Nora Callahan, co-founder and Executive Director of The November Coalition, was raising two children and co-owner of an electrical contracting firm when her brother G. Patrick Callahan was indicted for a drug conspiracy in 1989. His resulting 27-year prison sentence prompted her in 1997 to heed the request of prisoners at Oxford Federal Correctional Facility in Wisconsin, Help us organize drug war prisoners and their loved ones to oppose this war. People don't know what is happening.
"When my brother faced a drug prosecution, I still thought the government was on the citizen's side, that lawmakers and law enforcement were there to protect us. My brother lost at trial. By that time I'd realized my earlier, naive premise wasn't always true. Our family was victimized by injustice, and later I'd learn there were millions of us who felt the same way. I began to study, and found ordinary people looming large in every social justice struggle. People can change laws and bad policy, we've been doing it since our country founded."
Nora Callahan has been noted for her grassroots leadership, sharing the 1998 Thomas Paine Award with Ralph Nader. The Society recognizes those men and women who, through their activities, promote and defend the kind of democracy envisioned by Thomas Paine and the other founders of our nation.
At the 14th annual international conference of the Drug Policy Alliance in 2001, Nora was presented the Robert C. Randall Award for Achievement in the Field of Citizen Action, honoring those citizens making democracy work in the difficult area of drug law and policy reform.
"Love and honor all people who suffer under repression. Know one's deeper motives for doing this work, and continue to study history from diverse views. Be prepared for sacrifice of old ways of thinking and doing, and stay flexible ideologically. Identify white superiority as a dynamic feature of racist repression driving foreign and domestic policy. Act as if there will be no tomorrow, as if humanity hangs in the balance, and be scrupulously honest and scientific in consideration of developing new support for the human rights movement. Wherever you may live, be involved in your government." —Nora Callahan, founder and Executive Director
The Drug War has hit Rachel's family hard. She desperately wrote to her legislators and other drug law reform groups seeking guidance and assistance for her loved ones. No one responded to her pleas for help. She became discouraged and lost hope.
While visiting a family member in federal prison, Rachel heard about The November Coalition. Through TNC, she found the support and hope that she was seeking to help her understand and unite efforts to one day change the drug laws. Through this work, Rachel has a positive outlet for her frustrations and is setting an example for her children to not lie down for injustice but become active and fight for a better and safer future for all of us.
Rachel will be the first to admit that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to bring about a change in sentencing and drug laws but it helps her feel better to be involved rather than sitting at home waiting for someone else to do something. Rachel hopes that our communities and our country will wake up and realize that the statistics about our prisons are not just numbers but real human beings with families. The non-violent drug law offenders and their families are needlessly suffering due to our unfair laws. She understands that to make a difference, people must take it upon themselves to bring a change. Rachel hopes that more and more people will support the work of The November Coalition and get involved.
Glenn has been an active member of the November Coalition since it's founding in Oxford Federal Correctional Facility back in 1997. Weekly, he writes legislators either to urge them to support a particular congressional bill, or to inform them of good criminal justice bills that deserve their support. He's convinced of what is true, without public pressure, the laws won't change.
He calls the office to get updates, find out what legislators have signed on, and which legislators might need targeting. People online have this information handy, but prisoners don't. When Glenn calls the office, we just go to November's Congressional Bills page, and he asks about bills he's followed and if any new ones have been introduced.
Glenn write people he knows, to urge them to support bills and become regular visitors of these important sections of November's website.
Barbara Fair has seen the injustice of the drug war touch her children's lives, her community and the state of Connecticut. Today she is a volunteer organizer in New Haven, within her state and sometimes afar. Babara's efforts to organize the citizens of New Haven against drug war injustice are carried in the local headlines in her community, and some her organizing work is featured in the documentary, Up the Ridge, a US Prison Story.
November Coalition members got to know her on the Journey for Justice in autumn of 2002, she was one of the organizers who promised to put together an event for the Journey, if Nora and Chuck could include their community of New Haven, Connecticut. She hosted, hands down the best event of the months long, 30,000 mile Journey for Justice. Since that time we are the ones having a hard time keeping up with her but we give it our best shot. Barbara is one of the leaders of People Against Injustice.
