Chris Baldwin (UK)
Medical Marijuana Patient ... and Prisoner of the Drug War
Chris Baldwin, born 1950, who has suffered from severe crippling injury (muscular spasticity) since a child, has shown the courage of a lion in his fight about the repressive cannabis prohibition laws in the UK.
For many years Chris used cannabis to ease the spasms in his legs that his injury caused, get a better nights sleep and ease the pain. Although he felt the law against cannabis and the punishment of users was totally unjust, he, like most of us, did little about changing it.
Chris recently served six months in a UK prison for marijuana-related offenses.
February 27, 2004 - The Argus (UK)
Cannabis Campaigner Freed From Jail
By Huw Borland
Cannabis campaigner Chris Baldwin was offered the drug in jail but turned it down because it was of such poor quality.
The self-styled marijuana martyr was relaxing at home yesterday after being freed from a six-month prison sentence after six-and-a-half weeks. He said: "I was offered cannabis once but it was 'soap bar' and really low-grade gear. I campaign against it and he wanted to sell me half an ounce of the stuff."
During his incarceration Mr Baldwin, who suffers from spastic paraplegia, put up with painful cramps, leg spasms and sleepless nights. Now half a stone lighter and distinctly greyer, the 53-year-old, of Carnegie Close, Worthing, must wear an electronic tag around his wrist for another three months. Mr Baldwin was the mastermind behind a series of Amsterdam-style coffee shops in Worthing, an enterprise which prompted months of police raids, arrests and court appearances.
He was jailed at Chichester Crown Court on January 9, convicted of allowing cannabis to be used at a property and having cannabis with intent to supply at his Quantum Leaf cafe in Rowlands Road.
His problems began, he says, within minutes of his arrival at Highdown prison, Surrey. Staff took days to arrange a vegan diet that suited him. But a few hunger pangs were nothing compared with cannabis deprivation. Mr Baldwin insists the drug helps his condition without the unpleasant side-effects of stronger pharmaceutical drugs.
He said: "I was okay on the first night in jail because I had eaten and smoked cannabis before going to court.
"But the next day I was in the depths of despair. With no medication my leg muscles tightened up, I got severe cramps and could barely pee. "The prison doctor gave me Valium. I took it for four weeks and felt like a zombie. "I've smoked cannabis for 35 years and there is one thing I've discovered - there are no withdrawal symptoms. I had no problems coming off it but the difference it made to my legs was immense.
"On cannabis I function perfectly well. On Valium I would not be able to think straight. "I did not like having to take Valium but when my legs are in spasm I have to stretch and punch them to ease the pain."
Mr Baldwin said other inmates took care of disabled prisoners, ensuring they were not picked on or taken advantage of. Many gave him their portions of Weetabix and fruit so he had enough to eat.
Bladder problems meant Mr Baldwin, who uses elbow crutches to walk, only slept for two or three hours a night.
He said: "When you're not sleeping you're doing double time. If you get eight hours' sleep, you're sleeping a third of your sentence." Having spent his first day of freedom with his family on Tuesday, Mr Baldwin said he was enjoying good food and thanking the 257 people who sent him cards during his time in jail.
However, the harsh realities of being a spastic paraplegic in prison have convinced him not to supply cannabis again.
Still adamant that the drug should be legalised, he said: "I do not agree with the law that put me in prison but I do understand the mechanics. "I pushed it so far the judge said he reluctantly had no choice but to send me down." Mr Baldwin plans to write a book about his political career as a Legalise Cannabis Alliance candidate in the 2001 General Election, his cannabis cafes and his experience in jail.
A Day Out for Chris Baldwin, Prison Number JC9521
Friday , January 30, 2004
Got up at 5.30am - finished packing my stuff and tidied up the cell. Had a small bowl of cereal and Soya milk for breakfast then waited to be called.
About am I was taken to the reception area. My stuff was searched and x-rayed and I was strip searched. Taken to a holding room with a few other prisoners and waited.
Led out and put into a "sweat box" van. Here you are put into a small locked box type area about the size of a cupboard (no room to move about). We set off but had to pick up 2 more prisoners. I was offered a non vegan sandwich that I could not eat, then given a bag of crisps. The journey took over 2 hours and by the time we arrived I was so stiff that I could hardly move. Taken into Ford prison reception area and waited with lots of other prisoners. The process was slow and it was ages before I was finally booked in.
