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Unequal Justice

By Becky Stewart, Prisoner of the Drug War

Last December, John Swearingen, Jr. (a lawyer), as part of a plea agreement, received 10-years probation after being found in possession of cocaine and a firearm. According to reports in the Columbus Florida, Ledger-Enquirer newspaper, the amount of cocaine allegedly found in his home was not disclosed.

If this had been one of "us" or perhaps "you"­­we would have received the mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years for the cocaine conviction, PLUS a consecutive 60 month (5 year) gun charge totaling a prison term of 10 years! Or if "we" would have gotten "lucky," the court may have only given a two-point enhancement for the gun, still totaling a punishment range of 7 to 8 years. No way would "we" have received probation. After serving this sentence of "years," "we" will always have the stigma of being a "felon"­­yet this man was/is given the chance of having this conviction totally wiped off his record if he successfully completes his probation.

So it appears that the answer to the question above is yes­­different guidelines and sentences are doled out for the same offenses. We inside know this, but is the public aware of this disparity? It is time they are!

Of course, there is another story within this story. Swearingen apparently has been indulging in cocaine since 1980 (unless we are to believe he took his first dose in 1980, and has just now took his second dose), and contrary to what most people believe about drugs and all the horror stories we've heard about them­­he has been able to maintain his profession and proceed with a "normal" life with many people not knowing of his indulgence.

I am not advocating that John Swearingen should have received a stiff sentence, I illustrate the absurdity of sentencing one person to treatment and probation, while another will find themselves imprisoned for decades.

The assumption that every one who uses illegal drugs are drug-crazed maniacs who cannot control their lives­­is just that. The reality is drugs are everywhere and many, many people use them. It does not make them a hard and vicious criminal as the government portrays "us" to be as illustrated by this case. It does not make people deserving of prison.

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