06/24/08 - Richard Watkins

Richard Watkins a former Texas warden and current member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition + Eugene Fields, reporter with Orange County Register

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Guest: 
Richard Watkins
Organization: 
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
Download: Audio icon COL_062408.mp3
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Century of Lies, June 24, 2008

The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.
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Dean Becker: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. It’s good to be back in studio and it’s just good to be alive. It’s storming everyday here in the mothership city, actually watering the grass, things ain’t dying so bad. But I’m glad that we have with us today a gentleman who I greatly admire, a man who spent more than a decade serving the state of Texas, just retired about two years ago I believe it was, as warden of the Holiday Unit and with that introduction I want to bring in our guest, Mr. Richard Watkins.

Hello, sir.

Richard Watkins: How are you today, Dean?

Dean Becker: I’m well, sir. Thank you for taking time to be with us. As I understand it, sir, you have over the decades changed your mind about this drug war but let’s talk about your service, your work as a warden.

Richard Watkins: Right. For about ten years I was with the prison system in Texas for over twenty years, but about ten years was spent as a warden in the system and I had an opportunity to see a variety of offenders come into the system, many of them either drug related, in some way, most of them drug related in some way, which caused concern for me and I subsequently had an opportunity to do more investigating and check on the reality of this so-called ‘drug war.’

Dean Becker: And you spent those twenty years during the time of that escalation. I mean our prisons have quadrupled during that time frame we’re discussing, right?

Richard Watkins: You bet. I saw the prison population go from approximately 18,000 incarcerated at that time to over 150,000. And you talk about a real escalation, and the drain on our state and our communities and just an awesome negative part of our society.

Dean Becker: I think it was yesterday or the day before, I believe, he works for the Washington Post, George Will was talking about how the incarceration rate was a good thing and how it actually, to paraphrase him, was better than creating universities. It’s just blind. It’s totally misguided, this policy, is it not?

Richard Watkins: The only good thing about it was for those companies that captured that opportunity to make money on incarceration. But as far as our society, the individuals involved, the families on the peripheral, it was a real, real liability. You see, locking up people is not a solution. I mean, we’ve done that, as you’ve pointed out, to a great degree and it’s just really been such a drain on our society.

As a matter of fact, we’ve spent more money trying to lock people up, actually locking people up, with the old mentality ‘lock them up and throw the key away,’ we’ve spent more money on those folks than we have on educating our kids. And, to me, that’s just real backwards, you know, as far as priorities go.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. Now you were a member of the board of directors of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. You’ve since retired but you have spoken to many organizations, churches and so forth, in this regard. What has been the response from the audience? What has been the feedback?

Richard Watkins: It’s really been awesome. Just real gratifying to me because a lot of people had made up their minds about this drug situation based upon hearsay and mistruths but when they had an opportunity to be able to be exposed to the truth of the matter and the reality of this so-called ‘drug war’ then the responses were really, really amazing.

I mean, it came from members of the community to include district attorneys, sheriffs, chiefs-of-police, judges, folks who have had an opportunity to see this great explosion in incarceration and to recognize that this so-called -- and it’s a so-called ‘war on drugs’ -- just has not worked. But generally I was real gratified.

Every time I had an opportunity to visit with any segment of the society, the community, and the positive responses, the very interesting questions that were offered so I, you know, a lot of people feared the reality of being exposed to generating conversation about the war on drugs but I suggest to you that when reasonable people look at the reality of what has happened in this country, they recognize the truth.

Dean Becker: You know just last, a week ago today, I was invited to speak to a local Lion’s group, a gathering of about 25 people, aged 55 to about 85, and I got about eight minutes into my presentation and I just caught this look from the audience and I asked ‘Is there anyone here who thinks the drug war has merit, that it holds a single drop of water?’ And not one of them...

Richard Watkins: Right.

Dean Becker: ...raised their hand, in fact, they were all in agreement that it’s hopelessly off-base and that we -- I guess the biggest negative I got was that ‘you’ll never undo this bailiwick. You’ll never be able to stop this from moving forward’ -- but, just because of the propaganda and the hysteria.