The ‘War on Drugs’ as the new Jim Crow
By Kwame Binta
“Look, we understood we couldn’t make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common pleasure. . . . . .We understood that drugs were not the health problem we were making it out to be, but it was such a perfect issue for the Nixon White House that we couldn’t resist it.”
That’s a quote from former Nixon aide John Ehrichman during a 1996 interview by Dan Baum, author of “Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure.
The late author and educator Dr. Amos N. Wilson once asked, “How do you destroy a people while at the same time appear to care about them?”
I say one way is to create a war.
The U.S.A. does not care about the people of Iraq. If they did, there never would have been an embargo before the illegal invasion that has killed thousands of Civilians in their sovereign Country.
They do not care about the Afghanistan people. It was the Taliban that outlawed the cultivation of poppies. So while the U.S.A. military looks on and secures the land, there is record harvesting of the poppy plant.
Alcohol prohibition did not work. It caused more harm then the liquid drug itself could ever do. Alcohol prohibition caused drive-by shootings; overdoses that caused unnecessary blindness and deaths; the creation of organized crime; corrupt politicians, judges, police, prison guards and more.
Mandatory minimum sentences were first introduced for drug offenses as the Boggs Act in the 1950s. Within 20 years they were repealed as Congress realized the law failed to reduce drug use, inhibited judicial flexibility and overflowed the prisons. So why does the U.S.A.’s longest war, the “War on Drugs,” continue when studies have shown it has been a complete failure?
The reasons are (1) Privilege, (2) Prejudice and (3) Power.
It is a war on the Black community at home and aboard and a war on Mother Earth. Other people are the casualties of this war, too.
Created during the height of the Black Love movement, when the African community had begun to embrace our roots and learn more about our-story. It was the time of the Black Power movement. The war was created at a time when young Blacks where realizing that integration meant stimulating the lost of one’s culture. Many of us wanted to include our African culture in the civil rights movement, but this government (corporation) was not having that. A time when young Blacks and Whites were uniting on many fronts, protesting against the illegal war in Vietnam, Cambodia and other parts of Southeast Asia. There was an awakening among all that the information shared by the mass mediagovernment-corporation was not always true!
The first casualty of war is TRUTH!
In 1968, President Nixon called for Law and Order and declared a “War on Drugs,” stating “Public Enemy Number 1 in the U.S. is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy it is necessary to wage a new, all- out offensive.”
In 1970, the U.S. Controlled Substances Act was devised to create a formula by which drugs were divided into various categories. This included a class of banned “dangerous” substances.”
In 1971, Nixon appointed William C. Sullivan as head of an overseas operation to fight the so-called drug cartel. Sullivan was also head of the notorious COINTELPRO FBI operation responsible for the murders of Black Revolutionaries, Civil Rights leaders, Black Panther Party members and also neutralizing many other progressive organizations. Promoted for his outstanding performance at destroying Black leadership, Sullivan became the headman of an operation known at the time as the Office of Drug Abuse and Law Enforcement (ODALE), today known as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The White House officially controlled narcotics at home and abroad.
The newest additions to government covert operations trained at the International Police Academy in Washington, D.C. When school was dismissed, the hit men were sent into the Black communities on “search-anddestroy” — all in the name of “Law and Order.”
Forty years later, the result of the “War on Some Drugs Used by Some People” has resulted in the U.S.A. becoming the world’s leading jailer, with 2.5 million prisoners and counting, more then half being of Afrikan descent.
But there has not been a decrease in drug use or abuse. There are more single mothers raising children on government aid. There are more illegal drugs on the streets at cheaper prices. The media is promoting rap songs that glorify drug selling and using. There is mass incarceration of young Black males for Driving While Black. Innercity factory jobs being shipped overseas and the use of prison labor drives wages down.
Millions of gallons of oil are gushing out of the ocean floor, killing life and destroying our Environment, while hemp could meet all the world’s energy needs! (Popular Mechanics, 1938) Yet, because of this war, a billion-dollar crop cannot be grown in the U.S.A.
It is way past time to end these wars on the people and our planet!
Kwame Binta is President of the Prosser-Truth Division #456 of the UNIA-ACL and
Richmond representative of “The November Coalition,” working to end the drug war injustice.
