I can't believe I'm really home

By Amy Ralston (Pofahl)

(Editor's note: Amy Ralston had been in federal prison since 1991 serving 24 years on a conviction involving her husband's international trade in MDMA (ecstasy). Amy helped her estranged husband before his trial, but then the US government agents attempted to intimidate her into cooperating with their investigation. Amy refused to plea bargain or give information she didn't have. Her husband received a six-year sentence in Germany and served only four years in custody. Amy developed considerable public support nationwide which culminated in the success of her clemency petition to President Clinton, and he ordered her released this last summer after spending almost ten years behind prison walls.)

The sun shines through the bedroom window as I lay across a big, queen-sized bed, in my own room, surrounded by love, and for the first time in over nine years it's NOT a dream. There have been times since my release when a shock of fear ran down my spine, like when I'm ironing or hugging mom. It crosses my mind then that I may wake up and find myself in a three-man room at FCI Dublin where I dreamed of being where I am now. It tweaks me to think how it might not have happened, how easily events could be different.

However, I'm living proof that it can happen. Everyone who knows me from prison can say that I never gave up. I refused to accept my sentence or become "institutionalized" by buying into the theory that "I can't change things...I'm just one person...it's impossible to fight the system." Some inmates even called me "obsessed." Well, maybe more of us should become obsessed with fighting for what is rightfully ours.

It never sounded corny to me to be fighting for my freedom. I identified with our colonial forefathers who fought for freedoms now trashed by our government. Now that I'm free I say it was worth every grueling minute spent in the law library on that archaic typewriter with the broken corrector ribbon and no air conditioning. I do regret leaving so many wonderful women behind who also deserve to be free. To you - Leslie, Olga, Dana, Scarlett, TC, Chin, Anita, Connie, Sylvia, Stephanie, Vicki, Karen, Angie, Jose, Natasha, Penny, Fatimah, Grace, Linda, Danielle and Mary - I say, "Have faith, these times they are a changing."
The drug war is losing energy. Do you notice the lack of inflammatory rhetoric about crime and drugs in the presidential race this year?

Media celebrities Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings have weighed in consistently with criticism of a lost battle costly in more ways than just dollars and cents. Geraldo, Court TV, Meet the Press, Nightline, Montel Williams, 20/20, 60 Minutes, Frontline, Dateline - all the major networks, in some form or fashion, have featured stories devoted to drug war victims and the social failure of this costly war. Interestingly, in the late 1980s all the major networks were airing shows to justify the war on drugs. Fear mongering of "crack" cocaine fired the headlines on a daily basis in major urban areas. Now, years later, we have learned about the CIA managing shipments of "crack" to South Los Angeles.

My case has literally enlightened the entire town of Charleston, Arkansas: my home, a conservative place that does not approve of any illegal drugs or drug dealing. I suppose it's because I grew up in a small community that my case has been on the tongues of all the locals ever since the Glamour magazine article was published in May 1999. The local paper became my champion, urging all the townspeople to turn out publicly and sign a petition supporting my clemency petition to President Clinton. My parents were shocked when people showed up in droves, producing almost 800 signatures. If we can turn a town around, can we now turn a nation around?

So what do I think it will take to end finally the drug war mentality?

Fundamentally, it takes participation, dedication, effort, unity, and a rejection of the philosophy that it can't be done. There are certain specific things that absolutely MUST be done, and here are some of my ideas:

We absolutely must enlist our family members by educating them to participate. Each one of us is linked to a large reserve of family and friends who frequently say, "Let me know if there is anything I can do." Getting to know your elected officials is a first step, a comfortable first place for shy folks to begin.

Politicians must respond to contacts from voters who tell them how this drug war is a bust, and that we taxpayers want accountability for the billions wasted annually fighting an unwinnable war. It only takes a minute to phone your local congressional office to air one's frustration. We want things to change, and so we must ask our family members daily if they have fulfilled these requests - and keep asking until they make it a priority.

From my own experience I've learned that people typically feel as though it is hopeless to complain or question. "I'm just one person," it's said. It helps to assure the uncertain by telling them that prisoners across the nation are asking their family members to carry out these simple tasks. So let's unite in commitment and work on a countrywide remedy since the mentality of the greater populace and the media stories have become one. My personal freedom must become the social freedom of the victimized drug war communities.

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