"A vivid description of how the United States destroyed the lives of ordinary people in its ill chosen criminal justice war on drugs."
-- Joseph D. McNamara, police chief of San Jose (Ret.), research fellow the Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Reviews and Testimonials
Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War
Rated among the top 3 new
The Leaflet, Washington DC. Winter 1998
Syracuse New Times, November 4-11, 1998. pp. 12-13
Liberty magazine, February 1999. pp. 56-58
New Unionist, Minneapolis MN. December 1998
Louie B. Free, WASN radio host
Michael Cutler, attorney at law
Matthew Hammett, community activist
Efficacy, Cliff Thornton
DRC Net, Dave Borden
November Coalition, Nora Calahan
Marijuana Policy Project, Toni Leeman
Republican Anti-Prohition Society, Ronald Goodman
"Shattered Lives pages are bursting with pictures and sidebars. The designers have done a nice job. If only high schools were using it as a workbook. (A replacement for DARE, perhaps?) It was written for and in part by the poor souls devoured by the war on drugs. Many of the sidebars were written by current inmates. Their accounts and accompanying photographs are touching, to say the least.
"It dawned on me after finishing Shattered Lives that the way to end the drug war was right there in those pictures. All those families torn apart, all those innocent people steamrolled by the government. The government is creating the enemy army right now. Once enough people are victimized, it's only a matter of time before this army starts to march."
"In several ways, Shattered Lives reads like an everyman's edition of People magazine. Clearly written and concisely structured, the book's ten chapters rely on photographs to help tell the subjects' stories. The pictures, both color and black-and white, show warm and compassionate human faces attesting to the otherwise cold hard facts of the Drug War's inhumanity.
"The snapshots, initially collected as part of a San Francisco photo exhibit, prove that Drug War prisoners of war belie criminal stereotypes. Sure, there are a few youthful Deadheads and dreadlocked Rastas, but suburban soccer moms, grandma and grandpa types and plenty of blue-collar workers also find themselves behind bars, mainly because of mandatory sentencing laws. "One of the strengths of our book is its use of photographs," Norris notes. "There are so many different kinds of people affected by this, including children. This whole drug war is so anti-family, so anti-community, it's tearing people apart. Nonviolent, consensual offenders are being sent away to prison for long stretches of time. Children are losing their parents and losing each other."
"Not only do the short profiles of each defendant keep the reader browsing along at a quick clip, humor also reiterates the human element in Shattered Lives, with section headings such as "Urine the Money," an expose of the burgeoning drug testing industry."
"An intelligent and thorough new book by Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad and Virginia Resner, Shattered Lives lays it all out and provides plenty of food for thought."
"Shattered Lives argues its points poignantly and persuasively, putting a human face on the drug war better than anybody could have wished for. This is an important and timely book, and the authors deserve a lot of credit. I really do believe that if more people saw this book and spent even just ten minutes reading through it, there would be a shift in public acceptance regarding continuing the 'drug war'.
"Shattered Lives deserves to be viewed as much as read, and it is the sort of book that needs to be displayed on everybody's coffee table rather than put away on a bookshelf. Ideally, this book will get the public response it so well desrves."
"I just received my copy of Shattered Lives. What a powerful achievement in bringing the awful meaning of the drug war to new levels of accessibility. Anyone who can read and reason cannot leave your book uncertain about the drug war. Bravo!"
"Shattered Lives is a must a wake-up call to every American. The book is beautifully designed with photographs and stories of ordinary people caught in the web of drug war excesses. Show it to people who think we need a drug war! Compare the 'crimes' with the punishments. See how freedom and justice vanish from America. For each person caught, a whole family suffers. A great gift idea."
"I write to bring to your immediate attention a new book that is urgently needed in every library system. Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War by Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad & Virginia Resner (ISBN 0-9639754-3-9), underscores the tragic human impact of our current "Drug War" Policy.
Featured among many others in this book is Kemba Smith of Richmond, VA, a typical African-American woman directly and negatively affected by the War on Drugs. Ms. Smith is a typical example of a very large picture of injustice that literally tens of billions of our tax dollars per year are presently funding.
I have discussed the Drug War's human impact with clergy and other community leaders, some of whom are minorities. Minority members of our community have been affected disproportionately by the War on Drugs. I share their outrage at the current state of affairs.
I have provided you with a copy of this book to expedite the purchasing process. This book strongly supports the Human Rights-95 exhibit that is presently touring the Fairfax County Library System. The exhibit is currently in the Thomas Jefferson Community Library.
