In the wake of the Clinton commutations, one family's outrage turns to activism

By Nora Callahan

Dale Hill was a rebellious and troubled teenager who was drug dependent by his senior year of high school. Today Dale isn't sure why he rebelled, his parents were good, his upbringing began on a military base but by the age of six, the family was back on their comfortable North Carolina family farm.

Childhood behind him, Dale began dealing drugs to support his drug addiction. In May of 1989 he was arrested with 5 grams of cocaine, pled guilty, received probation and entered drug treatment.

In 1992 he faced a conspiracy charge, a guilty plea would have given him a seven-year prison term, and he became the only one of 18 co-defendants to go to trial. Twelve co-defendants took the stand against him, and the 5 grams of cocaine from 1989 suddenly appeared on paper, shoving Dale's sentencing category high enough to bring him a federal sentence of 14 years.

Today his family and friends work for Dale's release. In June, this group was responsible for at least 21 news articles and letters to the editor. Since President Clinton granted a few dozen commutations, the Hill contingent have been busy and their work has proved not only a good public education campaign, but a public relations campaign as well.

The Independent Tribune serving Concord, North Carolina and Kentucky ran a headline story about Dale Hill on April 15, 2001. And press has followed it consistently since.

Dale and his family do not proclaim innocence, and Dale is the first person to admit that he was in the bottomless pit of addiction and his actions took a tremendous emotional toll on his family. That said, they are quick to point out that his eight years in prison have been years spent on self-improvement. He's rehabilitated and in light of recent acts of mercy and compassion by Clinton, Dale Hill ought to be able to return to his family.

Reviewing a growing file of press accomplishments, I am struck by the simplicity in which this family tells their honest story to the press. It is a pattern that other families might consider following.

"Woman Seeks Commuted Sentence, Wants to help imprisoned ex-husband" headlined in Dale's ex-wife's local paper. Judy Hill is pictured pouring over the collection of press clippings. The story reads in part, "Judy Hill was four months pregnant with the couple's second son when her husband was sent to prison. She says he insisted they divorce because of the lengthy sentence, but she still loves him and that she has taken part in a letter-writing campaign to bring attention to his case.

"He's got two boys here that need a father," Judy Hill compels readers and then concludes the article by explaining, "These boys need him more than ever. He might save them from being in prison later on."

The Drug War

As an inmate in the Federal Prison System, I try to stay up to date with current events by reading the newspapers daily. Lately, what I have been reading alarms me. I hope it concerns you as well.

President Bush is asking Congress for $4.66 billion for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. William J. Bennett thinks it's time to intensify the war on drugs. Then I read the Drug Enforcement Agency office out of San Juan, Puerto Rico has been caught falsifying arrest reports!

America! Are we fighting the drug war to our best ability? We've been engaged in it since the Nixon years. It is pretty obvious we can't incarcerate our way to victory. Would our tax dollars be better spent on treatment and education?

I'm no expert, but here's my opinion after eight years of incarceration. I see a lot of 18, 19 and 20-year-old young men come into the prison system with sentences of 10 years or longer like myself. The reason they're caught up in the drug lifestyle is because of their addiction. One of the easiest ways for an addict to supply their habit is to deal drugs, or some other means of crime.

I'm not saying we're right by doing so, by no means! But is it justice when people that have an addiction get lengthy prison sentences, when all they really need is treatment?
I'd like to close by saying, yes, I'm guilty of breaking the law of this country, which I regret.
Please people, let's reconsider the way we're fighting this war on drugs.
Dale Hill

Editor's Note: Dale Hill is a Cabarrus County native serving time on drug charges in the federal prison at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Write a newspaper!

Dale Hill wrote the other day because he needed some particular drug war statistics. I sent him a copy of Common Sense for Drug Policy's Drug War Facts, a 111-page booklet comprised of any statistic and source that you need to write well-informed letters about the drug war excess.

To encourage letter writing to newspapers the coming months, we will send a copy of the updated Drug War Facts to any prisoner who gets a letter to the Editor published. To receive your copy of Drug War Facts, send the original news clipping, including the header of the newspaper at the top of the page, so we know what paper printed your editorial and the date of publication.

Along with a copy of Drug War Facts, you might find your letter published a second time in The Razor Wire. We'll be sharing letters published to inspire more of our readers to take up the pen in the cause of justice.

Ready, set, write those letters!

Send original clippings of your recent published letters to the editor to:
I got published TNC!
795 South Cedar
Colville, WA 99114

Not in prison and need Drug War Facts?
Visit today!

Teach thousands, anyone can

Writing a letter or guest editorial to newspapers

When you write letters to the editors of local newspapers instead of writing to just one person, you reach thousands!

Read local papers and magazines for stories you can respond to, sharing your views on the drug war. Watch for articles or letters that mention prisons, drug laws, or the latest, biggest drug bust, drug war corruption story, etc.

Letters don't have to be rebuttals and remember to use the calendar for ideas and inspiration. At year-end holiday season, tell readers about the circumstances behind your upcoming lack of celebration. On Mother's Day, remind your community of the children whose parents are in prison, of the mother's in prison - cite facts and statistics that are always available in Drug War Facts (

Write on good news, as well as bad. Thank the paper for its balanced coverage of the drug war when you read good journalism.

Be brief! Sometimes a short, pithy paragraph is enough - try to stay under 300 words (about one typed page). Editors are less likely to print long letters.

Type, if possible. Otherwise, print legibly. Be sure to use correct grammar and spelling, and remember to have it proofread.

Make sure you include your name, address, and telephone number in your letter. Some newspapers verify authorship before printing letters. Prisoners can explain on a cover sheet that they are a prisoner, name the facility and give identification number and permission to print your letter.

You may send a photocopy or two of additional information, but large packages of stacks and stacks of printed literature will likely be thrown away. Use your money wisely!
Look for opportunities to write op-ed pieces for local papers. These are longer articles of about 500 - 800 words that summarize an issue, develop an argument, and propose a solution. Send the article to the Editorial Page editor.