thanks to mandatory minimums, a judge no longer decides whether the punishment fits the crime.

Other than the actual drug cartels the conspiracy laws were meant to stop, the prison industrial complex seems to be one of the few real winners in this twisted game.

Jury Nullification: A Citizen’s Only Weapon
You are the law.
~ Paul Newman, The Verdict

Most of us assume the function of a jury is to determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence. But did you know a juror is also responsible for judging the law itself? That’s right. The power to change a bad law is in the hands of one person. Any person. You, if you happen to be sitting on a jury. An individual juror has the power to say, This is a bad law; not guilty.

Just like that. Hung jury. Trial over.

We the People have the power to change the law, case by case, courtroom by courtroom. Nobody, not the judge, not the cops, not the President of the United States, can punish jurors for exercising their right to repudiate, or nullify, the law that put the defendant on trial in the first place if they find the law unjust. That’s the way our forefathers intended it. People do have the power. We just have to remember how to use it. It’s called “Jury Nullification,” and other than the right to vote, it’s the only true power granted an individual citizen in the United States Constitution.

We may, in the War on Drugs, be up against an historic governmental and corporate monolith -- we may be David to their Goliath -- but the one stone in our sling, Jury Nullification, is a righteous and effective one. Used often enough, it results in changing laws. Just Say, “Not Guilty.”

The Two Joes: A Deal Goes Down in Long Beach

I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its Constitution.
~ Thomas Jefferson

On Friday, August 5, 2011, Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron were offered another deal. Referred to as a “wobbler,” the deal stipulated that each would have a felony on their record for “a year or so.” After that, the judge would have the option of reducing it to a misdemeanor, as long as they didn’t get into trouble with the law in the meantime. They turned it down. They’re going to trial.

Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron have put their fate in the hands of a jury. Court support teams are organizing carpools so people from all over Southern California can stand in solidarity with them. “Everything is stacked against us,” said Grumbine. “This is true courtroom drama. Anything can happen.”

Grumbine and Byron will be in court on August 16th for the start of jury instructions. So far, they’ve been denied an affirmative defense, meaning they have not been allowed to tell the judge – nor will they be allowed to tell the jury – that they were operating a medical marijuana dispensary in compliance with state law. The jurors may never hear their side of the story. They may be instructed to hand down a verdict based strictly on a list of felonies. If that happens, Joe and Joe are looking at hard time in a state penitentiary.

The state Appellate Court rejected their motion to dismiss the case based on their denial of defense. They have a new appeal pending with the state Supreme Court. In effect, they still have a chance to start over with an affirmative defense. But the very real prospect of going to trial without one hangs over them like -- to borrow another phrase from the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson -- a million-pound shithammer.

Court support starts at 7:00 AM with breakfast at Egg Heaven (4358 East 4th Street, Long Beach, CA 90814) courtesy of owner and co-defendant Joe Byron. Green Solidarity Ribbons will be provided. Simply wearing one in public will help educate the jury pool.

Court Support:
8:30 AM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Long Beach Superior Court, Room 508
415 West Ocean Boulevard,
Long Beach, California 90802

Trial Date: August 22 – 30, 2011.

Solidarity Ribbons and ride-shares are also available through The Human Solution, 951-436-6312.


In 1995 Cynthia Johnston directed public relations for an online publication, Sources eJournal, covering intelligence, espionage and terrorism. There, she wrote a three-part series, “Confessions of a CIA Brat.” She also wrote a business column, “In the Loop,” for an independent filmmaking web publication and several pieces for Bay Area computer magazine Micro Times. After Sources went down in the crash of the late Nineties, she took a leap of faith, moved into a funky cab-over camper, and started living curbside on the streets of San Francisco. She began her first blog before blogging was a word. Her online journal earned her the opportunity to write a piece, “Mobile Homeless,” for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s been blogging ever since.
Johnston began writing about her experience as a medical marijuana patient as soon as she “got legal.” She went public on behalf of legalization in 1980 with the California Marijuana Initiative and a headline: “Marijuana Protester Busted at High Noon.”


