John "Chewy" Grange 63 years
My name is John "Chewey" Grange and my case is unusual to this organization. I was convicted of two murders. Both of the men killed I would have felt privileged to call a friend and the two men that testified against me, I did consider as friends.
I grew up in a bad neighborhood with not many opportunities away from hard labor or drug dealing. I was one of the ones to choose work. I have worked construction almost my entire life doing everything from plumbing to finish carpentry, to roofing. I started in these pursuits at an age of 15.
The prosecutor decided to make me out to be an enforcer and "hit man" for a fictitious drug organization that even the DEA testified did not exist. My two friends were given deals of one year to testify that I had committed these crimes. I was given life. There was no evidence against me, but for their words against me. What physical evidence was left, proved that they had not been telling the truth.
My entire world has been turned around because of this. I have been in prison for over two years. I have lost family members and have not been allowed to even go to their funerals. The girl I was going to marry left me, seeing no hope in justice being served. My mother still tells me how she cries every time she thinks about where I am.
I had never been convicted of a crime in my life and figured like most people that as long as I followed the laws I wouldn't. I would like to return home to my life, but with this current system it seems almost impossible.
Support is rare, so if you think you can support me or any one of these people on the wall, please contact someone and offer what you can. Thank you.
John Grange 821976
Stafford Creek Corr. Center
191 Constantine Way
Aberdeen, WA 98520
Prisons, snitches and graveyards
How much collateral damage will we suffer before we put an end to the war on drugs?
Editorial Comment by Nora Callahan, Executive Director
Director's Message - Razor Wire, Vol. 5, No. 2, Mar/Apr 2001
Barter Faires, spring and autumn celebrations, sometimes called "gatherings" by counter-culture residents of Northeastern Washington seasonally dot our isolated valleys. People trade "homespun", canning, crafts, old and new clothing, for handmade candles, a winter's supply of squash, keeping the dreams of simple and productive lives alive, and an earth less spoiled by their having lived upon it. And yes, sometimes marijuana and other illegal substances are traded. Only in that regard is it like any other gathering of people -a barter faire is quite unique.
Attracting thousands of people, the faires foster old friendships - one circle of friends take in another, and new friendships root. A lot of folks come to watch the process, voyeurs enjoying the "vibe". The faires last for days at a time, sometimes weeks; the police rarely needed, rarely summoned, but present nonetheless. In the past - in the form of undercover agents but today more commonly with former friends who have "turned", "rolled over" and become "informants" and "snitches" - such police 'friends' set up drug buys, and set off signals to police. Agents blaze into the peaceful valley of encampments. In 4 x 4s careening down hillsides, filling rutted, narrow roads, they make high profile, noisy arrests, leaving behind shrouds of dust, and each year rising levels of resentment and disgust.
Besides a rolling thunderstorm or two, raid-like arrests are usually the only thing that shatters the peace of one of Stevens' or neighboring Ferry County's barter faires. And the mood's gloomy after they've hauled off a "brother" or "sister" for a small marijuana, LSD or mushroom sale. Later, after the "rolling over" - an ounce turns into kilos, and mere possession becomes a tangled conspiracy. A conspiracy charge and prison sentence isn't necessarily based on the drugs a person has in his or her possession, but often large amounts that others might have, or a guess at how much might have been involved - a guess that is made by a law enforcement agent. The only way out is to become a "snitch".
Our community's counterculture survives in a drug-war-zone few give notice to, and as night falls around a hundred campfires and before a backdrop of night-blackened hills, forest and drum sounds, there is talk about the war on the people who choose homegrown bud over the corporate Bud. People are suspicious and afraid that the drug war, not unlike other distinct communities of people, has targeted them long, and targeted them hard. Around those campfires people agonize over the "snitch culture", exhorting the young to avoid betrayal while one by one elders succumb to a prosecutor's demand when they're busted, or they get hauled off to prison. The youth of this counterculture cannot remember "better days" because for them there's always been a drug war - and those that weren't home-schooled learned to "snitch" in DARE class.
Marijuana became the number one cash crop in our county when the drug war heated up twenty to thirty years ago, and today, mostly due to the underground market that prohibition fuels, it's a commodity worth more than gold. Yet we expect people not to trade in such products, even after science judges them "benign" as mood altering substances go. We call any human culture that chooses the Herb over Prozac a "Drug Culture" and add to that perplexity the burden of perhaps becoming a "Snitch" culture. And snitch culture has begun to take hold in every community exposed daily to the rewarding of betrayal, and resultant violence shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.
It's beginning to take a hold in our Colville area now. We experienced a grisly double murder last spring. While local and national newspapers called them "drug-ring" murders, the murders had less to do with drugs, and more about this "snitching" business into which police pull our citizens.
