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A mind is a terrible thing to brainwash

By Jeff Goodman, former Prisoner of the Drug War

While I was incarcerated as a first time, nonviolent drug offender, I began to research crime, prison, and drug war policies in an attempt to make sense of the insanity surrounding drug prohibition. I vowed that I would continue to explore the drug war and disseminate my findings upon my release. I have kept my word, and after two years of freedom, I have made several public presentations on drug, crime and prison policy, and authored one published editorial as well as nearly a dozen letters to the editor.

Recently, a fellow drug-policy reformer and I spoke before one hundred students at a nearby college. My part of the presentation focused on drug war facts. All of my material was derived from agencies such as the Center for Disease Control, Amnesty International, the Rand Corporation and the Drug Enforcement Agency. After illustrating the disparate degree of damage of both licit and illicit drugs (e.g., for each 1 illicit drug death, there are 93 licit drug deaths) , as well as other facts related to the hypocrisy and widespread damage of drug prohibition, I capped my factual arguments by listing myriad studies that all reached the same conclusion: drug prohibition should be abolished.

I ended my presentation with my version of a question taken from one of Clifford A. Schaffer's sample speeches ( :

"Do you believe that the weight of scholarly evidence supports decriminalization? There are only three possible answers: yes, no, or I don't know. If the answer is no, you possess a volume of evidence unknown to anyone else on Earth." I made my point and had many people pondering their own answers.

My co-speaker took over. His credentials are impeccable: eleven years as a sheriff, eight years as a state legislator, nine years as assistant commissioner of public safety, and a term on the state board overseeing police training. He supported my arguments, presented his own, then went on to government war tactics that continue to kill innocent Americans during needless car chases, unconstitutional drug raids, and botched sting operations.

To end our presentation, we opened up the floor for questions. Most were intelligent, thought provoking, and appropriate. There was one, though, that has stayed with me since that night. A woman, who had been whispering and gesticulating all night, defiantly said that she disagreed with everything I said. She went on to say that she had a child to protect from drugs, and therefore even the suggestion of decriminalization was ridiculous.

I responded by saying that current drug laws could send her child to prison for twenty years for merely talking about controlled substances. Which would she prefer for her child, I asked, a possible alternative to drug prohibition, which could reduce the likelihood of illicit drug use and black market violence for her child and all Americans, or twenty years in a federal prison?

To my absolute astonishment, she said she didn't know. I repeated my question while confirming her answer: "Using your scenario that your child may use illicit drugs someday, you do not know whether you prefer an alternative to drug prohibition that reduces myriad risks to your child, including the likelihood of illicit drug use, or for her to go to a federal prison for twenty years. Is that right?" Again, she said she did not know. We went on to other questions and ended with a promise that many in the audience would read the material that I had left with a college liaison.

It is not until today that the profundity of the woman's comments reached my consciousness. I know that my hypothetical scenario cornered her, and that was my intention. I did it to contrast the insanity of drug prohibition verses the possibility of a healthier drug policy alternative. Yet, her reaction should have been an embarrassing, but maternally instinctual, "Well, of course I don't want my child in prison for twenty years, but . . ." This would have made sense, and I have gotten such a response in the past. But why, given two chances, would this mother say that she did not know?

I cannot believe that any parent has become so brainwashed by government propaganda that they find a twenty-year prison term, for their own child, even considerable, let alone preferable to merely exploring an alternative to drug prohibition. If this woman represents even a small sample of people so indoctrinated by drug war propaganda that twenty-year prison terms, even for one's own child, evoke not even a hint of immediate parental indignation, we have much work to do even after the drug war finally ends.

The power of government to so completely annihilate the reasoning and compassion of people frightens me in ways that even prison failed to illicit.

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