Dispatches from the Field: Bend Over and Assume the Position

In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the halls.
~Lenny Bruce
Thursday, June 9, 2011

When Joe Byron opened the doors of Egg Heaven at seven o'clock that morning, breakfast was on him. For most diners, a free breakfast at this friendly spot on the corner of East 4th Street and Ximeno Avenue in Long Beach would be a happy occasion, but the folks sliding into booths on this chilly morning bore the obvious signs of strain. It was a familiar drill for most of them. After breakfast they’d be heading to court to stand once again with Joe, a medical marijuana defendant, and his friend and former business partner, Joe Grumbine, in their ongoing legal nightmare.

This morning’s Pretrial Conference would be just one more step on the tortuous road the Joes had been traveling for a year and a half. The torment started in December of 2009, when the Long Beach Police Department unleashed one-hundred-and-twenty armed police officers with dogs, helicopters and a fleet of vehicles in a raid on seventeen locations across three Southern California counties – Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles. Three of those locations were legally sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries co-owned by the two Joes – one in Garden Grove in Orange County, and two in Long Beach in Los Angeles County. Another was the collective grow room in Long Beach. The remaining incursions took place at the homes and businesses of everyone connected with the collective – owners, volunteers and employees.

They even busted Egg Heaven.

There were about nine people having breakfast at the restaurant when police barged in. They escorted the customers outside, then sat the waitress and two kitchen staff in separate booths while they searched the place, even collaring a friend of owner Joe Byron’s who was there to look at the cash register and offer advice on point-of-sale computer systems.

Byron, meanwhile, had just arrived at the “grow” on Long Beach Boulevard when he heard pounding on the door, saw it was the police, and offered to open it.

“I have a key,” he told them. But they had a battering ram.

Busting down the door, they shouted, “Get on the ground!” In seconds Byron was face down and handcuffed. “They went through my pockets and took everything I had, including some money and my wedding ring. Then they took me to my house, read me my rights, and took me to jail.”

At the same time, the dispensary Byron and Grumbine co-owned in Garden Grove, Unit D, was being set upon by another gung-ho SWAT team. While Joe Grumbine was handcuffed in one room, two female employees were handcuffed in another. The police broke down doors, tore things off walls, and confiscated everything – medicine, cash, and all their business records. After scrawling Merry Xmas on the wall, they arrested Joe and both employees and hauled them off to jail.

“You don’t think about what it’s like to assume the position and be violated,” Grumbine later told a gathering of supporters in Pasadena. It took some prompting by meeting organizer Lisa Chick to get Joe to admit that he was talking about body-cavity searches.

“Repeated, multiple body-cavity searches. Especially the women.”

The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure, to live it you have to explode
In the last hour of need, we entirely agreed,
 sacrifice was the code of the road.

~Bob Dylan, Journey Through Dark Heat

In April of 2010 – with bail for Byron set at $463,835 and Grumbine at $260,000, and with each man facing up to seven years in prison – Grumbine and Byron got a call from the Long Beach Police saying they could come to the station and collect some of their confiscated property. The property turned out to be file cabinets from Byron’s real estate office. Then, in November of 2010, before charges were filed, they were called into the office of L. A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley, where they were advised of the charges that were going be filed against them.

Triggered by a complaint from a “confidential informant,” the arrest warrant against Byron and Grumbine, issued by Judge Judith L. Meyer of Los Angeles County Superior Court, charged Byron with eighteen felonies, and Grumbine with fifteen, “committed on or about November 12, 2009.” The crimes? Twelve counts each of  “11360 (A) Health and Safety Code” violations, which make the sale of marijuana a felony “except as otherwise provided by law.” California law does in fact provide otherwise, making the sale of medical marijuana legal, but some jurisdictions choose to ignore it. And once defendants have been charged with a felony, however wrongfully, they are in the system, generating money for America’s vast prison industrial complex.

The People of the State of California vs. Joseph James Byron

Cooley’s office offered the Joes a deal: two felonies and no jail time. They turned it down.