My stuff was searched again. I had separated my clean clothes from my dirty clothes in 2 plastic bags to keep them separate. They tipped the whole lot out and threw them back into one bag (all mixed up). Strip searched again and put into prison clothes that were so thin that I was freezing cold. Also told that I couldn't have my radio/CD player back until next Wednesday.
The trip to our rooms was quite a long walk and the recent bad weather meant that the ground was slippery, so I refused to walk it and asked for a wheelchair. Eventually one was found and I was taken to the health check-in centre.
Next I was told that they didn't have a disabled cell for me and that I would have to double up with another prisoner. There was no toilet in the cell. I would have to walk about 20 yards to use the loo. At this point I started shouting at them and told them it wasn't right that they were treating me this way. I finally refused to comply with their request. (In a normal prison you have no choice, but in an open prison they had to take me in).
They put me in a waiting room and said someone would come and see me. At this point, I simply broke down. I started shaking and cried my eyes out. A man and woman came in and tried to calm me down, but I was in such a state that it became obvious that placating me was impossible.
They went off to see what could be done. A very nice orderly (prisoner) brought me some toast and a cup of herbal tea. Eventually I was told that I would have to return to High Down. To this I complained that another journey in a sweat box was out of the question, so they agreed to take me by taxi. I traveled back to High Down in a taxi accompanied by a guard. Both of them were very nice to me.
I arrived back at High Down at about 7pm. Again my stuff was searched and so was I (although not strip searched this time). I was informed that my cell was now occupied by another prisoner and they had nothing else available, so I was put back on the Healthcare wing. I got my stereo back but no socket to plug it in, and no TV.
The cell is freezing cold and I only have two blankets on my bed, so I will have to sleep in my clothes.
It's now 11pm and I feel totally alone and demoralised. Tomorrow I will be moved to another cell (hopefully) , but I don't know where I will be put and the prospect is frightening.
I am chain smoking cigarettes (roll-ups) as it is the only comfort I can find. The only word I can think of to describe the way I feel is wretched. I feel as though I am being punished because I am disabled.
To sum up - Before I was moved I had a single cell with a TV and my radio/CD player. I also had a good selection of books from the library. I had made many friends and was being looked after by them.
The unit was compact and I didn't have to travel far for the things I needed.
Ford Open Prison is a large area that requires a lot of walking, much of which is outside which makes conditions treacherous on elbow crutches in this weather.
In just over 3 weeks, I will probably be eligible for release on a tag. So why did they bother to move me? I was told that my only punishment would be incarceration, yet I have been subjected to brutal and sadistic treatment all in the name of Justice.
February 11, 2004
Dear November Coalition:
Thank you for your kind letter, and the literature you sent. Some of it reminds me of a book called 'Shattered Lives. I must admit I haven't read the whole book, as I found it too emotionally disturbing.
So far, I have received many letters and cards of support from the United States.
I have a single cell (because I'm disabled), a TV and a radio/CD player. The library here is good, so I'm reading lots of books, and also writing lots of letters. It helps to keep occupied.
The other prisoners are very kind and helpful. Most of them are here on various drug charges. On the whole, they're a nice bunch of lads, and I've made lots of new friends.
I've had three falls since I've been here. The first, no injury, the second, I banged my head, and the third I banged my knee. Only minor injuries; nothing too drastic.
Without cannabis my legs went into spasm, followed by pain, so I had to take Diazapam (Valium) reluctantly. After four weeks I got fed up with feeling like a zombie and dragging my body around on my elbow crutches, so I've stopped taking it. I am now using Ibuprofen when the pain gets too severe. However, this does nothing for the spasms, which means sleep is very difficult, as my legs tend to twitch and jerk when I'm in bed. I also have renal problems, which seem to have gotten worse in the absence of cannabis.
I understand why I have been locked up, though of course I don't agree with it. The problem is, the system just doesn't have the facilities to look after disabled people. There are other disabled folks here, but most of them are kept on the 'healthcare wing'. I started off there, but I'm now on a normal house block.
My release date is the 6th of April (2004), but I may qualify for something called 'Home Detention Curfew'. This is a tag that is put around your ankle, and somehow connects to the phone line. You have to stay at home for 12 out of every 24 hours under this plan; I'm still waiting to hear if I qualify.
You are most welcome to post this on your web site. Keep up the fantastic work that you are doing. I realise that it must be even more difficult to do in the States. I would certainly have received a much longer sentence had I done what I did 'over there'.
16 Carnegie Closk
Worthing, Sussex, England
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