The prompt introduction of this book into our library system will provide the missing viewpoint our popular media fails to supply. This book will provide important and accessible information to library patrons researching the War on Drugs and its impact on the individual and their family. It will be a resource for all citizens.
I respectfully urge you to buy this new book promptly.
Medical marijuana patient and prisoner Will Foster and his family are only a few of the thousands upon thousands whose lives have been disrupted by America's drug war. We are proud to announce that our new book offer for members, available now, is Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War, a beautifully produced glossy volume, detailing case after case of needless drug war tragedy. We are offering Shattered Lives to all new and renewing members who donate $35 or more to DRCNet for a one year membership.
Shattered Lives, authored by long-time activists Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad and Virginia Resner, grew out of the Human Rights and the Drug War exhibit, first unveiled as "Atrocities of the Drug War" in June 1995. I first saw the exhibit at the Drug Policy Foundation's 9th annual conference that year. Though it was almost three years ago, I still vividly remember walking through aisle after aisle of suffering and injustice, each panel a gripping indictment of a nation's conscience twisted upside down in our government's cruel and pointless war against its own citizenry. Leafing through Shattered Lives this month, I am again reminded of the reasons we are working, and of the urgency our cause demands: every day, hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives are systematically and undeservedly disrupted, as a matter of official government drug war policy.
Though Shattered Lives is a gallery you can flip through and browse and sample, it is also an educational work, providing hard facts on issues such as mandatory minimum sentences, conspiracy laws, prison growth, asset forfeiture, bad drug raids, privacy violations, medical marijuana, drug war militarization, eradication programs, harm reduction, drug education and more. You can read it cover to cover, or you can place it on your coffee table and use it to draw guests into discussion of these important issues, or you can donate your copy or a second copy to your local library. You can get a taste of what's in Shattered Lives by visiting the Human Rights and the Drug War web site at <http://www.hr95.org>.
I just received a copy of Shattered Lives in the mail. Even though my own work is with the prisoners of the drug war and those that love a prisoner, I suppose that I should be somewhat immune to pages of tragic stories.
Today I could call shattered day. I am swallowing tears and heartsick. Mixed with the stories of the prisoners, their children and other family members are the facts and statistics of the drug war.
I believe that the book could change policy if enough people read it. It beckons the reader to turn the page... written expertly and with care to good layout -- the largest publishing house in the country could not have done a better job!
Every page shows -- with a human face -- the destruction and disgusting truth of the war on drugs. EVERY page.
Mikki, Chris and Virginia - thank you for providing us with this tool to use to spread our message. You have done a great job and it is certainly more than I expected.
The stories that brought tears to my eyes were those of the loving families torn apart by the senseless laws which mandate minimum sentencing.
The stories that put a lump in my throat were of the physical brutality inflicted on women prisoners.
The fear in the pit of my stomach spread with the stories of the midnight, no knock raids carried out by sadistic cops who love to batter, ram and humiliate the "dangerous potheads".
But it also offers hope. I've often referred to the connection between the drug war and Vietnam. Shattered Lives parallels the two, which in some ways gives me hope. Eventually the whole nation took notice of the senseless bloodshed and the Vietnam war ended. I remember the night peace was declared. I was at a Chambers Brothers concert. They sang "Time Has Come Today" and the whole crowd went wild, cheering & dancing. I hold on to the hope that the end to the WoSD will be similar.
Shattered Lives is the truth: unblinking and laid bare. It's a comprehensive overview of why we all oppose the war on drugs (or should). But it is the frightful prisoners' stories that should shock this nation into the realization of the barbaric tribe we've become.
It's not light reading. but it is necessary. I plan to hand deliver it to every news editor I know.
"People truly need to know what is going on in the name of the Drug War, and because this book tells personal stories from the front lines, everyone will find people in it with whom they can relate or sympathize. Give Shatttered Lives to someone who has no idea just how out of control this Drug War is, or who has the 'lock 'em up and throw away the key" mentality, or who just doesn't understand why you feel so passionately about this subject.
"Give it to someone who's taking risks without understanding the consequences, or to kids who need a warning before they start to experiment with drugs. Give it to a politician who doesn't understand how much harm they are doing, or to a minister who can use material for a sermon, or to a teacher who can use it as class material. The possibilities are endless."
Although many authors levy criticism toward the drug war, few, if any, more poignantly illustrate the human casualties better than Norris, Conrad, and Resner's Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War.
