Tue, 12 Feb 2002 - New York Times Drug Policy Forum

TRANSCRIPT: Nora Callahan's Visit to the NY Times Drug Policy Forum

Nora Callahan: On a day when the nation's law enforcement agencies are on the highest alert since September 11, federal agents are busting medical marijuana providers in Northern California. Do we all feel safer?

What about this so-called link between terrorism and illegal drugs? How can a society control the sale 'weeds' and bathtub gin of the new millennium (meth) - when it's worth more than gold?

I'm Nora Callahan, the director of The November Coalition. Founded in 1997 after discussion with my brother, Gary Callahan and Dave Perk - both prisoners of the drug war, we decided that prisoners and those that loved them, should organize to oppose the war.

Our family has been devastated by the effects of imprisonment, not to mention the injustice that pervades the criminal justice system these days.

Let's talk.

Dean Becker: The greatest evil of drug prohibition is the collusion of our government. Hi Nora, Good to see you here.

Zooneedles: Nice to see you here, Nora.

Celaya: Hi Nora! Don't you think that the cynicism that has gripped this country is exemplified by the way we let prisons influence drug policy? One specific example is the million dollar contribution that the California Prison Guards Union gave to campaigning Governor Davis, which was subsequently repaid by his vetoing of every drug reform bill that came across his desk.

I can't help but think that in an earlier era, a populace with principles would not have allowed this to happen.

Dean Becker: I met a man last week who spent 20 years on death row here in Texas, until DNA set him free.

When the state can be so wrong about something as major as a man's life, or so wrong about hundreds of pounds of sheetrock, how can these same untrained people be trusted to make medical decisions for us?

Zooneedles: Do you feel you are putting your husband at a greater risk by speaking up?

Donald Way: Hi Nora, welcome to the forum. I'm wondering if you ever get frustrated with those in reform who are concerned solely with marijuana, when the people who are filling the cells in our state and federal prisons are there primarily for drugs other than marijuana, like cocaine?

Nora Callahan: Many say - follow the money. We need campaign finance reform, that would address the corruption of our law making process. Laws should be for the benefit of society - not 'corporations'....

Donald - do I get frustrated with mj activists? No... I don't. Do I get frustrated when public education zeros in on one particular drug?

For the reasons you mention. More on that in a bit...

Zoo, it's my brother; my husband is a former federal prisoner though my brother is at risk if we are silent.

Prisons are a battleground, and he is a principled man, a former decorated marine. He believes these laws wrong and would take such risk. We did discuss all the possibilities however.

Who is in prison? Mostly blacks, then brown, then white... Do black and brown people use drugs in greater proportions than whites?
No. Gee, then why are they filling the prisons?

Law enforcement targets them. And the sick, and the 'counter culture'...

We can discuss ending prohibition now, and people move along. I know many mj activists that are our strongest speakers to the general injustice of the war on drugs, and who call for (and work by teaching others) the end of prohibition. And, glad for it!

Dave Gessel: Government has no right to legislate the private behavior of consenting adults. Therefore, all drugs should be legalized unconditionally for adults.

The penalties for supplying dangerous substances to those incapable of informed consent--children, the mentally incompetent, etc--should be logically in proportion to the harm such substances cause. The children, of course, should be treated as victims of the crime committed by the supplier.

Consistent with logic, supplying cigarettes to children should engender the most extreme punishment as they are, per user, the most deadly drug.

Zooneedles: I understand that. I'm a former undecorated Marine. :)

Nora Callahan: Taliban were large-scale merchants of drugs, and we can list a score of other countries that the same could be said of, including the US.

Richard Lake: Hi, Nora. Sorry to be late. I was busy kicking out the first ever breaking news story to MAP now at http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v02.n238.a08.html
Thanks for getting the alerts, etc. out to the November announcement list!

Nora Callahan: And, so the list at present are drug law reformers... more and more of us these days. What are each of you doing in your communities? Are any of you organizing?

Pcswiftnytimes: Welcome, Nora! I'm starting to think that we need to take to the streets and peacefully demonstrate our opposition to the corrupt War on Drugs. The hard-liners in Washington seem to think their policies are ok with the people. We need to show them it's not ok to spend our tax dollars to lie to us, harass us, and eventually imprison everybody who doesn't agree with them. That the Imbecile In Chief tries to portray this as part of the War on Terrorism is really too much to take. We need to remind all these folks that any power they have comes from the people.

Nora Callahan: Oh my - so much to comment on - on taking to the streets? See our website at www.november.org & follow the project buttons and read about our vigils. We'll be waiting to hear from you. We are just finishing up a big new batch of 'vigil kits'... need leaders for them.

Dean Becker: Lately, for me, it seems to boil down to the word: "hypocrisy". These supposed experts that run the drug war are not doctors, have no understanding of the drugs themselves and quite simply "play a doctor on TV".

