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November 20, 2007 - Reason Online (US)

Richard Paey Speaks

By Radley Balko

In October of this year, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed a pardon for Richard Paey, a paraplegic with multiple sclerosis who had served nearly four years of a 25-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. Paey was convicted of trafficking despite concessions from prosecutors that there was no evidence the painkillers in his possession were for anything other than his own use. When police came to arrest the wheel-chair bound Paey, they came with a full-on SWAT team, battering down the door and rushing into the home of the wheelchair-bound Paey, his optometrist wife, and their two school-age children.

Prosecutors offered Paey a plea bargain, but he refused, insisting that he shouldn't have to plead guilty to a felony for treating his own pain. Paey was tried, convicted, and given a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence. While in prison, the state of Florida paid for a morphine pump that administered painkillers to Paey at rates higher than what the state convicted him of for possessing in the first place.

Christ and Florida's pardon board issued Paey's pardon after heavy media coverage of his case, including by 60 Minutes, and the New York Times, as well as by Reason's own Jacob Sullum and Radley Balko.

Reason: How is life since you've been released?

Richard Paey: It's dreamlike. I have to catch myself now and then. There are times when I'm not sure if I'm awake or still dreaming. In prison, you survive by developing routines. You stop thinking. The routine becomes your life. You follow set behaviors. I still engage in that when I wake up. It's a different reality.

Reason: How were you treated by other inmates?

Paey: Very well, actually. That was one surprise. I'd almost call it a shock. People I would never have associated with - people I'd have been afraid of if I'd seen them in a free-world environment on the street, people with tattoos, crazy hair, and so on - as I got to know them, and was accepted as one of them, they treated me very well. I never had the fear of violence from any of the other inmates. In fact, something else happened. I found I had more fear of some of the officers who worked in the system and engaged in behaviors that we'd like to think don't go on in the prison system.

Reason: Were you ever beaten?

Paey: There was one time I was hit by an officer. I was sleeping in my bed at around one o'clock in the morning. The lights were on - the lights are always on - and the shift officers were conducting their "shake down" - which means they come in and go through all of your belongings to search for contraband. It seemed to come out of nowhere, he had a radio in his hand, and he swung it down as hard as he could and he hit my legs with it. If I could have gotten out of bed and hit him, I would have. He said to me, "I just wanted to see if you had feeling in your legs." He saw the wheelchair next to my bed, and that the sheet was covering my legs.

But there are other kinds of abuse that you wouldn't think about. Things like leaving the lights on 24 hours a day. I went more than 30 days in solitary where the lights were on the entire time. And other things, like slamming the doors when they do security checks. They come by every hour and give your door a loud kick. When you're inside a cell and someone comes by and gives that big iron door a kick once an hour, the sound just ricochets between your ears. So systematic sleep deprivation is common. I would see men go into solitary and when they came out weeks later, their hair would be completely gray.

Reason: Governor Crist and Florida Attorney General McCullom both not only voted for your pardon, they both expressed regret that perhaps mandatory minimums and zero tolerance drug laws had gone too far - pretty notable statements coming from two stalwart advocates of the drug war. Are you aware of any efforts by them or the Florida legislature to reform these laws?

Paey: I don't know if those two in particular are doing anything. I know that advocates here in Florida including people from Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the November Coalition are pushing legislation to deal with the problem. One bill would I think would remove prescribed opiates from the drug trafficking statutes. I believe the November Coalition wants to use my case as a platform to go after mandatory minimums both in Florida and in other states - to point to my case as an example of the absurd results that can come from these laws. I'm not aware of anything the governor or anyone in Tallahassee in particular are doing to remedy the problem that brought my case to their attention.

(Ed.- Excerpted from a longer interview at Reason Online.)

Richard Paey is Finally Free!

By John Chase, November Coalition

After 3 1/2 years in prison on a 25-year sentence, Richard Paey's petition for sentence commutation was first on the agenda of the September 20 quarterly meeting of Florida's Clemency Board in the Capitol in Tallahassee, FL. I attended the meeting, which began at 9:00 AM. The room was packed with petitioners, their families, friends, and some lawyers. Previously. the Board had recommended against Richard Paey's petition for clemency.

Although "clemency" suggests the petitioner is remorseful and has been rehabilitated, Richard's lawyer, John Flannery, took a hard line. He said the prosecution was wrong from the start, that Richard was trying to treat his pain only because no medical professional would help him. He spoke to educate the Board and the audience that opiates do not do what people think they do.

Next up was Richard's wife, Linda, and their three children, who delivered a highly emotional plea to send their dad home. Although Richard's petition was for commutation only, Governor Crist granted a full pardon upon hearing the Paey family speak, before asking other members of the Clemency Board for comment.

Charles Bronson (Secretary of Agriculture) spoke in agreement and mentioned that police are put in a difficult position, considering what the law says. Bill McCollum (Attorney General) agreed that the problem is the law. Alex Sink (Chief Financial Officer) didn't comment. When Crist took a vote, it was unanimous to send Richard home -- immediately.

Thanks to everyone for letters, phone calls, faxes, and emails to Governor Crist and the Florida Clemency Board. We know for a fact that Crist alone received 50 letters.

Please know that such communications have a HUGE impact.

(For more on Richard Paey, visit

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