Richard Watkins: Right. The unfortunate thing, Dean, is that so many people in positions of authority who themselves have benefited from this war on drugs have portrayed a picture of locking people up as equating to safety in our society. That has just really been not the case. It’s been just the opposite, as a matter of fact, because when individuals are locked up and so many of them have been locked up and still being locked up for minor drug charges, it puts an ‘X’ on their back for the rest of their lives.

They will never, ever have an opportunity to be good productive citizens again. And I suggest to you that many of them were good, productive citizens before they were charged. And I say it time and time again.

These were people who owned their own businesses, who were professional people, who had jobs and they took care of their families and they paid taxes and they did all those things, but when these folks were locked up, Dean, it just, it reduced their station in life to being dependent upon the rest of us as opposed to being good, contributing citizens because, like I said, they have that ‘X’ on their back and unless they run into a very unusual situation they will never again have an opportunity to be good, productive citizens.

Dean Becker: Exactly. They’re crossed out. They’re no longer productive citizens...

Richard Watkins: Right.

Dean Becker: ...allowed to be productive citizens.

Richard Watkins: Right.

Dean Becker: I have a phrase that they, ‘if you got a bag of plant products in your house they can kick in your door, take your kids, your cash, your car, your worldly goods, send you to prison for years if not decades with violent prisoners and even guards and then once you get out they’ll deny you housing, professional credentials, education, credit, and probably even a driver’s license, and then they tell you to go succeed.’

Richard Watkins: That’s it. That’s it. So it’s just so nonsensical. Thank goodness that I recognized early on that this just, this so-called ‘war on drugs’ just had not worked and it was such a liability to our society. You know, and the thing is that it’s just been so clear, Dean, that prohibition on alcohol -- all it did was generate a criminal environment, you see.

We didn’t learn, this nation didn’t learn that prohibition on alcohol didn’t work and now we’re doing the same identical thing with drugs. And we’re making, you know, talk about an industry that’s producing wealth for itself, when you lock these folks up, those people who benefit are those people who are actually involved in incarcerating individuals and it just brings about a greater drain, not just non-productive but just really detrimental to our society.

Dean Becker: Well, it’s been a few years back but you first joined us while you were still working, while you were still the warden of the Holiday Prison Unit, and I still commend you and salute you for that courage, sir, but within LEAP we have many current and former cops, a few working police chiefs...

Richard Watkins: Sure. We have judges.

Dean Becker: Judges, prosecutors, people who have been with the CIA, the DEA. I think, our director, Jack Cole, says ‘the only one we don’t have so far is anybody from the Secret Service.’

Richard Watkins: [laughter] Right. And we probably have some of those people who can’t afford to identify themselves because, you know, of their situation.

Dean Becker: And this brings up something. I want the listeners out there to know -- I learned last week we’re now broadcasting into Australia, even -- but the members of LEAP will commit to come speak to your organization, you the listener’s organization, whether it’s a Rotary Club, Lion’s Club, Elk’s Club, a high school, a college, a church, any organization that can gather a few folks together where we can talk about this.

And, again, we can bring you good folks like Warden Watkins, maybe a narcotics officer, maybe a police chief, but we have people that will come to your town and we urge you to please get in touch with us. Our website is LEAP.cc. We’re talking with Richard Watkins, former warden in the state of Texas, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Rich, I know you keep busy. You’re kind of retired now but you are still involved in your community, working with the NAACP and others and it’s important that we participate in our society in order to take it forward in a positive way, right?

Richard Watkins: That’s exactly right. You mentioned that I joined LEAP when I was still working as a prison warden in the state of Texas. You know, a lot of people called me crazy but I just, I will not agree with that. I felt so strongly after I saw the reality of what was happening in our society that I felt a need to be a part.

And I think what you just said is very critical. You know, so many good people sit on the periphery and hope that somebody is going to do something to help turn bad situations around but I suggest to you that you just have to jump in there and there are many opportunities to work at all kinds of areas in the community to help bring about understanding.

And I think that’s what is going to have to take place before some serious changes are made here. And I think we, as individuals, have to look for an opportunity to serve where ever we can to help bring about the truth in this situation because I also suggest that it’s probably one of the greatest liabilities that we have in our society in this country now.

