Drug Policy, Human Rights, and Medical Marijuana Activist
By Mikki Norris, Human Rights & The Drug War
Virginia Resner, a treasured activist who worked tirelessly to put a human face on the injustice of the Drug War, succumbed to a five-and-a half year battle with breast cancer at age 60 on July 18, 2007.
Virginia first began working for drug policy reform in 1991. Without her knowledge, companion Steven Faulkner had agreed on a plan to sell drugs. Her wake-up call? Coming home to find federal agents in her San Francisco residence on a warrantless search for evidence to use against him. Through Faulkner's arrest, prosecution, and 5-year mandatory minimum sentence as a first-time, non-violent drug offender, she quickly learned about the excesses of the Drug War.
Virginia discovered Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and volunteered as the nonprofit's California representative from 1992 to 2002.
She initiated a Women's Project that collected stories and photos of women serving long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses and conspiracy charges, to bring attention to the growing number of women in prison. She was instrumental in the successful effort to attain an Executive Clemency from President Bill Clinton in 2000 for Amy Pofahl, who had already served nine years of a 24-year drug conspiracy sentence.
In 1995, Virginia joined with Mikki Norris and Chris Conrad of the Family Council on Drug Awareness to co-create HR95, now the Human Rights and the Drug War Photo Exhibit project. This compelling photo exhibit shows the faces and tells stories of non-violent drug offenders and their families.
The trio co-authored the acclaimed books, Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War and Human Rights and the US Drug War. These publications have moved and inspired activists everywhere to take action and get involved with the drug policy reform movement. It provides images and text picked up frequently by the local and national press, political ads, and documentaries.
Virginia was proud to be part of our trio's efforts when we received a Robert C. Randall Award for Achievement in the Field of Citizen Action from the Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation in 2001.
Virginia's commitment, courage, inner-strength, warm and generous spirit -- as well as her dignity in her losing battle with cancer -- have been an inspiration to many who had the fortune to know her.
Alva Mae Groves
Prisoner of the War on Drugs
Ms. Groves, featured in our last Razor Wire in an article on compassionate release, passed away in August of 2007, still in federal prison. She was 86 years old.
Alva Mae was sentenced to 24 years in prison at age 74 for a crack conspiracy that was largely her son's endeavor, according to her family. Half her family was sentenced under the same conspiracy.
"My real crime ... was refusing to testify against my sons, children of my womb, that were conceived, birthed and raised with love," Groves wrote in a 2001 letter to November Coalition.
Prison life took a toll on Groves. She despised the food, a poor substitute for the butter beans and peas she grew at her North Carolina home, and she quickly " shrank down to a bag of bones" in prison, her daughter, Louise Smith, told the Raleigh, NC News and Observer.
"I realize everyone has a day to die; death is a fate that will not be cheated. But I don't want to die in prison. I want to die at home surrounded by the love of what's left of my family." Ms. Groves wrote the Coalition.
Alva Mae was denied even that final dignity. After repeated attempts by her family and supporters to win her clemency, on July 19, as her children leaned over her prison hospital bed and tried to remind her who they were, a prison official handed them the letter denying Alva Mae's release.
Prison officials advised her in the letter that " her crime was too grave to allow her to be turned loose."
The November Coalition extends heartfelt condolences to her family.
Dr. John Beresford
Dr. Beresford died on September 2, 2007 in a hospital in Canada.
British-born John Beresford began his psychedelic research interests in 1961.
He spent the next several decades working in psychiatry until 1991, when he resigned and founded the Committee on Unjust Sentencing, a group focused on the cause of people imprisoned on drug related charges.