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Richard Paey's First Year of Freedom

By Nora Callahan, September 20, 2008, Tampa, FL

Richard Paey's been out of prison one year.

Nora Callahan (left) and Richard Paey

The day was billed as a "celebration" by Linda Paey, a celebration of Richard's Full Pardon by the Florida Clemency Board on Sept 20, 2007. It was that, yes, and also an opportunity to meet others who were willing to step beyond personal comfort zones to help reduce damage done by antidrug policy. I'd never met Richard or Linda Paey, not to mention a lot of people involved in what became a years-long campaign.

It felt good to meet the real person I admired through email conversations -- Linda Paey, who'd dug into her retirement funds, mortgaged the family home to pay for legal help, and tirelessly advocated for her husband. The work and sacrifice through three courtroom trials over ten years kept alive hope that justice would prevail in the end. She amazes many November members still, and it was fun to watch her, and take pictures of her.

Linda Paey

Perry Barber, a major league umpire from New York City, brought T-shirts for everyone. When she first read about Richard's case in the New York Times, she downloaded artwork, made T-shirts to publicize his plight, and made sure everyone she knew wore them and took action by appealing to Governor Jeb Bush, then his successor, Charlie Crist, who finally freed Richard.

Perry Barber (left) and Richard Paey

Janet Goree's son was sentenced Friday to 25 years under the same statute that sent Richard to prison. As a pioneer advocate to prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome, she's also proof, yet again, that people still are unaware of over-reliance on incarceration and lack of drug and mental health treatment.

Left: Janet Goree & Chrystal Weaver -- right: Janet hugs Linda Paey

John Chase was there to tell how he first met Rich and Linda in a Pasco County Courtroom for his sentencing after his second trial in 2002.

Richard shared some particulars of his case. Most people familiar with drug war prosecutions know the 'devil is in some of the details' that can't be explained in a limited news expose' and would be hard to divulge in a full-length novel.

"Linda and I were having trouble conceiving a child," Richard told us, "and had looked into adopting a child from South America. That act was perceived by police to be suspicious as they tried endlessly to find something that would link me to a criminal enterprise."

Linda & Richard Paey

Richard and Linda told about the night that police came with intent to search the family home. Using a ruse, two officers pretended to be friends of Richard. Linda knew her husband's friends, but said she'd get Richard and closed the door. With a spinal injury and multiple sclerosis, Richard wasn't going to be running to the door. And even if he could have jumped out of bed, he wouldn't have made it to the door before the police broke it down. In seconds one masked officer held a gun to Richard's head while others provided back-up and began to search the home.

We learned details about who Linda and Richard were before the arrest, trial, imprisonment, and the rarely-given governor's pardon.

There was so much joy in the room as we met, but as the day wore on -- after all the stories, gestures and side conversations with other drug war victims -- the fact that some of Richard's advocates had loved ones imprisoned muted the celebration as leftover sorrow showed itself. It's a cloying, long-term agony felt by people when their government, rather than protecting us is, instead, an agent of harm -- a life-changing revelation.

The old life is gone, and they know and I know it is gone. There is life before-drug-prosecution and after-drug-prosecution life -- the interim such a horror that the chasm between before and after doesn't leave a person and a family many connections or clues to who they were then -- to who do you become now?

Richard Paey

Janet is now linked with other activists to help bring some sanity to our antidrug laws. The day was a testament to the immense effort required to free just one of the hundreds of thousands of wrongfully imprisoned citizens. The cycle continues.

If your family has been affected by drug war injustice, we want to hear from you.

From November Coalition volunteer Chrystal Weaver

I made my flight arrangements as soon as I learned of this event. After my sister faced a 25 year Mandatory Minimum sentence after being arrested for having 49 of my mother's 10 mg Percocet tablets, I learned of Richard Paey's plight. It takes a loud collective voice to be heard in Tallahassee, and I tried my best to be one of those voices demanding that Richard Paey be released. I had never met Richard, I had only received a letter from him while he was incarcerated. (I had met and spoken to Linda from time to time during this ordeal.)

I remember the day one year ago that I received the news of Richard's complete PARDON. I was sitting in my office at my PC and I just broken down with tears of joy! Then I made a call to Jennifer Santiago, who was the reporter for CBS4 Miami. She did an interview about my sister's plight and she also interviewed Richard in connection with my sister's story. Jennifer Santiago did her best to keep Richard's story alive in South Florida by continuing to follow developments in Richard's case. When I called her, she was overwhelmingly happy too.

I knew that I had to meet Richard in person. Then I got a bonus! I learned that Nora (Callahan) would be there as well! After many e-mails and phone conversations over the past two years, I felt as if I had known Nora for twenty years, even though we had never met. And she happens to be one of my personal heroes! (With her in WA and me in FL, there is a lot of miles between us.) I was doubly honored to be able to meet both Richard and Nora at the same event.

Janet Goree was in attendance, and the tragic event involving her son Bobby and the ridiculous sentence he received for his "crime" saddened everyone there. The sweet and the bitter was certainly present at this event. Seeing Richard with Linda, a free man, fully pardoned, was a joy to behold. Meeting Janet and finding out that her son was just sentenced to 30 years in prison was heart wrenching.

There was another leg to my journey from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa. Since I have become a criminal justice reform activist and a Novemberista, I was contacted by an inmate named Jesse Dean about two years ago. He told me he has been wrongfully incarcerated for the last 11 years and asked if I would try to help him. So over the past two years, marking 13 years of this innocent man being deprived of his freedom, I was only an hour's drive away from being able to visit him at Coleman FCI. I visited him for over 3 hours. I was the first visitor he has had in the 13 years he has been incarcerated. He is a citizen of the Bahamas and all of his family lives in the Bahamas. That visit was a sad reminder of what incarceration does to the person as well as the loved ones of the incarcerated person. I stayed until the end, and the children and parents and wives of the inmates had this look on their face that can only be described as one of deep sadness and loss. (Keep in mind that the inmates in Coleman FCI Low are not there due to any sort of violent crime. Most are drug related or white-collar crime.)

So, my trip to Tampa was both awesome (meeting Richard and Nora) and heart-wrenching (hearing of Janet's son and visiting Coleman FCI).

But more than anything else, it solidified my commitment to doing what I can to demand that our lawmakers reform this broken criminal justice system from A to Z.

Richard Paey is featured in the documentary The War On Drugs
The War on Drugs: A Documentary

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