John Knock - Life for Marijuana

John is a non violent first time marijuana offender.
This is just one family's story of how mandatory minimums have changed the world as we knew it. Firmly rooted in the mid-west, our family had a legacy of community, patriotism, love of country, and trust in neighbors and friends. We believed in the rule of law and believed that law enforcement and our justice system protected us from corrupt people and institutions and protected our freedoms.

John was convicted in a dry conspiracy only where no pot was found.

The conspiracy was developed through a reverse sting operation that was instigated by the DEA and prosecutors using an indicted fugitive who John had never known.

John had known one of the individuals indicted in this reverse sting when she lived near him in the 70's.

John chose to go to trial instead of taking a plea.

Even though everyone is entitled to a fair trial, those who choose this route are usually given sentences 6 times greater than those who are offered a plea.

This sting was in Florida which is a place where John had never lived and never worked.

Florida captured venue in this case, and is a place where sentences are disproportionately long.

John's sentence is 2 life terms plus 20 for pot.

For more about John's case, visit, a website with case documents, updates and links to other important information about federal sentencing, and marijuana law.

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John Knock's Family is all in his corner

Of my brother
By Beth Curtis

Kurt Vonnnagut spoke in an interview of a man who was born good and stayed that way till he was dead. I have always thought of John that way. It is not difficult to put an elegant yet human face on him.

On a crisp September day in 1947, John was born the fourth and youngest child of Bijou and Calvin Knock. His father was the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The family lived in the large yellow Victorian house next to the church. It was a time when children played all day with dangerous offensive toys, talked to strangers, had pets that were not fenced, and felt free. There were no warning labels on everyday products and suing was an unknown concept.

There were also no conspiracy laws, mandatory minimum sentences, money laundering, and scant federal law telling us what to grow, eat, think and do. Life had a clarity and cleanness about it.

John grew restless in the late 60s as did his generation and followed the exhortation - Go west. In California, it was a time of turmoil, but still with promise and freedom. There was protest in the air along with a sense of power, hope and change. California was a bubbling caldron of all these promises. The promises were of course false or suspect at the very least. The young hoped that the justice system and Federal law would bring more freedom to the dispossessed. This happened, but it was like the dog that came back to bite.

Those who have the power to keep you safe can also suck freedom from the air you breath. If the government can give you freedom, it also has the power to take it away.

Thirty years later, John Knock, a hopeful, happy, loyal, non-violent man who loves dogs, children and life is sent to prison for life in the 11th circuit Federal Court in Gainesville Florida by Judge Maurice Paul.

He was convicted of a crime that didn't take place, with people he didn't know, in a location he hadn't been. The additional irony is that the crime was conceived and instigated by the DEA and Federal Prosecutors who were aided by paid and compensated informants.

I'm his sister and I've been educated.

John has an admiration for Sir Thomas More. I would also appreciate the existentialist sentiment of the play. The idea of a self directed man could be an ideal. The corruption begins with every duty. I believe that John's admiration has it's genesis from a more primal source. A Man for All Seasons portrays Thomas More as a man of principle risking life and liberty for his belief, a man standing against the King with dignity, but unyielding.

John did not suddenly begin this admiration of the Saint through a dramatic or literary experience. I believe he arrived here by way of his time in Ireland 35 years ago when he developed a profound empathy for women in their 7th decade who were still hiding their identity for fear of government reprisal for past rebellion. This John could identify with. In a Man for all Seasons, More is portrayed as a renaissance man. Thomas More is both more practical and more of an ideologue, but, John sees him as a man of principle standing up to a sovereign state that seeks to control ones thought.

I on the other hand see the drug war through other metaphors. Arthur Miller"s Crucible comes to mind. The DEA and Federal Prosecutors peeking through the bushes into the clearing to watch the young girls dance. Could they be Reverend Parris?

Visit Beth's Blog
By Beth Curtis, sister of John Knock

In 1965, I was an idealistic graduate student. It was an exciting time with Michael Harrington's culture of poverty, the beginning of the Welfare Rights Movement, the civil Rights Movement and the dark cloud of Viet Nam as a back drop. The rights of the individual were magnified by these MOVEMENTS AND CHILDREN OF THE 60S looked to the Federal Government to define, bestow and preserve the same. An activist court was cheered and legislation to regulate human behavior was warmly welcomed. Bobby Kennedy's pursuit of the scoundrels of organized crime would remove a cancer from our country. Rico, conspiracy and mandatory minimums were on their way.

Forty years later I still strive to understand the individual's relationship to the state and how there can be a relationship that maintains freedom through the "Rule of Law". Waves of nausea now overcome me when I hear the phrase.

We now have one in every 30 citizens interfacing with the criminal justice complex. Rural communities hope there will be a need for more prisons and vie for them to be built in their community. Prisons are considered economic development. Many federal, State and Local Government jobs are dependent on the growth of our prison population. As more and more men and women are interfacing with the court system, the rule of law is a labyrinth of conflict and contradiction.

This contract between the governed and the state becomes unfathomable. Just as unfathomable is some consensus about what individual rights are. Case law piles on in volumes, and contradictory and minutely parsed decisions leave defendants without a clear understanding of process. Additionally they are required to use the services of an army of attorneys and advocates of various abilities and ethics. The financial resources of their families are sucked into the black hole of our criminal justice system.

If forfeitable assets are part of the bounty of the state, defense attorneys must defend their clients by walking on eggs, fearful that they may also be prosecuted. This further compromises the rights of the defendant. Many defendants must make plea agreements to things they knew little or nothing about because they have no resources. Even those with ample resources plea to avoid the almost certain conviction, and harsher sentence. Grand Juries are now used to investigate, rather than to decide if there is probable cause to indict.

Split decisions with carefully parsed nuances send hopes and money into this abyss. It must be noted that each individual caught in this web has children, parents, brothers and sisters who love them and are also disillusioned, confounded, and perhaps bitter about resources expended on a system that is so confounding yet has the power to take away the future of so many families.

How did we become so fearful of freedom that we have insisted on laws that criminalize so much human behavior and even thought? We now routinely convict people of crimes that never took place, in places the defendant has never been, with people they do not know and incidentally, the criminal act was instigated by law enforcement. The rest of the world disdains us and developing countries reject our rule of law. We investigate people who have not broken the law to prevent lawlessness. Our law enforcement is becoming lawless. Our rule of law is too voluminous and therefore arbitrary. Even the language, War on Crime, belies the rule of law. Our justice system uses the metaphors of war, and the object is the citizens whose part of the covenant is to give consent.

Brilliant trial and appellate attorneys arguing cases and judges deciding them are thrilling to read and even more so to watch. Their memory and critical thought is as sharp and shining as a mirror shattering. To me it is also as frightening as it would be to walk bare foot across the broken glass.

As I watch Justice Bryer and Justice Scalia have conversations about decisions and interpretations, I long for something more absolute. Something more absolute would be language that is clear, simple and true. How can a man's life and liberty depend on nuances culled from thousands and thousands of pages of case law with the reasonable possibility of a single sentence or concept on one of those pages becoming determinative. Too much law turns "Rule of Law" into rule of men.

What would Aristotle think of our rule of law? What would our founding fathers see? We have constant imposition and enforcement of arbitrary and restrictive values imposed on us by an over active legislative branch. These are interpreted and judged by a judiciary system that seems to be will aware of the fact that the governed can no longer know the rules of the covenant they are part of. I just fear for our freedoms.

I know there is logic and order in the process, but the sheer magnitude and complexity of the possibilities invites subjectivity.