There are many signs in Washington D.C. that some congressmen realize that there are large scale problems with mandatory-minimum sentences and the 1987 U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. In the recent symposium sponsored by Representative John Conyers, Jr. and Senator Edward Kennedy, a lineup of federal judges were highly critical of mandatory sentences and the loss of discretion within their own courts. To this dissent rose several congressmen, once supporters of mandatory sentencing, who stated they had changed their position.
We are seeing more studies which prove the point: that drug law violators in the U.S. receive far too much prison time and our laws have made a critical mistake in structuring such harsh systems which are affecting apparently endless numbers of families and individuals.
So here we have it: Judges, wardens, mayors and even police chiefs, along with academicians, doctors, psychologists and social engineers are finally questioning the American Drug War. Even Miss America has added her voice to the fervor when she recently gave her support to needle exchange programs to prevent the spread of AIDS.
The public at large is also better educated on the subject than it was just four years ago and many states will soon have drug policy reform initiatives on 1998 ballots. When enough states vote for change, it will make harsh federal law essentially unenforceable. There is change coming, but it also needs to be hurried along.
This is the aim of the November Coalition and I urge those interested in helping themselves to support it. The Coalition began forming only nine months ago with a small group of volunteers in Colville, Washington along with a couple dozen prisoners of war. Our effort is broadening at a speed that those of us who came aboard in the beginning have been amazed by.
Nora Callahan, our outside Director worked on sentencing reform for years. She applauds those efforts but is convinced that we have to take our message to the people of this country in order to add the "teeth" to current lobbying efforts. Our guideline system of sentencing works in tandem with an endless, destructive drug war. I am sure all of you can agree with this strategy. Collectively we believe that the war on drugs is a great threat to the Bill of Rights. America is ready to hear us, our success in mobilizing efforts nationwide are proof of that.
The November Coalition consists of inmates and their families and individuals and groups involved in the drug policy reform movement. Nora was recently taken into the A.R.O., The Alliance of Reform Organizations, which tells you our organizational efforts have not gone unnoticed: the goal is to get you free and back to your families.
To accomplish this, the Coalition has created an anti-drug war, anti-mass incarceration Internet website which is accessed at www.november.org. The website is home base and features prisoners of war, their stories and families, essays from reformists, dissenting judges opinions, drug war horror stories and a host of other, timely information. The website is updated and enlarged continuously and many consider it an excellent source on the destruction of the drug war. Reform advocates, journalists and radio personalities come to our web pages often. It is linked to and from many other organizations and enjoys a high rate of Internet exposure. Your input is very important and helps expand the site. If you have good dissenting judges opinions, pertinent articles or drug war horror stories you want to contribute, do so by all means.
Our Coalition publishes a paper which currently is sent to over 250 federal and state prisons, to families of those in prison and to reformists throughout the country. It also is mailed to selected elements of the country: to the U.S. Attorney General, the U.S. Sentencing Commission and even to Barry McCaffrey. This paper will in time reach circulation in proportion to the numbers of drug law violators imprisoned.
The paper aims to tell it like it is, to further expose the injustice of drug violation sentences, drug policy in general and is also a forum for reformer's ideas. It serves to keep you informed on legislation that might help or hinder our cause. It also shows you what things are taking place outside to help you.
Many of you know how we sort of threw Nora into the public spotlight. To take our message to the people she and the Colville Crew has made our presence and plight known in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Olympia, and Missoula, Montana. During the first week of October Nora gave speeches in Madison, Wisconsin. She is sought after by radio talk show hosts, gives magazine interviews urging changes in the way the U.S. sentences non-violent offenders and has made television appearances in the Northwest. We need this done, to make the Average Joe aware of what he is getting for his money: essentially nothing besides destruction. Ours is a strong and vital message that receives favorable responses virtually everywhere it is taken.
One of the major reasons these harsh sentences at state and federal levels continue to crush us, is that there is little or no public scrutiny over them. Once informed, people are shocked at what is going on.
To carry this message further, the November Coalition is building "cell booths" for expositions, fairs and any large gathering to call attention to the issue of mass imprisonment in the U.S. People are outraged when they read how much prison time non-violent offenders receive. The profiles of prisoners and their families put a name and face to what was formerly just a statistic. It is important for you to continue to send in photographs of you and your family with a brief sketch of what you are in for and for how much time. This is a very powerful tool because it makes the public think hard about what is happening; it shows that we, too, are family people with wives, children, parents and responsibilities.
The goal of the November Coalition to get state chapters active as soon as a volunteer steps forward and be able to equip them with cell booths and prisoner profiles. Your family and friends can man these booths and educate the public on mass imprisonment . The Coalition HQ will provide logistical support in the form of pamphlets, newspapers, iron-on logos and so forth. These things take money and that is a fact of life. If every drug law violator would put just 50¢ per month into the Coalition, within a short period of time there would be chapters and cell booths all across the country, showing the public what a stupid waste it is to warehouse all of these hundreds of thousands of people. Fifty cents a month, is an investment of $6.00 per year.
We have upcoming, crucial state initiatives that will have direct national consequences as well. But there is no time to lose. Face it, our courts are malfunctioning arms of the same government insanity that is enslaving us. Only a change in public opinion, which is happening, will give us relief and now is the time to push: now! Give to the November Coalition and you are investing in your freedom. Otherwise, just do your time-even if it is unconstitutional and essentially illegal.
It will also help to write short letters thanking Mr. Conyers and Mr. Kennedy for sponsoring the sentencing symposium. They need to be told that lots of people support their efforts. Your families should also write them. A thank you is encouragement and any legislator that supports reform must be further encouraged by us!
Representative John Conyers, Jr.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Ladies and gentlemen, now more than ever is time to get off your butts and do something to help yourselves. Get your family engaged and put them on the newsletter list. We have a unique chance here, a real and growing movement, but it will take your help and support. This is true activism, and it is potential for change that will set you free. It is limited only by your lack of participation.