These men pretend to know what it best for us and are willing to jail or kill us to make their point. They call themselves good Christians, what a laugh.

Richard Lake: Nora, I saw your note below today to the November list, also. A big Way to Go on a super set of new webpages!!

Nora Callahan: Please visit: http://www.journeyforjustice.org/participate/introductionTNC.html and review our new online guide to community activism. We will be adding to this web section over time of course. Your comments and suggestions are welcome! - Nora

JerryT9: Nora, thanks for being here. There has been some talk of a method for compensating marijuana prisoners, once we regain our sanity and repeal the marijuana laws. A new model of the 1944 G I BILL OF RIGHTS could be implemented.

This would encourage freed and pardoned Drug War prisoners to seek higher education, thus preventing the flooding of the labor market with unskilled, untrained, resentful ex-cons. It might tend to convert them into loyal patriotic productive citizens.

Better educated workers earn higher salaries and thus pay more in income tax. The G I BILL is one of the very few government programs that ever paid dividends. Can you comment on this idea?? Thanks!

Nora Callahan: Jerry what an interesting concept. My email address is nora@november.org we should discuss this further, seems one of those wonderful 'light bulb' ideas.

Yes, we need to begin to prepare for an onslaught of drug war prisoners. The "20 year" bunch is going to start being released in a couple of years. Mandatory sentencing began in 1986. These people have lost all... few have any support left on the outside. How will they manage?

Zooneedles: Lots of ex-cons flipping burgers for minimum wage.

Nora Callahan: Flipping burgers, or returning to prison. My brother will be 67 years old when he's released if we don't get an earned early release plan in the federal system (we are going to start petitioning for that soon!) He was arrested at 42 - You do the math. So, what if I'm dead and gone at 63? Who will help him? Who'll be his friend, help him get by? Now times him by millions... millions are imprisoned for drug law violations. What are they thinking?

Exert from last letter from my brother: "I relapsed on this cold I've got - went to the lungs like a bullet. I'm always amazed that we aren't a virtual hospital ward in these places. Prison are filthy and jammed with people that are very sick. Hep C is rampant, HIV, you name it. TB of course (my brother was treated for drug resistant TB last year.)

Donald Way: Nora, You see some of what I mean here in just the past few messages. Jerry wants to compensate marijuana prisoners, once we repeal marijuana laws, oblivious to the fact that most people in prison for drugs aren't there because of marijuana.

Celaya is so intolerant of any reform measures outside those exclusively concerning marijuana that he can satisfy himself as to the legitimacy of engaging in a personal attack right here in this forum even while you are a guest here.

The insanity of this position reached a peak I thought when we saw that much of the response to the new ONDCP ad campaign wasn't about how wrong it was to associate drug users with terrorism but rather how wrong it was to associate marijuana users with terrorism.

Dean Becker: Nora, I am sure many of them wonder why we, on the outside cannot end this madness of the drug war.

Nora Callahan: Okay... now for a bible story my background? I went to Lutheran bible institute in the 70's. Much of that with me today, but I'm a tolerant 'cat' now, understanding finally about lots of things...

Jesus and Peter are walking on the beach and Jesus tells Peter that he's going to die a martyr's death. Peter sees John far off.

"What about him," he asks Jesus.

"Never mind about him," Jesus said, "You follow me."

I work for the end of prohibition. I love and serve the crack prisoner, and the marijuana trafficker. People got to do what people got to do. There are enough folks without their minds made up at all... those are the folks that we work hardest to reach and educate.

Those that are on one side or the other - or to one side of the side or the other? Some will come along. I only have time to teach, and enough ears to teach to!

Donald Way: Nora, your patience is truly inspirational. Thanks for coming.

Dean Becker: Nora, I too have a calling I guess. I have a tale to tell, to long for this night, but I agree, we must find ways to build, not destroy lives.

The corporate greed you spoke of earlier is the heart of the matter and when I stop to think about it, it's the mask these warriors wear when they display the hypocrisy I spoke of. Evil must be rooted out and these craven coward politicians must be exposed for the wickedness in their hearts.

Nora Callahan: Donald - you are welcome. Hey - it's a tough one. we've all got passions. What if my brother was a mj prisoner? I might be a mj activist. it was cocaine...

Meth - ohhh scary stuff huh? Well, doing advocacy work for meth cooks gets a bit sticky.

Deal is, like I said earlier, it's the 'bath tub gin' of this new decade. Prohibition causes folks to get real 'creative' and yes, we could do away with some of this creativity, but looking to the root of things can help. Domestic production is up, Gary says that more and more whites are coming into the prison. He's been in 12 years, so a trend is a trend.

Trippin: Hi Nora! I have been watching tonight's discussion and would like to tell you that I think its a wonderful thing that you are doing and I like your website. The stories I read there are just totally moving and heart wrenching, sometimes I cant stop reading. Thank You for your inspiration and the difficult work that you do.

