How much is your freedom worth?

By Nora Callahan, Executive Director, November Coalition

(Ed. note: This speech was written for presentation at the annual Seattle Hempfest)

I've come here today to bring you a message from the prisoners of war in America. The war on drugs is a fraud. It isn't a war on drugs ­ it is a war on people. How much is your freedom worth?

Under our present system of purge and punish with regard to some drug users, if the government has a substance of your choice on a certain list, then your freedom isn't worth a cent. Your freedom isn't worth anything to most of your government leaders and the fellow citizens they hire to keep watch over us.

If your drug of choice is Prozac ­ then your freedom to stand in line at the drug store to acquire it is unimpeded. If your drug of choice is alcohol ­ and as long as you don't drink and drive or beat your spouse and children to death in a drunken rage ­ you have the freedom to drink and legislators would go to their deaths drinking, I mean go to their deaths preserving their right to drink. But if your substance of choice is marijuana ­ God help you, and even He has a hard time doing that.

I talk to literally thousands of loved ones of prisoners and drug war prisoners and they pray every day and still ­ more than 30 years into this drug war ­ prayers are soaring and so are the rates of incarceration of drug law violators. The drug war ­ it's a tough one even for God.

We have scientific facts in and there is nothing fiscally responsible or morally motivating with these mandatory sentencing schemes. All that happens when a drug dealer is sent to prison is that another takes his/her place. When the first to get nailed is finally out of prison, his chances of getting a regular job and re-establishing family ties are so slim that drug dealing easily lures him. Many times that lure comes in the voice of an undercover agent or informant assigned to entice the parolee. And we still know that marijuana hasn't killed a soul, and treatment CAN make a HUGE difference, a positive difference in an addicted person's life, and rarely can that be said of prison life.

A charge of rape, murder or marijuana manufacturer reads different on paper, but prison bed space isn't assigned to the crime ­ and everyone knows it's first come, first served inside.

Years ago I worked in a metropolitan hospital emergency room. Periodically, much too often in fact, we had to meet with a family in what we called the consultation room where we told the family that their loved one had died, or was in "critical condition" and the prognosis was bad. I heard a mother's wail of grief for the first time in my life working there. It's an eerie sound that rips right through a person. A child's death ­ a mother's loss, sounding like no other wail can sound.

Years later I would remember that mother's wail, that distinct sound, but I didn't hear it in a private, hospital consultation room. There were no doctors standing by with a sedative, no grief counselor. There was no ministerial staff that could come at a moment's notice, but there was a judge, twelve jurors, bailiffs, guards, police and reporters. There was also one mother, three sisters, and a wife. Oh yes, there was one drug defendant on trial for "conspiracy".

You know how that works don't you -one drug defendant charged with a crime that involves many, yet only one facing trial? They put a few of the so-called conspirators on the stand against the one. The government calls it "cooperation" ­ your parents called it tattling and may have scolded you for it. My generation got whipped for it; now you MUST do it, or you could face 10 to life. It is being encouraged at the youngest of levels ­ ratting is taught openly in the schools now.

We teach informing in our schools, build prison camps and a sea of razor wire, no ovens yet ­ but the whole scheme is very Hitleresque? Don't you think?

I had heard that mother's wail before. When I heard it again years later, it wasn't in a hospital where death and loss are frequent occurrences. It was in a federal courtroom when the jury's verdict in my brother's drug trial came back. The foreman said, "Guilty." My mother wailed, and it cut right through my soul. My mother had lost her son. That wail even made the newspaper the following day. And courtrooms all over this so called Land of the Free are full of this eerie noise as American mothers lose their children to an ever expanding, profit making, prison industrial complex that rivals any the world has ever known!

If your freedom means nothing to your leaders who make these laws, what is it worth to you? Is it worth an hour of your time each week? Is it worth a couple hours a month? Is it worth buying a little less than an ounce so that you can afford to contribute to drug law reform ­ an ounce of vodka of course you know ­ forgo a martini and make a donation?

Is your freedom worth a regular contribution to an organization that is actively organizing against drug laws that sanction and underwrite, even mandate, amphetamine use in children [Ritalin], but put a marijuana gardener in prison for 5 to 10?

Our federal leaders are now fully engaged in pumping 1.3 billion dollars into Colombia in the coming year ­ military aid to combat insurgents and drugs.

Insurgents? The insurgents are, for the most part, native people who want to survive economic globalization. Drugs? These drugs are coca and marijuana, crops that pay, not a lot to the Colombian farmer, but enough to live on sometimes. Is this because there is a high demand for cocaine and marijuana in Colombia? No, there is high demand primarily in the United States.

The U.S. is going to finance the new killing fields ­ this time in Colombia, because United States' citizens buy marijuana and coca products. There is one more way to say it. We are going to Colombia to kill Colombian citizens because Americans are using illegal drugs.

Colombian mothers will continue to lose ever more children due to the U.S. drug war while U.S. taxpayers will be footing the bill to buy guns and pay the gunners' salaries. The guns, bullets and soldiers will cut down children of Colombia's mothers, and they will wail, and the few who hear the eerie sound will have it cut right through them and still, there is no end.

When will the wails of grief become a scream of protest that cuts the heart right out of the beast of the drug war? When?

When it becomes a collective too big to ignore, when people join their voices with another and then another still. It will end when we begin to make greater sacrifices of time and money and make that commitment to stand to publicly to oppose the drug war.

The drug war will end, and the prisoners freed, when the injustice of the war and being a responsible citizen in the nation enjoying the dubious distinction of world's leading jailer is more embarrassing than standing outside a prison or courthouse in protest of these laws. Then, and only then, will the heart of the drug war beast be ripped out, and no longer the hearts of our nation's children and the parents who love them.

The message is this. It is not a war on drugs ­ it's a war on people. Your charge today is this: do something to help stop this injustice.

If your freedom means anything to you, and you have any thought of concern to the world's children and the mothers who wail in loss ­ then you simply cannot stand by and so do nothing. We must open our ears to the mothers' cries and fill our world with a better sound.

Freedom can be worth it ­ a little of your time and a small commitment ­ a contribution toward a collective goal. If not, then freedom will be no more.
Are we going to stop the drug war? Yes? Then let's do it.

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