Shattered Lives paints a human face on the thousands of incarcerated Americans serving out excessive drug sentences. Americans like Joanne, Gary and Steve Tucker, together serving 26 years for selling hydroponics equipment from their family-owned store. And those like Scott Walt, age 39, presently serving 24 years for conspiracy to possess marijuana. These are the seldom seen victims of our nation's growing drug war rhetoric, the unfortunate outcomes of more than 60 years of lies, propaganda, and political posturing.
Shattered Lives also focuses on the families torn apart by drug prohibition, and the children left behind in its wake. "I have four children who all live with family, but in separate homes and towns," recalls Jodie Israel, age 34, serving 11 years on marijuana conspiracy charges. "It is so hard to explain to a child why you can't be with them and I believe it puts a tremendous burden on their little hearts. I feel these sentences are for the entire family, not just the inmate.... It is not just the prisoners doing time, it is our families, too. I believe it is just as hard on them as it is on us."
Unfortunately, Jodie's story, and her family's plight, is not unique in the pages of Shattered Lives. Norris and her co-authors pro file dozens of cases where the punishment no longer fits the crime.
"My family is devastated," writes David Ciglar, age 39. A former firefighter who saved more than 100 lives, Ciglar is now serving ten years for marijuana cultivation. "My wife live[s] every day wondering if she can make it financially and mentally. My kids don't know why their Dad was taken away for such a long, long time. I have not even bonded with my youngest daughter. She was just two when I left her." Shattered Lives is based on the award-winning photo exhibit, "Human Rights: Atrocities of the Drug War."
All three authors serve as curators and coordinators for the exhibit, originally constructed in 1995 in conjunction with the United Nations 50th anniversary.
Like its predecessor, Shattered Lives impacts the reader literally and visually. The book's oversized 8-1/2" by 11" format adds even greater impact to the portraits of those forever scarred by the excesses of drug prohibition, and makes Shattered Lives convenient to display on any reformer's coffee table. If the ultimate goal of art and the written word is to emotionally move the reader, then Shattered Lives succeeds in a way few analyses before it have.
More than just a self-described "wake-up call to every American," this book will potentially change the way many view prohibition forever. Perpetuation of America's drug war relies on the continued demonization of drugs and their users. In response, Shattered Lives is an all important "humanization" campaign documenting the often ignored human costs of drug prohibition and the devastation it wreaks.
Shattered Lives; Portraits From America's Drug War is available from Creative Xpressions @ (510) 215-8326 and may be purchased online from Amazon.com or from the publisher's websites at www.hr95.org and www.chrisconrad.com. The toll-free credit card order line is 888-265-2732.
(Review © 1999 by Norml, National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws)
By Russ Tarby
Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War. By Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad and Virginia Resner. (Creative Xpressions, El Cerrito, Calif.; 118 pages; $19.95/softcover).
Drug Crazy: How We Got into This Mess & How We Can Get Out. By Mike Gray. (Random House, New York; 256 pages; $23.95/ hardcover).
Former Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan wasn't the only social critic signing copies of a new book in Syracuse on Oct. 20. While the famous right-winger sat at the Syracuse University Bookstore autographing his The Great Betrayal (Little, Brown and Co.; $22.95), two very different authors appeared on a local cable access TV show.
California writers Mikki Norris and Chris Conrad could have titled their recent book "The Great Betrayal" as well, because it vividly exposes how contemporary American drug policy has betrayed US citizens by tearing apart families, making orphans of children, and allowing police to seize homes and property from people merely suspected of drug trafficking.
Co-written by California prison reformer Virginia Resner, Conrad and Norris' book depicts Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War. The 8-1/2-by-11-inch paperback relates the sad stories of dozens of imprisoned drug defendants who have lived otherwise crime-free lives.
Every now and then, the Drug War causes innocent blood to flow, and the authors document several cases of fatal shootings by police men executing no-knock drug raids. One of those victims was Bruce Lavoie of Hudson, NH, who awoke suddenly Aug. 3, 1989, when a group of armed undercover cops used a battering ram to break down his front door. As Lavoie rose from his bed to defend his young son, he was shot to death while the boy watched helplessly. Police found only one marijuana cigarette butt on the premises.
More typical but no less tragic are the life stories of women such as Billings, Mont., housewife Jodie Israel, charged with possession of less than two ounces of ganja, money laundering and conspiracy to sell. Her husband, a practicing Rastafarian named Calvin Treiber, was also busted in the FBI's so-called "Operation Reggae North." Israel, 35, is now serving an 11-year sentence, while her husband, 38, was slapped with 29 years. They have four children waiting for their release.
