Drug laws cast a wide net

By Torrence Gipson Sr.

I do not have a drug offense. I was sentenced to 15 years for ex-felon in possession of a firearm with previous convictions. I have been incarcerated for about 10 years now and am eligible for halfway house placement in October of 2003.

Since my confinement began, my wife was killed in an auto accident, and my three children have been passed from relative to relative, in and out of foster homes, group homes. I have managed to stay in touch with them throughout this ordeal by telephone and by mail. My oldest son is currently in juvenile custody (not a good start). All this happened because I bought a .22 rifle as a Christmas present from a K-Mart in 1990.

I had been out of prison for 10 years, and thought I had my civil rights restored to me; so I assumed it was legal - big mistake. When the A.T.F. agents came knocking on my door six months later, I had no idea what they were talking about. It seems that certain laws numbered 922(g) and 924(e) were created in 1988 as part of the drug war scheme, but they never bothered to inform ex-felons not involved with drugs that this could also adversely effect them.

While the trial judge in my case and the three appellate judges acknowledged that this was an unfair and unusual circumstance, in the end they told me that I simply got caught in the net. So sorry, and see you in 15. My guideline sentence was only 15-21 months, but because of mandatory minimums I received 15 years. I guess I am what the government is so innocuously calling "collateral damage" in their "War on Drugs". I have in fact seen these gun laws used in some bizarre ways since my incarceration, all in a supposed effort to stem the flow of drugs.

My purpose in writing this letter is not so much to receive your paper or become a member as it is to possibly join your group after my release. I have never before been inspired to write any group or publication as I am not much of a joiner in any circumstance. Allow me to briefly explain.

I am mulatto or bi-racial; I believe that is the politically correct term of the day. I was born in 1955, so I grew up amongst extreme racial tension. For some reason, whether it was stubbornness or simply the ridiculousness of it all, I refused to choose a side or color or race or whatever you want to call it. In my early years this attitude led to many one-sided battles in which only my 'race' was a factor.

I have been in quite a few situations where blacks and whites have stopped fighting each other for the opportunity to see who could run me down first, so I know a little about prejudice and injustice. It is unfortunate - or maybe not depending on where you are standing - that I learned after considerable misuse how to make people of all races leave me alone. This of course only works in one of two ways: both join one group or another and get some 'back up' - or become crazier than every one else.

As you can probably guess, I chose the latter which in turn led me into spending most of the late 1960's and all of the 1970's as a Chicago street hoodlum. I was using every drug there was at the time, full of hate and anger, running around with guys and trying my damndest not to kill anybody. While I probably was bound for a situation - a situation that might arise where my life could have been in danger and I had been prepared - that never happened. I have been shot four times and stabbed or cut nine times, never by the police, and in every instance never expected it and was never ready or in a situation where one might expect something like that to happen. It's always the 'no-see-ums' that get you.

To make a story shorter that seems to be getting longer all the time, let it suffice to say that I left the "life" behind me when I got out of prison in 1981. I met my wife, had three children and never expected to see the inside of a prison again - when along comes a "drug war".

I had moved from Chicago to North Dakota in 1989 because that's where my wife was from originally, and it seemed like a nice open space to raise kids and leave the drug war. In fact there aren't even that many people there. So you wouldn't expect to end up in prison because of some ludicrous "drug war" when you've been going to work everyday and paying taxes for ten years and to raising your kids.

Yet, here I sit, "collateral damage" in a trumped up CIA-initiated war on drugs. I have seen so much injustice in the last ten years that I am truly amazed the government is getting away with such a blatant scam, and I am very hard to amaze. I have only been here at F.C.I. Pekin for about one and a half years. I spent eight and a half years at U.S.P. Leavenworth where the sentences given to some individuals are so outrageous compared to what they were accused of as to defy belief, yet the paperwork is all there.

You wouldn't believe how many guys wish they had my sentence. The average sentence in Leavenworth is about thirty (30) years for some of the most ridiculous crimes. Still, the government would have the public continue believing that these prisons are just full of these master criminals and super predators and kingpins and all the other lies the media keeps putting out there.

The majority of these guys are "dope fiends" plain and simple. They are a younger, sillier version of the same guys I grew up with in Chicago's streets and just as human as anybody else. A good portion of them can't even spell conspiracy, let alone be part of one.

The only conspiracy around here belongs to our government and their owners. The public needs to realize that it is not far in the future when UNICOR (Federal Prison Industries) will be competing in public markets, and it really won't be much of a competition either. While large corporations move their manufacturing jobs to third world countries where they don't have to pay the workers much, they replace factories with prisons so the disgruntled and unemployed imprisoned factory workers can have a job.

Anyway, let me get off the soapbox and say I was impressed with your little newspaper and very impressed with all those little groups of 'vigil people', especially the 'Lone Rangers' in Houston, Arizona, and Orange County, FL. These people were not having a very good time out there, but they didn't give up.