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Kay Tanner



I am a single professional woman in my fifties. I am the mother of two, with two grandchildren. I was born and lived the majority of my life in Los Angeles, California.

I am college educated, a published writer and a successful fashion designer. I have never been in trouble, much less arrested. None of my family or friends have ever been arrested.

I had lived in my home for eleven years at the time of my arrest, and knew most of my neighbors. Hardly the expected lifestyle of a major drug distributor.


The night before Christmas Eve my front door was rammed in and fifteen fully armed DEA, FBI and police invaded my home. I was handcuffed and interrogated for five hours about people I didn't know. I was threatened with arrest as they tore my house apart looking for evidence. I was not arrested because they didn't find what they were looking for. In fact, the warrant wasn't for me, it was for my house. This was all related to my tenants that had moved. Two weeks later I was subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury in Anchorage, Alaska. This is an Alaska case, and I have never been to Alaska. I flew to Alaska without an attorney because I didn't feel I needed one. I went there to tell all that I knew and had no idea that I would be in jeopardy.

Before going in front of the Grand Jury the government asked me to tell all that I knew, when I told them about my tenants, and that I believed they were involved in drugs, which was one of the reasons I had asked them to leave, they said they weren't interested. They wanted me to testify that I had seen the people they had caught in Alaska, with eight kilos of cocaine. I said I wouldn't say that because I hadn't. They told me that it I didn't they would give the people in Alaska this opportunity and I would become the target at the investigation. I plainly said I would not lie and they said it wasn't lying, it was "cooperating". Bottom line, I was not put in front of the Grand Jury and I returned to Los Angeles, to try to put this ugly experience out of my mind. I never dreamed the government could drag an innocent person into a conspiracy.

One month later, I was arrested and indicted on one count of Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine. Since Conspiracy requires no evidence, all you need is testimony by a government witness, which is bought with plea bargains. The witnesses that testified that I knew about my tenants dealing received 12 months. The rest of the people that stood trial got 20 years. I was convicted on hearsay alone.

On July 12, 1993, I was found guilty of Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine and I received a Mandatory Minimum Sentence of 10 years, for something that I did not do. Ten years for a first-time, non-violent, minimum participant in a drug-related crime. For me it sounded like the death penalty.

The next year the safety valve was voted into law, which I qualified for, but the provision for retroactivity was not included, and thousands of us were left behind in prison. The law was written because it was decided that the Mandatory Minimums were too harsh. Thousands were left behind with cruel sentences with no end in sight.

To date I have lost my appeal and my motion §2255 (sentence reduction). My trial judge has had to recuse himself because of dealings with my trial attorney. He had appointed another public defender to investigate and find relief for me, but the attorney came back and said that he cannot find a way back into court because of all the legal mistakes that have been made. I will have to pay that price too. All that is left for me is new law.


I have lost my home and spent all my money defending myself and trying to undo this nightmare.

I live a lonely, solitary, unproductive life. Life is not an accomplishment, it is spent trying to survive. Living without the ones you love is abnormal and painful. My family has suffered watching my struggle for life.

I came into prison 100% healthy. I am now in and out of the hospital struggling with blood pressure so out of control that every day is lived feeling I may not make it through this life.


Kay is also featured in the book SHATTERED LIVES: PORTRAITS FROM AMERICA'S DRUG WAR, from Human Rights 95.

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