I mean it’s not just Texas, it’s every state in the Union and territory experiencing the same kinds of effects. But I applaud you encouraging folks, Dean, and that’s the only way things are going to change is that we do what we can where we can when we can.

Dean Becker: Exactly. Exactly. Now, if I recall from our first discussion, I believe you indicated that of the prisoners that were in the Holiday Unit at that time, it was about 85 percent that were there for either drug charges or a lifestyle revolving around the drug war itself, right?

Richard Watkins: That’s exactly right.

Dean Becker: And I want to ask you, sir. I mean, I guess you get a chance to talk with the prisoners, you know, maybe in the hallway or a discussion here and there, but how do they react to that? I mean, many of them are there for minor amounts, they’re not drug kingpins...

Richard Watkins: No, no.

Dean Becker: ...and how do they react to that, I’m going to call it hypocrisy? Did you ever talk about it to a prisoner?

Richard Watkins: All the time and every day. As a matter of fact, so much of what I did there was communicating and not just talking to these guys but listening to them, Dean. I listened to so many truths in their experiences in life and it varied from, like I said, professional people who were occasional drug users to people without hope who resorted to drugs as a numbing agent.

But whatever the case might be it was very difficult for them to understand how there were so many disparities in our society where most of them, nearly all of them, were pursued very vigorously by the great resources that we had in law enforcement and our criminal justice system when so many murderers and rapists and serious criminals were not being pursued.

It was very difficult for them to understand that. It’s very difficult for me to understand that, you know, because when you pursue these minor drug offenses those are resources, they have only a certain amount of resources that you have in law enforcement and in the criminal justice system, but when you bog the system down with this pursuit of something that just does not make sense and let serious crimes go unresolved, it’s just very difficult for those folks who were victims and as well as myself to understand that.

Dean Becker: And I think, given the chance, given the exposure to the information, the listener out there, the average citizen, would also be scratching their head and wondering about this, but again, it’s -- the federal government has literally spent billions of dollars hyping this drug war, hyping the need to continue arresting people for minor amounts of drugs and calling them ‘kingpins.’

Richard Watkins: That’s right.

Dean Becker: Your thoughts, sir? I mean, we have a drug reform community which has a budget of about one percent or less that of the ONDCP and the others who put forward these ads. Yet we’re the ones accused of hyping the situation.

Richard Watkins: Well, that’s very unfortunate because the reality is that, you know the old definition of insanity? You know, which -- is exampled just very vividly by the explosion in prison population has not reduced crime but it has made criminals out of good citizens all too often. You know, when you have that kind of liability to your society and it’s not recognized, then you continue to make those same kind of errors.

But I suggest that if we just diverted so many of these resources that are just being, in my opinion, being wasted on pursuing these so-called ‘kingpins’ who are basically drug users -- to provide them with an opportunity for counseling and treatment -- but the main thing, you know, nothing’s going to happen and I’ve told, you know, I had a very serious conversation with the district attorney here just last week and that conversation ended by, I think, both of us recognizing that until we change the drug laws very little of what we’re going to be able to do in our society will have any positive effect. Period.

Dean Becker: Well, it impacts every aspect of our society, if in no other way, by diverting funds from what could be.

Richard Watkins: Right.

Dean Becker: And it’s been estimated more than one trillion dollars has been ‘invested’ into this prison-industrial complex to fight this drug war and look where we’re at. Drugs are cheaper, purer, more freely available to our kids than every. How can they even justify spending another dime? I don’t get it.

Richard Watkins: A quick observation, Dean. Just, in our local paper, small school district -- four million dollars short of budget. And there’s still people lobbying in the State Legislature to build more prisons. Isn’t that contradictory?

Dean Becker: [ Exasperated sigh ] It is such a -- I can’t say the word on the air...

Richard Watkins: I hear you.

Dean Becker: It’s just awful.

Well, once again, my friends, we’ve been talking with Richard Watkins, former warden of the Texas Holiday Prison and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Rich, we have to go, but once again I thank you so much for joining us and we’ll be talking here soon. You keep up the good work, my friend.

Richard Watkins: Well, hey, you too and we appreciate you and we just hope people follow your suggestion and become involved.

Dean Becker: All right. Thank you very much.

