By Nora Callahan, Executive Director, November Coalition
my early adult years I wanted to serve people, loved God, and
people with those feelings usually head to a church, and I did,
then attended Lutheran Bible school in preparation for a life
of service. Today, I love God and try my best to serve those
people that other people have trouble loving, but this service
is not within a church in the strict sense. It strains some of
my family relations each time this drug law reform movement takes
a leap that the media is covering, and especially if these relatives
see or hear my name and our organization mentioned. I figure
they ponder what they see as a wasted life. Some of my friends
from those early years of life have joined our organization,
only to marvel at this point I'm sure because they haven't bought
a T-shirt yet! I think they think about the comeuppance in store
for me. A couple of my relations were visiting from out of town
when two of my grandkids got to fretting about their grandmother
going to hell at some day and time that I enter eternity - because
I don't go to a church. This was the family drama that set the
mood for what became a week of "hell" for me. You have
probably heard that expression before - I had a more literal
On April 20th, Chuck, Chris, Tina, Mark and I sat in Superior
Court in Stevens County, Washington with the father of John "Chewy"
Grange, the 26-year old who was convicted of a double-murder,
a so-called "drug ring murder" in March-a grisly, execution
style slaying. This heavy hearted day John Grange is going to
be sentenced, and there would be a lot of family drama and more
"hell-talk" to endure.
I didn't go to John Grange's trial. I first read about the case
in our local newspapers, seeing what others in their living rooms
saw as we opened the morning paper - a frightening mug shot of
a giant of a man - and read exceptionally gory details about
how these execution-type murders had taken place and why. Two
21-year olds, Nick Kaiser and Joshua Schaefer, were both under
federal indictment for drug trafficking, had turned informant,
turned up missing, and three months later only some of their
remains turned up, high on a mountain logging road about 30 miles
from our home office. Two boys barely out of their teens are
murdered. Sickened again by the informant system, and studying
the picture of the alleged "hit-man", I muttered to
Chuck, "These laws are bringing monsters to Stevens County,"
and tossed the morning paper aside.
I didn't take time to read between the lines, aside from dismissing
the ridiculousness of the prosecutor saying that the "hit"
was ordered by "The Rainbow Family", an alleged drug
ring family. It was this group and other counter-cultural people
who first joined and worked with November Coalition, along with
people from all walks of life and religious persuasions, from
both outside and inside prison walls, enabling us to reach a
national audience with national recognition in a relatively short
time. I'm not a "counter-cultural person", or part
of the Rainbow Family Tribe of Living Light, but they welcomed
me into their "family" to listen and work together
to educate about the excesses of the drug war. Many of them,
as are so many others, working toward drug law reform today.
It wasn't until reading news accounts after John's conviction
that I learned Prosecutor Wetle had no physical evidence proving
John Grange committed this crime, nor even a customary chain
of circumstantial evidence. They didn't even have a weapon. All
that Mr. Wetle could offer in evidence was the word of two men
facing murder charges. These men said, in short summary, "John
Grange did it, and we kind of helped because if we didn't, he
would have killed us." In an initial hearing it was determined
the murders were committed within the scope of a "drug conspiracy",
and so hearsay testimony was allowed, and would be all the jury
should need to reach their judgement, according to the Court's
justification. In exchange for the original suspect's testimony
in court - which everyone apparently had a difficult time following,
including jury members - and after John Grange was convicted
and sentenced to 63 years in a maximum-security prison, these
two informants in this case were sentenced to12 months in county
Am I the only one who smells a rat(s)? What do we do about John
Grange - he's not in the ranks of "non-violent" drug
I'm asking readers to know John Grange like I now do; he's probably
not so different than some of you, and you might share some of
his attitudes about illegal drugs. And by the way - I don't think
that he murdered his friend Nick or Joshua. I see John Grange
as a victim of the systematic injustice of the war on drugs.
