Marsha Cunningham -- #30862-077

15 Years - Crack Conspiracy

Marsha Cunningham, prisoner of the drug war
My name is Marsha Cunningham, and I am a nonviolent first time offender serving a 190-month sentence for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and cocaine, aiding and abetting. I am presently at Marianna Federal Prison Camp in Marianna, Florida.

At the time of my arrest I was 26 years old. I was feeling as though I was just really beginning to live my life and accomplish certain things in life. I had a good job at a mortgage company in the foreclosure department, a nice condo, and two vehicles (one paid for). And to make my life complete, I met a man whom I fell in love with. After a while of dating, I let that man move in with me. He had the keys to my house, cars and heart.

On August 5, 1997, my entire world was turned upside down. I returned home from work that day to a house full of DEA agents. I was informed that my boyfriend had been arrested earlier during the day for drug trafficking. Then they arrested me because they found drugs in the storage compartment in the bottom of the stove.

I was taken to the FBI office and questioned about the drugs. I told them that I didn't know anything about the drugs and that they were not mine. The agent told me that he knew that the drugs were not mine and that my boyfriend told him that the drugs were his. However, the agent felt like I knew where my boyfriend got the drugs. But I didn't and still don't. From lack of knowledge and having a boyfriend that I could not keep my eyes on 24 hours a day, the government punished me with a sentence of 15 years in prison.

I was found guilty by association. What society needs to realize is that I could have been anyone: their sister, daughter, mother, aunt, or grandmother. Everyone makes mistakes, and nobody knows what all goes on inside their home when they share it with someone else and are gone from home eleven hours a day.

I agree that everyone should know everything about whom they love and sleep with. But the truth is we don't. We tell each other what we want them to know. I always thought that I was protected by the Constitution. I thought that because of due process of law, no one could be convicted if there was even just a shadow of a doubt.

In my case the government assumed that because my boyfriend was a drug dealer, lived with me, and drove my car that I knew what he was doing. Therefore, I am guilty of the same crime, possession with the intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base. But other than my boyfriend living with me, and driving my car, there was nothing to link me to his illegal activity. I was never seen by DEA agents with my boyfriend at any of the drug transactions, and there were no drug sales conducted out of my home. I never took any phone messages for him. The fact is he never conducted his illegal activities in my presence.

If I was suspected of assisting him in his illegal activity, why wasn't I put under the same surveillance as my boyfriend? Why was my name not on the search warrant to my apartment? Why was I not even mentioned in the search warrant? At my trial the DEA agent testified that they knew about me, but I was never put under surveillance because there was no need. They knew who the drug dealer was. And he is serving a 17-year prison sentence, two years more than I am!

The criminal justice system thought that harsher sentences under the mandatory minimum sentencing would help win the war against drugs, but it isn't. All it is doing is locking up more people, and causing children to grow up without mothers and fathers. Society needs to realize that our legal system has failed. We all know that society cannot operate without law and order. But what all people need to realize is that the criminal justice system is a big business. Until society addresses the causes of why they are building more prisons and locking up more people, the legal system is going to continue to lock up even more people. First, the legal system has to admit that what has been tried has failed.

There are a lot of people incarcerated now with lengthy sentences and not because they were kingpins in big drug rings. Many were just friends, girlfriends, or wives of mid-level or street level drug dealers. Some people locked up were drug users and need to be in a drug rehab and not in prison for many years.

The criminal justice system is getting richer by incarcerating us for many years. It is costing the Bureau of Prison $25,000.00 a year to incarcerate me. And I am expected to be here 15 years. And who is paying for this? The taxpayers, and every new prison is costing middle class America plenty! America spends more money to incarcerate than they do to educate.

Right now the people who are least culpable of committing a crime are the ones doing the most time. Drug addicts are doing more time than their supplier instead of being in rehab to help them kick their addiction. Murderers, rapists, child abusers, and robbers are doing less time than first time nonviolent drug offenders. Because of mandatory minimum sentencing policies, people who have never been in any type of trouble are serving long prison sentences for non-violent crimes that they themselves did not actually commit.

It does not matter what your station in life is, or how much money you have acquired. Nobody is immune to crime. It can touch every social class. Drugs are a problem in America, but the mandatory, minimum sentences of ten years to life or 'three strikes you're out' are not the answer. How many billions of dollars of the taxpayers' money is America going to waste while the problem continues unaddressed and unsolved.