"It's so hard to explain to a child why you can't be with them, and I believe it puts a tremendous burden on their little hearts," Israel told the authors of Shattered Lives. "It's not just the prisoners doing time, it is our families, too. I believe it's just as hard on them as it is on us."
The children affected seem to agree with the incarcerated mother. One (unidentified) prisoner's child wrote her a note, asking, "Mommy, if I be bad, can I come where you are?"
In several ways, Shattered Lives reads like an everyman's edition of People magazine. Clearly written and concisely structured, the book's 10 chapters rely on photographs to help tell the subjects' stories. The pictures, both color and black-and white, show warm and compassionate human faces attesting to the otherwise cold hard facts of the Drug War's inhumanity.
The snapshots, initially collected as part of a San Francisco photo exhibit, prove that Drug War prisoners of war belie criminal stereotypes. Sure, there are a few youthful Deadheads and dreadlocked Rastas, but suburban soccer moms, grandma and grandpa types and plenty of blue-collar workers also find themselves behind bars, mainly because of mandatory sentencing laws. "One of the strengths of our book is its use of photographs," Norris notes. "There are so many different kinds of people affected by this, including children. This whole drug war is so anti-family, so anti-community, it's tearing people apart. Nonviolent, consensual offenders are being sent away to prison for long stretches of time. Children are losing their parents and losing each other."
Not only do the short profiles of each defendant keep the reader browsing along at a quick clip, humor also reiterates the human element in Shattered Lives, with section headings such as "Urine the Money," an expose of the burgeoning drug testing industry.
One of Shattered Lives' most revealing chapters, "The Drug War Industrial Complex," describes the war's unceasing proliferation, even in the face of ever increasing drug use. The authors quote the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which indicated that in 1998, 66 percent of the Drug War budget is being spent on enforcement and interdiction, while 34 percent is being spent on education and treatment.
In his easy-to-read, insightful new book Drug Crazy, renegade filmmaker Mike Gray also grapples with the nightmarish police state Americans have blindly allowed to flourish. Gray, author of The China Syndrome, notes that the United States has spent $300 billion on the Drug War over the past 15 years. The 21-year-long Vietnam War, by comparison, cost taxpayers a mere $180 billion.
Although the monetary costs boggle the mind, Americans pay a far higher price for the mindless erosion of civil liberties. Gray notes that the federal Omnibus Crime Bill of 1984 not only boosted prison terms, but also allowed prosecutors to confiscate cash, cars, boats, homes, bank accounts, stock portfolios&emdash;"any thing they believed to have been tainted with drugs or drug money&emdash; based on nothing more than an accusation." Charges might be filed later, after the unannounced seizures are made and evidence is gathered, the exact reverse of due process.
What's worse about asset forfeiture, the author points out, is that the seized booty could be shared by the law enforcement agencies making the seizure. "The cop on the beat now had a cash incentive to capture property instead of criminals," Gray writes. Smelling easy money, localities soon followed those federal foot steps, even here in Onondaga County, where the Legislature routinely passes a civil forfeiture law as requested annually by the district attorney.
With its measured tone and supremely sane analysis, Drug Crazy contradicts its title. It begins with a revealing historical perspective, comparing the Drug War to America's failed effort at alcohol prohibition, in a chapter called "A Tale of Two Cities&emdash;Chicago: 1995-1925."
Gray's book ends with two extremely helpful appendices. The first lists the US murder rate, the federal Drug War budget for 1981-1993, and state and federal prison populations from 1966-1996, including several eye-opening paragraphs dramatically driving the message home. The second appendix, "An Activist's Guide," lists 70-plus Internet Web sites covering everything from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (www.usdoj.gov/dea/) to Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (www.fear.org/).
If America ever hopes to over come its obsessive&emdash;and expensive&emdash;demonization of drug users, it can do so only by dismantling the ever-growing Drug War apparatus. The "Drug War Industrial Complex," as Shattered Lives calls it, has never managed to make much of dent in street-level drug use or availability. Despite its ineffectiveness, however, with billions of dollars invested in things like military interdiction, prisons, police and even mandatory rehab programs, the system tends to feed upon itself and multiply.
