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Lillie Blevins: Life in prison for three grams of crack

By Sasha Abramsky, Toward Freedom Magazine, Dec. 2001

(Lillie Blevins died of cancer in June of 2005, still in BOP custody. According to Alabama news sources, Ms. Blevens was the first woman sentenced to life without parole in Mobile federal court. Most of her immediate family were also incarcerated in the same conspiracy.

The Coalition office was recently in touch with Lillie as we prepared her WALL profile for publication. We're glad she knew that her story was being told before she passed. Our sincere condolences go out to her family.)

Lillie Blevins is a diabetic in her mid-50s. She has chronic high blood pressure, back problems, knee problems. A couple of years ago her appendix ruptured. She is scheduled to spend the rest of her life in Carswell Federal Medical Center, inside the Forth Worth army base, just outside Dallas, Texas.

Her crime was conspiracy to sell crack cocaine, allegedly head of a family operation involving three of her sons and her brother. The evidence against her: the word of a snitch who was friends with her drug-dealing sons, along with three grams of crack cocaine found in her Mobile, Alabama house by federal agents. Her status is a nonviolent, minimum-security federal inmate, no prior time served in prison, no money, and hence no lawyer working on her case; at the time of her sentencing, her husband was in jail on an unrelated charge.

An African American woman born in Selma, Blevins was pulled out of school in the third grade to look after her seven brothers and sisters. Her father had just died. Her mother, Pearlie, was in the fields all day, picking cotton. Lillie had her first child, a boy, when she was 14, and moved south to Mobile, on the hot, sultry Gulf Coast, shortly after.

Over the next decade and a half, six more sons followed. Lillie was an active member of the Shallow Baptist Church. But in a world of grinding poverty and limited horizons, no amount of religion could prevent some of her boys, and at times herself, from being tempted by drugs.

In the early 80s, the police arrested her for growing what she terms a "reefer bush" in her garden. Later on, she was hauled in for possession of crack. Neither arrest resulted in prison time.

Then, in 1990, three of the Blevins boys, now living in an apartment away from Lillie, were caught up in a federal drug sweep, turned in by a friend who bartered 28 names to federal agents in exchange for probation. For good measure, the friend, who had once lived down the road from Lillie, added her name to the list.

One morning, when Lillie was at home, the agents knocked on her front door. She opened it, and they stormed into her house. They found three grams of crack - and carted the 42-year-old woman off to jail. The snitch said she was in charge of the family operation.

Her sons denied she had any knowledge of their actions. Their denials counted for little: Blevins was sentenced to life imprisonment in a federal prison.

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