John is a lifelong Republican, civil libertarian, and a mechanical engineer by education at Rice University. He spent 3 years on a Navy destroyer from 1957-60. Retired after 32 years with a major aerospace company, he has been married 45 years, with 3 children and 8 grandchildren.
After years of discomfort with our anti-drug policies, Chase finally came off the sidelines in early 1998 to try to make a difference. Since neither he nor any of his family had been affected by illegal drugs or the drug war, he started essentially from zero and studied it for over two years before becoming convinced that the drug war is simply a rerun of our 'noble experiment' with alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, only twenty times worse. He believes the record is clear that current enforcement of drug prohibition causes far more societal damage than it prevents and must be scaled back dramatically or it will destroy the institutions on which this country was founded.
Chase's letters have been published in numerous papers in the U.S. Canada and Australia. He is active in several drug policy reform organizations and serves as Secretary of Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform and as trusted advisor and Tampa Bay Regional Leader of The November Coalition. He speaks at various civic, business, and student organizations in Florida.
Teresa Aviles may never learn what finally killed her son while in custody of the Bureau of Prisons. Why was medical treatment denied for months until her first-born child was unable to
walk, speak or eat? Moreover, as a black man, why was he identified as 'white' on his death certificate? Was it Isidro's body the coroner examined or that of another? Teresa was even forbidden to speak with the Mayo Clinic physician who knew why her son was dying. Errant laws and rogue conduct resulted in the shameful conviction, the negligent incarceration and the untimely death of this mother's son.
Isidro Aviles was sentenced to 27 years for a crack-cocaine conspiracy on the basis of $52 and the bargained testimony of a long-time criminal. The most incriminating evidence in the crack-conspiracy charge was lacking - the crack.
The cruel odds of racial prosecution were against Isidro from the start. Black males are ten times more likely to be arrested than whites. From 1985 to1995 the incarceration rate of black men increased ten times over that of white men. Isidro was arrested in 1990 and Teresa remembers the man who implicated her 26-year-old son and109 others - including some "kids from the projects"- in the drug conspiracy. He was a bully who had been in and out of prison since Teresa was in high school. He lured young people into selling drugs for him and got rough when they were slow to pay. When he was arrested about a decade ago, he was given an 'opportunity' to reduce his sentence by providing the names of other members of the "conspiracy."
Isidro Aviles was given about 45 minutes to accept the plea bargain offered - the time it takes to drive from the US Attorney's office to the court house in New York. If he pled guilty, then his mother and sister wouldn't go to jail. That was the deal! Teresa was told by Isidro's court appointed attorney that the plea hearing was rescheduled from Monday to Tuesday. But Isidro told his mother he hadn't heard about the date change when she visited him in jail. Suspicious, Teresa showed up on Monday as originally scheduled and somehow wasn't as shocked to see Isidro and his attorney at the hearing as the attorney was to see Teresa. She approached Isidro and begged him not to sign the plea agreement. A FBI agent told her to be seated or she was going to jail, too. She believed him since her son had been arrested just for having $52.
Isidro had served about eight years in prison when Teresa received an anonymous call on May 18, 1998 from a woman who said Isidro was sick and not receiving medical attention at the Low Security Correctional Institute in White Deer, Pennsylvania. Isidro had collapsed in the shower - unconscious. Other prisoners cared for him for ten days before he received any medical attention. He needed assistance to walk to the restroom and had stopped eating and speaking. Teresa was advised to confront the "big shots" about why her son was denied medical care. When she called the prison, she was told that Isidro was "fine." "I knew this was a lie because, with 1,400 inmates in the institution, there was no way for them to know that one man was 'fine' in such a short time." An investigation at the prison ensued, but not about Isidro's health - rather, about who was talking to Isidro's mother.
The following day Teresa traveled from her home in New York City to Pennsylvania to visit Isidro. She was denied a visit after the long journey and simply told that Isidro was fine and was being taken to a local hospital for testing.