Despite that daunting prospect, glimmers of hope dot the horizon. Locally, former-New York state Senators H. Douglas Barclay and John Dunne&emdash;both of whom sup ported passage of the stringent Rockefeller Drug Laws back in 1973&emdash;recently urged statewide reforms, specifically regarding mandatory sentencing. The two conservative Republicans noted that there are more street dealers working now despite the harsh laws, which have clearly failed to deter people from using or selling illegal drugs. Instead of continuing to overcrowd state prisons at an estimated cost of $30,000 per year for each prisoner, Dunne and Barclay urged treatment for nonviolent drug defendants.
The anti-Drug War mood has also taken hold in Albany, where the Campaign for Effective Criminal Justice seeks bipartisan support from legislative leaders. The campaign takes initial aim at mandatory sentencing requirements established by the Rockefeller Drug Laws, a move supported by most state Court of Appeals judges, as well as by federal judges. Mandatory drug-sentencing laws&emdash;which can send plenty of otherwise law-abiding citizens to jail for lengthy stretches&emdash;"have proven less than effective," noted New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye.
Nationally, Gray points out, reefer madness suffered a severe setback two years ago, on Nov. 5, 1996, when voters in California and Arizona ignored the pious pronouncements of President Clinton and a slew of law enforcers to overwhelmingly approve marijuana for medical use. "lt was a stunning defeat for the prohibitionists," Gray writes." And the Arizona voters went further, turning the clock back 80 years to a time when doctors could prescribe any drug they saw fit, including heroin."
Gray goes on to imagine a world where addicts receive treatment from their doctors rather than prison sentences from prosecutors, where marijuana is regulated and taxed, where South American cartels are replaced by professional pharmacists. Such reforms will only occur over time, if and when voters such as those in California and Arizona get the courage to demand such changes from the government. Until then, let the words of Shattered Lives co-author Virginia Resner remind us all: "The Drug War is wrong! There is nothing good about it. It's mean-spirited, destructive, negative and greedy. It's downright un-American."
In Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War, Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad and Virginia Resner propose a solution: "a national dialogue is called for that puts all the cards on the table and engages everyone, from all walks of life.... After all, we are in this together."
Maybe they're right. Maybe this kind of sally into the political, democratic process is the answer. Medical marijuana is, after all, an electoral juggernaut, kicking ass in election after election.
But we already live in a democratic society, a society replete with 'revolutionary' baby boomers who played pocket pool while Presidents Reagan and Bush pushed the drug war engine at full throttle (and today Clinton continues the tradition). True, the drug war is perpetuated by deceit. But that's what happens in a democracy. Nowadays, "national dialogues" are what the president stages to cajole people into thinking he cares, not into rethinking much of anything.
The main narrative takes a swipe at the points that should be hit: forfeiture laws, innocent casualties, conspiracy laws, racial disparities, mandatory minimums, etc. The authors point out that the war on drugs is big business for special interests. The prison industry loves those victimless crimes. The more prisoners crowding the hoosegow, the more reason to build a new prison, hire new union-member guards, and, in the case of private jails, send out optimistic reports to shareholders.
Shattered Lives reminds me of a high school workbook&emdash;it's about the same size, and its pages are bursting with pictures and sidebars. The designers have done a nice job. If only high schools were using it as a workbook. (A replacement for DARE, perhaps?) It was written for and in part by the poor souls devoured by the war on drugs. Many of the sidebars were written by current inmates. Their accounts and accompanying photographs are touching, to say the least.
And the book asks some interesting questions. Women, conservatives like to remind us, belong at home where they can care for their families. So why do women "comprise the fastest growing population in prison today"? Many rot in prison on conspiracy charges because prosecutors say they should have known that their husbands or boyfriends were dealing. No doubt the prison industry wants more women. They're not as violent as men, easier to care for, and some guards, I suspect, like women for more sinister reasons.
Deborah Lynn Mendes, serving twelve years and seven months for conspiracy to aid and abet in distributing cocaine, appears with her daughter, Heather. "Unfortunately," she writes, "I thought I simply had to turn myself in, tell my story and 'Liberty and justice for all' would prevail. How very naive I was."
Then there's Jodie Israel, serving eleven years for marijuana conspiracy while her husband serves 29 years. She writes, "I have four children who all live with family, but in separate homes and towns.... It is so hard to explain to a child why you can't be with them and I believe it puts a tremendous burden on their little hearts."
Shattered Lives conveys a personal rather than an abstract argument against the drug war. Flipping through the pages and confronting the haunting images of people like Lewis Atley, serving 20 years for the "crime" of growing psilocybin mushrooms, or Kemba Smith, serving 24 years for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, makes a potent argument for ending the drug war, and releasing its victims.