On Tuesday, December 7, 2010, the case was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in Long Beach. The following day, at a Bench Warrant Hearing, Grumbine and Byron heard the charges against them. They pled not guilty to all counts and Judge Arthur Jean, Jr., reduced Byron's bail to $300,000 and Grumbine’s to $200,000. Unable to come up with ten percent of that in cash, Grumbine was “remanded to custody,” which is to say, led from the courtroom in handcuffs and chains.

Three days later, on Friday, December 10, 2010, there was a Bail Review Hearing with Judge Judith L. Meyer, who had signed the original arrest warrant. Given such a long list of felony charges, Judge Meyer denied Byron’s plea for bail reduction, leaving it at $300,000, and reduced Grumbine’s to $120,000. Byron’s parents came up with $30,000 to keep their son out of jail, but Grumbine’s friends and family fell short of the $12,000 they needed to buy his freedom. Again he was “remanded to custody,” disappearing behind a metal door in handcuffs and chains.

A few days later, a handful of angels – literally people Joe had just met – put their nest eggs on the line to make his bail. As soon as they got the word, Liz Grumbine, daughter Candace, and a few friends piled into a van for an anxious ride to Los Angeles. At about 1:00 a.m., having waited long enough to charge the taxpayers for one more prisoner day, the jailers let Joe out.

It’s not the money, it’s the money.
Bill Graham, Rock Concert Producer

They Thought We Were Some Kind of Cartel

On June 15, 2011, the Drug Policy Alliance reported that the war on drugs has cost the American public more than one trillion dollars. The price tag for 2009, the year of the raids that ruined Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron, was fifty-one billion dollars. Students for a Sensible Drug Policy reported that over ten billion dollars a year is spent just enforcing marijuana laws. And that says nothing of the cost to those who are forced to defend themselves.

Although Byron has been picking up the tab for the ad hoc breakfast club for many months, it’s nothing compared to what the arrest and prosecution have cost him. “They’ve financially devastated me,” he said. “The hardest thing was having to ask my parents to help out with bail. It’s been a huge strain on my family and everyone involved.”

The police took all the money everyone had on them or in their homes, including one person’s emergency thousand-dollar cash fund. “They emptied the cash register at Egg Heaven,” said Byron. “They counted it as drug money! They thought we were some kind of cartel, or drug ring, but all they got from all seventeen locations combined was $36,000.” Not exactly cartel money.

“I just finished filing Chapter 7 with my bank,” said Grumbine, acknowledging some of what the ordeal has cost him. In the early days of the case, supporters would gather for breakfast at the Grumbines’ place in Perris – Willow Creek Springs – where Joe and Liz had coaxed a nursery and botanical garden out of the barren hills around them. Grumbine has barely kept the nursery alive and is unable to earn a living as he focuses on holding fundraisers and selling ribbons to raise money for legal fees and court support.

Grumbine and friends around a campfire at Willow Creek Springs.
Note the green Solidarity Ribbon.

“My life has flipped upside down. [Before the raids] the nursery was doing well. The collective was paying my bills. Everything’s changed. I haven’t lost my house yet, but it’s on the edge.”

Beyond the financial toll, he’s also lost friends and family. “Except for a couple of people. My dad stood by me. And his wife. My uncle bailed me out. I haven’t paid him back yet, but he stepped up.” He understands that people are scared, that he’s “tainted” by a dark cloud that follows him everywhere.

It’s precisely because of the sacrifices others make to support him, and because it’s who he is, that Grumbine shows up in court for every other medical marijuana defendant he can. And a green ribbon crew is right there with him, even when they’re down to just one or two people.

Wheels of Mercy

As early arrivals passed around menus, more court supporters descended on Egg Heaven, some of them having gotten up at 4:30 in order to make it. They came from all over Southern California to reconnoiter at breakfast, then carpool over to the courthouse – each wearing a green ribbon with a small red cross in the center, their statement of support for medical marijuana patients and defendants in court.

In Los Angeles that morning, Stephanie Landa was waiting on the corner in the dark when her ride pulled up. A champion of court support, Landa has waged an ongoing battle to keep more “political prisoners” from entering the system. Over omelets and coffee, she posted pictures to Facebook, enticing anyone within driving range of the Long Beach courthouse.