Joshua Schaefer and Nick Kaiser laid plans last spring, traveled from their respective homes in Western Washington and Oakland, California to the barter faire north of Colville. Not long after their arrival - they disappeared. They were never entirely found, wild animals having discovered their shot-dead, charred remains inside a Ford Bronco before people did.
Barter Faire 'regulars', Kaiser and Schaefer, previously unknown to each other, had both been arrested before, and rather than face decades in prison, each had become an informant for the police. If they had chosen prison, they'd still be alive today-locked up with violent criminals for their nonviolent offenses. Nick would have been looking at a release date of no sooner than 2025 if Steven's County prosecutor Jerry Wetle is correct in his assessment of Kaiser as the "LSD man on the West Coast. The boss of Seattle." Wetle also claims that Joshua Schaefer was associated with what police described as "Rainbow Family drug rings."
The avocation of a snitch is hard to keep secret, and while we do not know the details, John Grange of Portland, Oregon may have been caught in the same trap as Nick, and now Joshua - turn informant or spend most of the rest of your life in prison. He'd heard the rumors that Joshua and Nick had become informants.
You won't find many naïve "hippies" in our community - young or old. And they are trying their best not to succumb and betray those that they have been taught to love, those who time and again have shared their last five dollars, or gave them a room for a summer at no cost. But it's a David vs. Goliath struggle, this system of set-ups and betrayal - or prison. Court documents show that John Grange both advised Nick that he was in danger, and advised people of the danger of befriending Nick.
John Grange executed his friends, or so the guilty verdict rendered. He enlisted the help of two local men to help him dispose of the bodies. A gloomy mug shot of a tall and thick young man, with his given and nickname "Chewy" spelled "Chooey" ran often in our local newspapers, and I hoped others remembered that "Chewy" is short for Chewbacca, the name of the large, but sweet sidekick of Star War's hero Hans Solo. Wondering if others would make that connection, and see that we were looking at a mug shot of an intense young man who had garnered the large, gentle nickname when he was a boy.
It is only after John Grange's conviction that we read that the prosecutor admitted to the jury the witnesses against Grange weren't "the best", had "minimized their own involvement," and the only testimony that remained consistent, was what Wetle described as "the big picture." But what exactly is the "big picture"? Dan Williams and Jeffery Cunningham - local men who claim they were witnesses nearby when John Grange shot Joshua and Nick - had helped burn the bodies. They are expected to do a year in prison for that. That is how they were able to get murder charges against them dropped. They testified against John. Grange told the court he was a working man who enjoyed smoking marijuana, and that he was stranded at the barter faire after loaning his '87 Bronco to Dan Williams. The prosecutor also admits that the testimony of Williams and Cunningham was "necessary to convict Grange" because there wasn't any physical evidence that Grange executed his friends-turned-informers.
Joshua, Nick and John were barely out of their teenage years. Remember how smart everyone was just out of our teens? Most of us had, at best, a high school education and a minimum wage job, and according to statistics, about a third of us were buying and using illegal drugs.
Our drug laws, and the tactics used to enforce them, are what more and more people will say are insane, but John Grange could not plead insanity. If he had been set up, and committed these murders, he can't claim self-defense. Drug law violations often 'carry more time' than most violent crime convictions, even the most violent of crimes like rape and murder. And some of us once thought the drug war was supposed to be protecting our children.
Selective prosecutions of the drug war and the use of informants has spawned a snitch culture that has devastated Black and Hispanic communities for decades. The drug war violence in these communities is proof enough that the war leaves immeasurable collateral damage, while illegal drugs continue to proliferate measurably. Those are clear signs that the drug war is doing more harm than illegal drugs do. We ought to be changing course, not escalating present tactics. That is still not the trend however, and we all should be concerned.
Our economically depressed community has lost too many citizens to prisons, lots of good people who did nothing more than grow and sell marijuana. These nonviolent people paradoxically do more time than violent criminals. The "snitches" have coffee in the cafes and drink beer in the bars. People know who they are. It's the way it is around here.
Or the way it was. Perhaps soon, before there are more scattered human remains, our own community will begin to access and address the collateral damage of the war on drugs and ask this important question- is the drug war really protecting our youth? If current police and prosecutorial tactics that reward betrayal and fill our prisons and graveyards hasn't made a dent in drug availabilty after more than 30 intense years of waging it, then when will it? Never. It's time to stop the war on drugs.
Director's Message - Razor Wire, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 2001
By Nora Callahan, Executive Director, November Coalition
In 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 one.
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 jail.
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 offender?
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 crop.
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 mankind."
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 death.
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.
(Chewy is an accomplished cartoonist. Below are some samples of his artwork.)
Back to the Wall
To the next Prisoner of the Drug War