John didn't have his first girlfriend until he was 21-years old,
says he's never so much as been in a fistfight. He learned to
be kind and helpful because he was so big that if he weren't
kind and helpful, he wouldn't have any friends. In his childhood
he bounced from mother to father, from Adventist to Mormon, to
knowing that many family relations were "guerilla"
farming. His favorite part of childhood was living with his dad
back in the late 70's, early 80's when most of the rural neighborhood
was growing Mary Jane in the green of Oregon not far from Sweet
Home. Family surrounded him, and in this backdrop of childhood
during important years of social development, he played in the
fields and woods, a happy-go-lucky, gigantic, little kid who
knew that just about everyone he loved was growing an illegal
As a young adult John Grange crafted a proven work ethic with
an employment history - unlike many of his friends, and he associated
marijuana with love and security - not with violence, betrayal
or greed. Living frugally, with none of the associated "toys"
drug dealers usually own, there is nothing that shows he profited
from drug sales, other than an admitted free "bowl"
shared by a friend. He bought marijuana for his own use, and
would also share a "smoke" with his friends; so he
has no condemnation of those who sell quantities of herb for
profit. As "Chewy" would tell you, "People buy;
people grow and sell."
He got his nickname, "Chewy", when he was 17 years
old and working at a camp where inner city kids could 'experience
nature'. He was a camp counselor. The kids named him for their
big, hairy hero of Star Wars - Han Solo's loveable sidekick,
Chewbaca or Chewy as he came to be known. John "Chewy"
Grange's last job was working with mentally handicapped kids.
"Monster" was used in the proceedings and news accounts.
I bought it too when I saw his picture in the newspaper. No,
I didn't go to his trial.
I did go to his sentencing. Before the judge sentenced Chewy,
the parents of the murdered 21-year olds used by the police as
informants were allowed to talk to the court, and to Chewy. I
thought for a while that I was in church, hearing a lot of talk
about God, and Jesus and folks being born more than once. But
mostly, I heard hell-fire-and-brimstone and wishes that this
boy would burn for eternity, "You are a monster," they
cried! And Chewy cried. So did his father who was sitting with
us. I'm crying and thinking about all this hell-talk, pondering
a legal system that leaves justice to languish while this hideous
informant system using our children as bait takes its place.
I looked at Chewy when he was getting wished to hell- and
I knew that he was already there. This is what hell is made of,
and the word fire just a way to describe agony-separation from
those you love. And this hell could happen to any one of us -
to any one of our children -wished to hell, but sent to prison
for life, called and condemned a monster-on the word of another
person who is trying to save his own butt.
I do not pretend to know the depths of pain these parents have
suffered as a result of this war. I do know that they are now
counted in with the innumerable parents who have lost their children
to the failed war on drugs.
Through flowing tears, Chewy told the parents, with all of us
in the courtroom listening, that last he'd seen their children
he was waving goodbye to them as they were leaving the barter
faire. His final words at sentencing were not in defense of himself,
but for the people he calls his family - the Rainbow Family -
who are not a "drug ring family", he tried to explain
to the court again, "We don't kill people."
Then he said the following, and I haven't had time to find out
who first said it, but this young man can own these words as
far as I'm concerned:
"When you find yourself listening to their keys and owning
none of your own, you will come close to the white terror of
the soul that comes from being banished from all congress with
Chewy has gone to hell already, as have millions of other victims
of the war on drugs. We are looking for folks who will help us
bring them back.
Under the crushing weight of a growing system of informants and
so-called intelligence gathering, Lady Justice has fallen to
her knees. Our fellow citizens are receiving life in prison on
the word of a snitch, our children constantly lured by a lucrative,
underground economy, then forced by threat of decades of imprisonment
to set up their friends, a road of betrayal that leads them to
There are two roads before us today. We can fight to lift up
Lady Justice, or walk away as she struggles to take her last
breaths in this land. I cannot walk away, and I am not alone
on the path I have chosen. I believe the time is not far off
that masses of people steeled and tempered by these fires of
injustice will stand together to oppose this sham, and shame,
of a war on drugs. Our commitment to serve each other as we walk
together on this road, demanding an end to the war on drugs is
the breath that the Lady needs today. We cannot walk away, as
she shudders and collapses, crumbling within a sea of razor wire.
Please join our struggle today.