It dawned on me after finishing Shattered Lives that the way to end the drug war was right there in those pictures. All those families torn apart, all those innocent people steamrolled by the government. The government is creating the enemy army right now. Once enough people are victimized, it's only a matter of time before this army starts to march. Maybe it will act through the democratic process; and maybe it will act with violence.
"That's stupid!" How many times have we all said this about the shenanigans of our very own government? To the average citizen, many things the government does makes no sense for our good and welfare, but they make plenty of sense for those who profit from various programs.
A case in point is the massive Drug War now being waged by the government against more and more citizens, especially people of color. An intelligent and thorough new book by Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad and Virginia Resner lays it all out and provides plenty of food for thought. As Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War succinctly states, "It's not about drugs. It's about money: prison contracts, property seizure, and criminal market profits. It's about power. The power to control how people live, what they think, with whom they associate; power to destroy lives over merest suspicion or rumor. Power to control society to submit to any political wind."
One definition of stupidity might well be: the inability to learn from mistakes. One would think after Prohibition, which resulted only in giving alcohol more of a pleasurable aura of the forbidden while providing a bonanza for organized crime, the government would have gotten the message.
It did get a message, but not the one that prohibition is futile. Shattered Lives tells the story:
"Harry Anslinger, the head of Prohibition enforcement, in a grab for power and job security, shifted to narcotics enforcement and actively lobbied Congress to criminalize a variety of legitimate activities.
"In 1937, Anslinger engineered passage of the prohibitive marijuana Tax Act. It was passed to crack down on Mexican-Americans, reefer smoking Negroes, jazz musicians and 'Hindoos' from Asia, as well as to secure the financial profits of DuPont and other petrochemical and timber interests who were threatened by new technical developments using the hemp plant. The Drug War has grown since then, with severe consequences.
"America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other developed nation except Russia. Almost two-thirds of federal prisoners are charged with drug activities that were not even illegal at the beginning of this century. . . Building and running prisons for profit is a trend that demands a growing prison population to increase revenues, and turning more people into prisoners creates a need for more prisons. "Setting long sentences for non-violent drug of fenders keeps the number of prisoners up and creates a more stable, experienced and easily controlled prison labor force . . . Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) operates over 80 factories in 48 federal prisons . . . All 50 states have prison industries that contract or lease their work force to public agencies or private businesses."
Even within the federal government there is dissent about the justice of the Drug War. "The National Commission on Marijuana and Other Drugs recommended in 1972 that cannabis be decriminalized . . . on August 2, 1978, President Carter called on Congress to decriminalize marijuana." Even drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey refers to our prison system as America's "internal gulag."
No one disputes that the use of powerful consciousness-altering substances (including alcohol, Phenobarbital, Valium, et. al.) is an enormous problem. But it is a medical, not a criminal, problem. There is little doubt that marijuana should be legalized, and other currently illegal substances should be put under strict medical control. The $17 billion a year going for the Drug War could be used for more socially useful programs, including more adequate treatment programs. It makes more sense for public safety for addicts to be able to get their "hit" by prescription at nominal cost. They would be off the street, and the drug trade would decline.
All this is so obvious, why hasn't it been done?
Shattered Lives notes that "Special interests who profit from the Drug War donate money to the campaigns of politicians who criminalize more social activities and send more people to prison for longer terms. The prison industry pockets the profit, then recycles it back to pay off their political allies for the next round."
And it's not only the money. People have been sold a bill of goods about drugs, and politicians are afraid to appear "soft on crime." Our society today needs crisis, needs an enemy. The endemic racism of our nation makes it easy to demonize people of color &emdash;we rarely hear about coke use in Bel Air or Scarsdale.
But perhaps the most basic question of all is: Why do people crave drugs? If it's moral turpitude the entire human race stands condemned. Potentially harmful sub stances have been used by all peoples at all times, whether certain mushrooms, poppy, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, sugar. If we had a more reason able society, would people need the stuff less? If our young people could look at the future with hope and confidence?
The dirty little secret is that our whole society is addictive; it must be if profits are to be kept up. We must keep consuming, whether TV or Coca-Cola (which originally contained cocaine). That the pharmaceutical corporations make billions with drugs, some of which are of doubtful value, is hardly news.
A society based upon production for use, not profit, would change the focus of human existence. People would embrace living rather than try to escape it, and harmful drug use would be minimized.