My name is Debbie Vineyard. I was arrested on Sept. 28, 1994 and have been in custody since that day. At that time, I was seven months pregnant. My 11-year-old son had just started the sixth grade, and I was the sole care giver for my disabled father.
My arrest occurred after I was indicted by a secret Grand Jury, out of the Middle District of Alabama. I am from Fontana, CA. I have never been to Alabama, nor do I know anyone from Alabama. I was indicted because of false information received from a man named Rick who had just been arrested by the DEA. I had never met this individual personally, but had a few brief telephone conversations with him, when he called for my husband. If my husband wasn't home, Rick left a few messages for my husband with me. These messages never involved any mention of drugs or money.
On day when my husband was gone, this man Rick called inquiring about a pair of cowboy boots. He asked me if the boots were there, and if my husband or I could send them to him. I replied that the boots were there, and that one of us would send them to him. Our conversation was very short. I had no idea that this person Rick had just been arrested for drugs that he claimed to have received from my husband. Our phone conversation was recorded by the Federal Government, and this small conversation, concerning cowboy boots, is what got me indicted and arrested. This is when the nightmare began. Rick evidently told the DEA that these cowboy boots were being sent with speed and heroin in them. After I was picked up, they searched my home and found the cowboy boots. They were stuffed full...of the daily newspaper. But, none of this mattered. I was still charged with Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine (speed) and Aiding and Abetting.
I was never given the opportunity for a bond, and I was held for 8 months before pleading guilty. Before this happened to me...my family and I would never have believed that something like this could actually happen. There was absolutely no evidence against me, and a crime had not been committed. Even though I was pregnant I was handcuffed, shackled, and flown via air lift with the Federal Marshals. I was housed in four different county jails before finally reaching my destination, an Alabama jail. In court, I was provided a court appointed attorney (I was his first client). Due to my pregnancy, my court date was postponed and the Marshals drove me, handcuffed, belly belt, and shackled for 10 hours to a Kentucky Prison to give birth to my child. I was in an FCI for 4 months before they returned me to the Alabama City Jail. So, I was in custody inside a federal prison before I was even sentenced in court.
I recall a telephone conversation with my mother. She said that my attorney told her that if she had been the one who had answered the phone at my house, and had been part of the "cowboy boot conversation," she would be in the same situation as me.
My newborn daughter was given over to a Ministry home called the Galilean Home, with temporary custody until my family picked her up.
Being in prison and hearing everything that the Government has done and gotten away with, makes me realize that what my attorney told my mother could have very easily have happened. Anyone could be in my position.
I was informed that if I went to a jury trial and lost, that I would do from 30 years to life. I was afraid of taking the chance of being separated from my children for the length of time. The DEA admitted that, even though I probably wasn't involved, they thought I might have information that could possibly help with other arrests. I was a first-time offender and my guidelines were way below the mandatory minimum, but I still was sentenced to 120 months (10 years), for answering my phone and having a pair of cowboy boots stuffed with newspaper.
I was sent to a prison work camp in Phoenix, AZ. There were no fences, no barbed wire and a 10-year sentence. I thought "something is not right about this." During this time, my father passed away. I went with an officer to see him before he passed on. It was the first time I'd seen him (or any of my family/children) since being incarcerated.
That was when I knew I needed to change what I could about my lengthy sentence. With the help of another inmate (Nancy Bloom) I filed a motion to get back into court. My case was taken back to court. Since I was a first-time offender and never offered the Safety Valve Clause (which reduces first-time offenders' sentences) I was resentenced to 60 months (5 years).
This is still a long time to serve, when the only evidence against me was hearsay from a convicted drug dealer, so he could obtain a lower sentence by lying in court.
Other countries have created situations which have become infamous in history. The U.S. will never escape the war on drugs. The tactics the Government uses is criminal. Totally designed to entrap low level offenders or people guilty by association. The ones who are actually found in possession of the drug and charged with a crime, are doing less time than the ones who are found with no evidence of a crime. Until we, the people, become more aware of this situation, it will never end.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to voice my feelings and thoughts. I have been incarcerated for 3 years now, and feel that if anything can be learned from this experience, it has been learned! Not only am I being punished for a crime I was not involved in, but my son, who is now 15, is being made to suffer. My daughter, who has never met me, was taken from not only her mother, but also from her father for fifteen years.
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