Nora Callahan: Trippin, well thanks for tripping by often enough to get 'gripped'. It's awesome work knowing so many talented people, good, if not 'mistake' prone deal is - they are people. they have hearts, families and once, real lives.

They take great hope in the reform movement's work and successes and appreciate you all we get letters everyday that thanks all who are working to bring them justice.

Dean Becker: I appreciate the way you carry yourself too Nora. You give all of us a role model we can try to copy.

Nora Callahan: So, still awaiting to hear what activism you folks are doing in your communities... I like to know. Or, like to know what activities people would like help with - to organize in their communities.

Zooneedles: Yeah, really Nora. You really have your crap together. I like the way you walk. You are indeed a brave woman (I take it you are female?)

Nora Callahan: Yes, female 48, married to editor of the Razor Wire newspaper, Chuck Armsbury (newlyweds. He came over to volunteer!! Too funny... very wonderful man.) Between us we have 10 grand kids - 5 each.

Richard Lake: Nora, you know what I do. I live in a very small town, and other than sticking up stickers, the ads that www.csdp.org produces, etc. I just live on the internet. Without it I could not be a full time volunteer activist as a retired guy in this small town.

Zooneedles: Ten grand kids at 48? Wow.

Nora Callahan: Only two community activists on this forum? Talk won't cut it - not like this on the net. it takes work... Ah, but it is interesting work.

Growing reform movement every organization needs help most will find a place to use talents to the fullest. We have varied projects, ideas for all. We provide materials for those who can't afford them. We will network you with others in your area if we know if any... We need people who will educate others any here?

Ah... three that is better and Richard, isn't it great that we can live in rural areas and work but, you are a community activist online community activist.

That is a large community your work? Invaluable to me, what would I do without the Richard Lakes in life. (And that is 5 grandkids) and not really so young - the grandkids are though ;)

Zooneedles: Well I drink a lot of Beck's dark, smoke phatties and spend a lot of time on the internet too, Richard! Here, here! (You know I'm just kidding you?)

Johnson29: Nora, thank you for being here and caring. Think everyone here uses the net to get the word out and hopefully educate those who care to learn. I'm trying to learn myself. It seems like a mighty long road though at times, especially after today.
I truly hope things will get better for your brother, I know I'd go nuts if it was mine. Seems like hope and faith keep us all going.

TJ Rand: So we still run from the 2 great issues the Drug Warriors provide as lies:
1. Drug usage will increase if drugs are legalized. Baloney, Where the policy is soft, usage is down: http://www.soros.org/lindesmith/news/mccaffrey2.html

This is due to reasons such as the following: http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread10458.shtml

When we compare where the policy is tough and usage is up: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n1529/a03.html we see that those who are tougher on drugs are actually helping to spread drugs.

We also see how Prohibition and the Drug War is related to the murder rate and how murder is up where these prohibitionist laws are in effect: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/graphs/10.htm

2. The lie that legalizing drugs is immoral. There is so much about that lie. The Industrial Penal Complex is managed by Sodomites who punish those who have harmed no one nor their property with the punishment the Men of Sodom threatened Lot with. (Gen 19:8-9) Jesus said it is not what enters a man that defiles him but what comes out like adulteries and fornications (Mar 7:15,21-23).

What would He say about Sodomites of the Industrial Penal Complex being covered up and blaming gay civil rights groups for spreading HIV and criminality and same sex. Clearly the Drug Warriors want this truth hidden. And the general trend to use he seduction of Delilah, the idolatry of Jezebel, the betrayal of Judas, and the lies of Satan himself to cover for their lie.

The video, "Grass" was a documentary of government propaganda aimed at children that when viewed from the perspective of truth, it was labeled drug material to protect the very children the government made those films to target.

"Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" - Jesus of Nazareth (Luk 12:1) It is about time our side seized the moral high ground that is due us and stop the lies that the Drug War reduces drug usage and that it is a moral war.

Why do we cower from the very truth that will liberate us?

Dean Becker: Nora, we really do need more people to dare to make a difference. I attend the DPFT/Nov. vigils here in town and do an occasional vigil at the Fed. Det. Center with our independent crew of reformers as well.

It feels great to do these vigils. At the Fed. Detention Center, you can hear the prisoners tapping on the windows to let you know they see you and can read your signs. It feels Great!

Nora Callahan: You think you feel great can you imagine how the prisoners feel? Wow - they write and tell us it makes them want to live, be a better person. they think about one day being able to come home, with forgiveness part of it.

And justice, too and they want to do better in life. those once addicted? They want a chance to live life 'clean'. And then some write: I'm a junkie now, was then, more heroin is in here than on the street... so - why not let them maintain this dependence on the outside? pay taxes and live on...