Free breakfast at Egg Heaven! Help make history! Court support is making a difference!

After serving forty-one months in prison for cultivating medical marijuana in compliance with California law, Landa co-founded LPOP, the Landa Prison Outreach Program. Her ongoing mission: to make sure other medical marijuana POWs, who were operating within existing laws but still wound up in prison, receive cards, letters, postage, and books during their incarceration. She publishes a newsletter, LPOP – Prison Outreach Press to raise awareness about the forgotten people who are serving decades-long prison terms for providing a legally sanctioned plant as medicine in compliance with the law.

Charles Monson of Orange, California, a quadriplegic due to a diving accident in 1979, was a qualified medical marijuana patient. On October 20, 2007, a dozen or more cops in bulletproof vests, humping assault rifles, came pounding on his door at 7 a.m. They handcuffed Monson’s caregiver and ordered Monson out of bed. After Monson convinced them he actually couldn’t get out of bed, they un-cuffed his caregiver.

“They came down on me like I was some drug kingpin,” he told Eugene W. Fields of The Orange County Register. In the end, all they got was sixteen plants and approximately two-and-a-half ounces of medical marijuana.

No longer able to grow the one medicine that could ease his pain, allow him to sleep, and calm his violent muscle spasms without side effects, and unable to buy it on his fixed income, Monson forged an alliance with the good people at Unit D. He also joined The Human Solution, the non-profit organization founded in 2009 by Grumbine and other medical marijuana advocates to build public awareness of the health benefits of the cannabis plant and advocate for the rights of medical marijuana patients and defendants.

On the nights before Grumbine and Byron were due in court, Monson would sometimes sleep in his wheelchair, as it took too long to get into it in the morning. When he wasn’t doing court support, he was wrangling and repairing wheelchairs for anyone who needed them, through his own non-profit organization, Wheels of Mercy.

“It’s a hardship to be a witness,” acknowledges Grumbine, recounting the things Monson and others, like long-time civil rights activist Madeleine Johnson, have gone through to show up in court time after time.

“I was having to choose between food and gas,” said Johnson. When Long Beach dispensaries heard about her situation, some of them offered to sponsor her. “I didn’t have to ask,” she said. “They make sure I have gas money to go fight for the patients.”

On Tuesday, June 7, 2011, Johnson took the fight to the Long Beach City Council. “You are cutting schools. Teachers are being laid off. Kids are losing education. But you can harass the collectives that give us our medicine? It’s not right, it’s not fair, and we’re tired of it.”

Long Beach Superior Courthouse, Thursday, June 9, 2011, 8:30 AM

“We’ve got a lot of people today,” observed Judge Sheldon as he entered his courtroom. Los Angeles attorneys Allison Margolin and J. Raza Lawrence were representing Joe Byron. Jina Kim of  Glew & Kim in Santa Ana was defending Joe Grumbine. Taking over the case for “the People” was District Attorney Jodi B. Castano.

In February of 2011, during a four-day closed-door preliminary hearing before Judge Jesse Rodriguez, the attorneys for Byron and Grumbine were prohibited from introducing evidence showing that their clients’ medical-marijuana dispensary activities were operating in full compliance with state law. The bulk of the legal wrangling so far has been over this point.

By interpreting the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 to mean that no money whatsoever may change hands for medical marijuana, L. A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who makes no secret of his personal war on medical marijuana, justifies the arrests of law-abiding dispensary owners by charging them with “sales.” Yet Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, who co-authored the Compassionate Use Act, told Greggory Moore of The Long Beach Post on June 14 that the intent of the legislation “was not to prohibit dispensaries from engaging in sales of this medicine. In fact, it was to clarify the allowance of it.” [Italics ours.]

And therein lies the rub. The defendants have not been allowed to explain to a judge (never mind a jury) that they were selling medical marijuana to qualified patients with valid identification and legitimate doctors’ recommendations. California Penal Code Section 866 guarantees a defendant the right to what is called an “affirmative defense.” Having been denied that right, attorneys for Grumbine and Byron filed a Penal Code Section 995 motion to have their case dismissed.