For six months Teresa had been warning prison officials about disturbing physical and mental deterioration that she noted in Isidro in phone conversations, from photographs and prison visits. He was constantly blinking, and the whites of his eyes were red with blood vessels. The last Mother's Day card he sent looked like an elderly person had written it- "kind of shaky looking." He didn't want to eat because other inmates "did things" to the food. His skin became pale and ashy and his curly hair went straight. He began saying things that didn't make sense. And as Isidro's health continued to decline, prison officials repeatedly rebuffed Teresa by saying he was fine.
Two days back in New York, Teresa received word from the anonymous caller. Isidro had been moved from the prison and was finally in the care of a physician. But where? Numerous calls to the prison to ascertain the whereabouts and condition of Isidro were stonewalled. For three weeks she was put on hold for long periods of time before being disconnected or told no one was available to speak with her. She wrote letters to prison officials, television and radio stations, later to BOP Director Katherine Hawk and then President Clinton. Finally she received a message that Isidro was in the Federal Medical Center, Minnesota. He was very sick, but with rest and medication he would be fine. At a time when Isidro needed his family the most, Teresa wonders why her son was sent further away, rather than closer, to those who love him.
When Teresa arrived at the hospital, Isidro was near death and surrounded by guards. "They acted like he was going to get up at any moment and bolt from the room," she said. Mayo Clinic doctors were in attendance, but the guards explicitly forbade her to speak with them. A prison doctor - who was never available and wouldn't respond to phone calls - would provide all the medical details that Teresa would ever need to know about her son. She followed the guards' orders until the second day when, in desperation, she questioned the Mayo physician. He held her hand and spoke words that she'll never forget.
"Mrs. Aviles, your son is dying. He is dying, and the process has already started."Prison officials had told her that Isidro had AIDS. She cried, "How can he be dying of AIDS so quickly?" The Mayo physician was incredulous. "AIDS? What made you think AIDS?" AIDS was the reason of death confirmed on the death certificate of the "white male." The guards interrupted and threatened to remove Teresa from the hospital if she dared to speak with the physician again. Miles away from home, all alone, Teresa returned to her hotel room in shock and fell apart in private.
Without eating or sleeping she walked back and forth from the bedside of Isidro to the hospital chapel to pray. After three days she decided to return to work in New York and pay for his burial. "After kissing my son goodbye one last time, I ran from the room blinded with tears, barely able to breathe."
From New York she called several times a day to check on Isidro and remembers speaking with "the most mean-spirited people on the planet." But on July 13, 1998 a prison official called and gave her new reason for hope. Maybe her many prayers had been answered. With less than a year to live, Isidro qualified for the compassionate release program. He was alive and coming home. Teresa was overjoyed with the thought of caring for her son before he died. She immediately called members of the family asking for prayers that Isidro would live long enough to enjoy his final days with those who love him. Twenty minutes passed and there was another phone call. She heard from a prison official what she thought must be part of a cruel joke: "Isidro passed away this morning." The phone fell from her hands and she screamed, "Noooooo."
"I promised on the first day he was born that I would always love him and be there for him. But when he needed me the most, I was nowhere around. I was miles away as he lay dying, sick, afraid, unable to speak or to care for himself; no one to sponge his fevered forehead, unable to ask for a sip of cool water??and all alone. This pain was nothing like the pain that I experienced during birth. It was ten million times worse and I still feel it today.
Teresa is there for Isidro still, just as she promised him so many years ago. And she is there for other sons and mothers and daughters and fathers whose lives have been shattered by the drug war. At rallies and vigils she carries a poster that reads, "This is how my son went to prison, and this is how he came out." The poster has a photo of Isidro in his casket.
She organized and leads the Annual Isidro Aviles Memorial Chapter of the November Coalition there are picnics in the summer and the Children's Christmas Party in December. Teresa corresponds with several prisoners and helps families with drug war prisoners with letter writing and phone calls. Teresa is the grandmother of Isidro's three girls who grew up without their father and have now lost him forever. Isidro Aviles is no longer with us, but his spirit is kept alive through the work of his mother in behalf of hundreds of thousands who have fallen victim to this cruel war against our own people.
This story was originally published in The Razor Wire, March/April 2001, Vol. 5 No. 2, entitled, The Death of Isidro Aviles, and written by the late Mark Harrison, November Coalition contributing writer.