John Hopkins? He was a morphine addict - he administered clean, regulated drugs was he functional? So - what if John Hopkins had been found out and put in prison???

What a waste there are many John Hopkins in prison dear, smart people, with a disease.

Donald Way: 1997 numbers from the DOJ (I'm trying to figure out how to post the link) Percentage of drug offenders in state prisons by type of drug:

  • 12.9% Marijuana/hashish
  • 72.1% Cocaine/crack
  • 12.8% Heroin/other opiates

Percentage of drug offenders in federal prison by type of drug:

  • 18.9% Marijuana/hashish
  • 65.5% Cocaine/crack
  • 09.9% Heroin/other opiates

The G.I. Bill plan of yours is commendable, but it seems to me to be totally off-the-mark if it doesn't include all the other prisoners of the drug war, who again, as you can see, vastly outnumber those who are there for marijuana alone.

JerryT9: Activism?
1) I have donated books to the Public Library in my old home town, and publicized the donations with articles that have been published in the local weekly newspaper.
2) I spend time on this Forum, learning more every day.
3) Sometimes I seek - and find - pertinent information, such as: The FAS Drug Policy Analysis Bulletin Issue Number Seven June 1999: Marijuana Arrests and Incarceration in the United States by Chuck Thomas

Calculations based on recent BJS reports suggest that, at any one time, 59,300 prisoners charged with or convicted of violating marijuana laws (3.3% of the total incarcerated population) are behind bars, at a total cost to taxpayers of some $1.2 billion per year. They represent almost 12% of the total federal prison population and about 2.7% of the state prison population. Of the people incarcerated in federal and state prison and in local jails, 37,500 were charged with marijuana offenses only and an additional 21,800 with both marijuana offenses and other controlled-substance offenses. Of the marijuana-only offenders, 15,400 are incarcerated for possession, not trafficking.


Adding the jail and prison estimates gives a total of 59,300 people incarcerated for marijuana offenses. Using the adjusted estimates for "marijuana only" gives a jail-plus-prison total of 37,500 people incarcerated for marijuana without any other drugs involved. (To be even more precise, this figure ought to be adjusted to reflect the fact that the "lead charge" reflected in the Survey of Inmates may not be the only, or even the primary, reason a person is in prison; the data does not tell us whether this adjustment would, on balance, be up or down.) Finally, using the adjusted estimates for possession gives a jail-plus-prison total of 15,400 people incarcerated for possessing only marijuana.

At an average annual cost per prisoner-year of more than $20,000, the total cost to taxpayers of marijuana-related incarceration reaches more than $1.2 billion per year. (This does not include the cost of investigating, arresting, and prosecuting the hundreds of thousands of marijuana users arrested every year.)

Nora Callahan: Vigils? Historically? They work to bring attention to what? prisoners who thinks about them? prisons hidden... the disappeared. We can't go nuts we have too much work to do!!

This will be perhaps a very long fight for justice, I don't 'blow smoke'... that would be a waste of time and resources. But, we have to hope, or people won't work. We spread hope, build hope. Restore a sense of self respect. The laws are more culprit than those we love...

Holding our heads up, leaving the isolation of shame and other such hang ups that we have.... we say - we got time we can do it or we can hope to change the future, work - - as we do this time.

It was great being with you all tonight. I'll hang a bit longer but wanted to make sure that I told you how much I appreciated the opportunity to talk to you all.

Zooneedles: We appreciate you being here very much, Nora. Zoo

Nora Callahan: that's five wow, we are at 50 percent I'm impressed - this was not so on forums of just 3 years ago... Most were still deciding what they thought about things... and thinking about what they might do.

I'm hopeful. Will make tomorrow and the rest of this day much better... we can have change. people do it! we do change things. we do change the future. We are still able to petition our leaders, we can still gather to show our opposition of law, and we won't stop until the end of the drug war is behind us, lives rebuilding before us.

And then, we will continue to work because justice is something that we build upon, always growing and making things better for all....
And speaking of justice? There is no justice in the war on drugs! Let's end it!

Dean Becker: Thank you Nora. I want to wish you the very best in all you do. I will let you know about our next vigils and send some pics.

Nora Callahan: Yes, send pictures and 'reports'. We publish them in our newspaper, The Razor Wire. It encourages all - Gramma and her imprisoned grandkids... And so, thank you Dean and all! I'm going to go eat my dinner, after I cook it. And pull Chuck off Razor Wire editing for the night.

Good night all! Don't forget to visit our website at: http://www.november.org

Don't miss our special feature: The Wall - meet the people behind the frightening statistics that rank us the world's leading jailer.

In Struggle, Nora Callahan

Zooneedles: Please stop by more often. Zoo

Donald Way: Thanks for coming Nora, and I will seriously try to get more involved in some kind of community activism here.

Dean Becker: Goodnight Nora, thanks again!