At a Pretrial Conference on May 5, 2011, Judge Charles D. Sheldon denied that motion, upholding Judge Rodriguez’s finding that there was enough evidence to take the case to trial. The defendants were ordered to appear for another Pretrial Conference on June 9th. And so they did. It would mark their fifteenth appearance since this whole thing began – fifteen occasions over twenty months in which attorneys and courtroom personnel carried on doing the things that allow them to make a living, while Byron and Grumbine lost so much of what they had.            

Judge Sheldon, having received a lengthy discovery report, suggested they start out by setting a date to continue in order to give everyone enough time to go over the material. Ms. Castano said she had also received the material, including flash drives and “lots of audio.” “The people don’t want to pay to transcribe the audio if there is no trial,” she told the judge.

No trial? Court supporters glanced at each other, wondering if they’d heard right. A date for the discussion of discovery issues was set for 8:30 a.m., July 8, 2011.

There had been a motion from the defense asking to see the warrant that triggered the raids. The prosecutor acquiesced; they would finally be allowed to see the piece of paper that turned their lives upside down. Chalk one up for the Defense.

Judge Sheldon then asked about the writ filed by attorney J. Raza Lawrence on May 23, 2011, seeking to overturn the results of the preliminary hearing. They were still awaiting the outcome from the California Court of Appeal.

“We have a June 17 trial date,” said the Judge. “We need to know what happens with the writ.” Again, the prosecutor said, “We don’t know whether there’s a trial.” She reiterated that she didn’t want the People to pay for transcription of the audio tapes if there would be no trial, preferring to stretch out the pre-trial so the outcome of the various motions could be absorbed.

The judge, defense and prosecution agreed to stretch out the timeline with a series of three pre-trial conferences while they waited to see how the current motions played out. The new trial date was set for August 22, 2011. And then it was over.

Everyone looked to Joe Grumbine. It was a small victory in a long line of defeats, but there was no time to celebrate.

First, it was by no means over. Second, there was another landmark medical marijuana trial going on at the same time in Westminster, a twenty-minute drive south. Grumbine had already dispatched half his court support team straight from breakfast. The Long Beach contingent would double their number. Another defendant in need of Court Support: Catrina Falbo of Huntington Beach. Now it was her case that could set precedent, since Judge Sheldon had postponed a decision on the Long Beach case. Unlike Grumbine and Byron, Falbo was able to present an affirmative defense. Once again, a judge was in the unusual position of deciding a case with minimal case law and a room full of witnesses. [See Update at bottom.]

The Truth May Set You Free

The following evening, author Cheri Sicard hosted an impromptu barbecue for Grumbine and crew. Naturally, the main topic of conversation was their case. One of the hardest things to understand, even for the lawyers, was why these two regular Joes had been singled out for prosecution when business licenses were being handed out to some twenty other dispensaries in the same area. In fact, another dispensary was currently operating at their former Garden Grove location, using the very same wiring and lighting equipment they’d installed a few months before the raids, without any repercussions.

It all came down to the so-called “confidential informant” whose name had appeared on the warrant. “I know the guy,” said Joe. “He worked for us. Rick Anderson. I had to fire him. He called the police after I fired him and said he could only give his first name because he feared for his safety. He pretended to be a whistleblower.” According to the story, Anderson told the police that he had rigged the wiring downstairs to steal power from a neighbor at the request of the Unit D folks. It was a lie. He never did any wiring. Not only did he lie to the police, but later, he lied on the witness stand.

Joe recounted that before firing Anderson, he’d given him a verbal warning about drinking on the job, and then a written one that Anderson had signed without dispute. That document, along with all their other records, was seized in the raids. If they win their appeal overturning the “prelim,” they will start the process over, only this time they’ll have the evidence that Anderson launched this whole nightmare with a false complaint.

Byron and Grumbine's next court appearance: 8:30 a.m., Friday, July 8, 2011

**Update: On Friday, June 24, 2011, Catrina Falbo’s medical marijuana case, in which an “affirmative defense” was allowed, was dismissed by Judge Robert Gallivan “in the interest of Justice.”

 Sometimes Lenny Bruce is wrong.