Director's Message

This letter was published in our latest "print" edition.
This newspaper is mailed into over 500 prisons.

Grant to match your donations.

I am pleased and grateful to announce to our membership that the Open Society Institute has awarded The November Coalition a matching general support grant of up to $90,000. This funding will allow us to expand our staff to 3 full time and 2 part time persons, develop our regional chapters and expand our educational programs. How much of this grant we receive is up to our membership, and each donation you make in the next few months will be matched by OSI.

For new members a short history of our organization is in order as the year closes. Mike Montalvo has written an article for this issue entitled Cyberadvocacy can bring drug war prisoners home. Our history will illustrate the importance of this new technology on grass roots activism in America.

At the close of 1996 I had a few months of Internet experience under my belt and had been sending my brother, prisoner G. Patrick Callahan, printouts from the "Net". We were both amazed at how many people were opposing the drug war. The Internet was giving people a forum of public discussion and an affordable way to educate our fellow citizens about America's drug war. We also discovered that anti-drug war sentiment was worldwide.

Our family had been in the thick of despair for almost 7 years-unjust incarceration was taking its toll. Grief had not given way to acceptance -- how do you accept a prison sentence of 27 1/2 years for a first time nonviolent drug law violation? The tactics used by the prosecution to secure a conviction in my brother's case were appalling. The more I learned about the drug war, the more frightened I was to live in America. Years of drug war diatribes between an imprisoned brother and his sister began to evolve into a plan of action.

Early 1997 one of my brother's friends and fellow drug war prisoner at Oxford FCI wrote me a letter asking if I could develop a website that would be the voice of the prisoners of the drug war. A warning to our fellow citizens about the injustices of the war on drugs sounded like one of those great ideas, and Dave Perk was quickly dubbed the "Percolator" and his ideas keep coming even today.

Letters soliciting advice on a potential organization were dashed out to a dozen prisoners I'd met through the mail and over the years. I let Dave know that I would put a website online. I wrote my brother explaining that I could do this if I could find one other person who would help me. Within a week Martha Christman found me.

Martha had recently moved from Eugene, Oregon to Colville, Washington. Her brother was also a prisoner of the drug war, and she set to work on a booth that we could take to community events. The drug war needed a human face and a way of showing that our loved ones are the victims of bad law. Martha designed a jail cell booth (featured on page 7), made our first soft-sculpture prisoner doll, "Max", and a few dozen laminates of our prisoner family stories. These hang on the outside walls of the display.

Martha's son, Ian, a computer graphic designer, took on the task of creating our logos. The website went "online" on April 1st. We were fed up­­not fools though. Months later, middle aged and hours into long Greyhound bus rides, I'd have to rethink the fool part, but none of us passed up an opportunity to speak about the injustices of our nation's war on drugs. If there was a way to get there, we went.

Much of our modest $7,000 budget that first year came from the prisoners we promised to speak for. Paltry federal prison-industry wages paid to prisoners in UNICOR became life-sustaining support for our first efforts. Our newspaper The Razor Wire, named by democratic mail-in-ballot, was first published in May of 1997. Media attention around the website was almost immediate, and the families of drug war prisoners began to get active distributing literature, speaking on radio and other public venues.

The famous Margaret Mead quote became our mantra: "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world-indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
Martha's brother, Mark Ingraham, hemorrhaged in federal prison in August of 1997. He died in a hospital a few hours later while Martha sat in an airplane with pleasant thoughts of a warm visit with her only sibling. Instead of visiting Mark she returned to Colville with his ashes and buried them on Kelly Hill-beside the graves of their parents. Martha remains an active supporter of The November Coalition, and without her commitment our startup efforts surely would have floundered. Last I saw her, she and her partner were washing the TNC office windows inside and out-that is the kind of people at the heart of what the November Coalition has become.

Consuelo Doherty joined us early on -- her partner Jimmer is serving 10 years for a marijuana law violation. Today Consuelo continues to see that our booth is present at Northwest Community events, and our local volunteers have risen to every challenge.

It was Common Sense for Drug Policy that took us under its wing to advise and guide us in organizational development. In March of 1998 they paid the bills that helped us distribute our literature to waiting volunteers nationwide. It was their help that allowed me to continue to work full time in my director's capacity (no offense guys and gals, but you know as well as I do that UNICOR wages just don't cut it). It has been Common Sense that has provided staff time and materials to support the National Vigil Project this year.

The Drug Policy Foundation awarded us a grant in the summer of 1998. This grant made it possible to send informational packets to family and friends of drug war prisoners. They renewed our grant request in 1999, and those packets are still going out at a rate of about 600 each month.

A year ago Tom Murlowski left San Diego to join the Colville contingent here in Washington state. He's put in hours that would stagger the most vivid imaginations, and without his assistance we'd surely have been in a tighter spot due to the response our message was fast creating.

It has been our readers and membership that continues to keep us putting one foot in front of the other in this fight for justice and struggle to end the drug war. At last we are adequately staffed with committed and talented people. It is your donations that have kept this newspaper in the prisons without charge to the prisoners. We thank you for this - it has been no small feat you have accomplished. To date over 7,000 prisoners have received this publication on a regular basis.

The year 2000 is now upon us, and so is a prison population that is nearing 2 million. Our next $40,000 in donations will be matched by the Open Society Institute. It is our hope that you will give generously in the coming months and help us reach another 7,000 prisoners and thousands more of their family and friends.

We are asking for amnesty and release of drug war prisoners. We have not known justice, and unless our government can come up with a better solution for sorting out the massive human destruction of unjust prosecution and sentencing - we say, "Let our loved ones come home!"

To say that together and loud enough for our leaders to hear us, we need your support. News of what are perceived to be large grants are swallowed quickly when a membership is not actively donating. We always felt that we could pay for our organizational needs with $5 donations -- albeit a few hundred of them a month. To date we haven't had enough of them, so we turned to foundational funding sources. They have generously responded. Why? In part because they believe that our anguish is valid and our treatment unjust. The other reason they gave is so we could have time and energy to raise a supportive membership base. Now the rest is up to each one of us. If half our readers sent us $5 dollars a month, and the prisoners $1 a month, we could gather the loved ones of prisoners nationwide at a faster rate than we have been able to do in the past.

On just a little we have made great strides in demonstrable opposition to the war on drugs. Now, more than ever, it is time to get active. If you can't take a volunteer or leadership role, won't you help by supporting us financially? I thank you for your support in advance. To those that have been giving to our cause, on behalf of the drug war prisoners and those they love-many thanks.

In struggle and with love,

P.S. Don't forget to continue writing to the president and Barry McCaffrey, urging them to recommend amnesty and freedom to America's drug war prisoners when they release their new drug control strategy in December.

Their address is:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC 20515