And with that, we’re going to go to a couple of our reports.
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George Carlin: I was on a talk show recently and the host asked me, said ‘what do you think about the dope problem?’ And I said, ‘definitely, I feel we have too many dopes.’ No question about it. That’s why we had a drug problem, I really feel. Because, like, everybody has access to drugs and we’re all kind of just dopey.

We’re just human beings, little protoplasm walking around, shaking hands -- ‘How are you, Phil? Gimme a piece of lettuce.’ You know, no real big thing, we’re just kind of dopey folks and we have all these DRUGS available to us. You know, that’s why there’s a DRUG problem. There’s all of those DRUG stores. Every three of four blocks there’s a big sign: DRUGS. Open all night, DRUGS. Free Delivery, DRUGS. Cut rate, DRUGS. It’s the biggest thing on their sign, cosmetics, sundries, DRUGS. And the pharmacist is always stoned, ever noticed that? Check his eyes. He’s experimenting with something. How come he can never fill a prescription right away? You know, he always gives you that ‘better come back in about an hour. I can’t even read the bastard.’

It’s no accident that we’re drug oriented, really. Big drug companies got us that way and they’d like to keep us that way and that’s a simple thing. They start you early with the oral habit. Little orange flavored Aspirin for children, two in the mouth, son. Something wrong with your head? Two in the mouth, remember that, head, mouth.

These are orange, they’ll be other colors later on. Even named it after a saint to throw you off, you know. It’s all right, son. Two in the mouth. Saint Joseph. Remember Pop-a-chox? Guy goes to the dance when he’s thirteen. ‘How’s your head?’ ‘Two in the mouth, man, you know.’ Mom’s got her fix. Coffee freaks running around.

Alcohol, you know that’s the biggest of course and most abused and, incredible, fifty percent of all traffic deaths, that’s about 25,000, fifty percent of traffic deaths, forty percent of all arrests, it’s traceable, fifty percent of all first admissions to mental institutions traceable to alcohol, and then of course there’s diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, heart disease, insanity, divorce. That’s why I always say ‘Drink up, shriners,’ whenever I see a couple of them.

When they talk about drugs they don’t talk about all of them, that’s the problem. They don’t mention coffee -- the low end of the speed spectrum, I grant you. But there are coffee freaks. And they’re walking around, nobody worried about it or anything. Mrs. Olsen never tells you about that mild speed lift, you know, because she’s shooting freeze-dried Folger’s.

Dean Becker: George Carlin, dead at age 71. I saw him a couple of years ago. His act was so far ranging and outrageous it could offend anybody, even me. I’ll miss you, George.
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My name is Eugene Fields, and I am a community reporter for the Orange County Register Newspaper in California.

Dean Becker: You had a recent article dealing with a disabled man who is fighting for his right to use marijuana. What’s going on out there?

Eugene Fields: Basically, I want to say in 1993, was it, the voters passed what was called -- actually it was ‘96 -- passed what was called Proposition 215 which allowed state residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. You had to go to your doctor and they had to write you a recommendation saying that they recommended you use marijuana for purposes and you could either, you know, grow a specified amount of it yourself or go to places called dispensaries and get it there.

Dean Becker: And according to this article Mr. Monson is a quadriplegic who was growing, I think, appropriately under state law, was he not?

Eugene Fields: Yes. Under state law he was growing stuff for himself as well as -- he had immature plants he was growing and he was a provider for others so he was allowed to grow a certain amount of plants for other people as well.

Dean Becker: And yet it was local officials who kicked in his door, right?

Eugene Fields: Well, yeah. The city of Orange has an ordinance, I don’t remember the municipal code ordinance off the top of my head, but basically it says that all businesses must comply with federal, state and local laws. And they wrote that specific ordinance to basically keep any kind of medicinal marijuana out of their city.

Actually in March of this year they raided a, with the DEA, raided a dispensary under that ordinance. So it’s very controversial because usually what you see is you see local authorities going with states rights rather than the federal laws.

Dean Becker: It’s not just Orange County. There are other cities in California that try to be so hard-nosed as well, are there not?

Eugene Fields: Ah, there are a couple of cities. Actually Orange County is the major one. In San Diego County they’re a lot more lenient as well as Los Angeles County and then places in Northern California are very lenient. But Orange County has basically taken a zero tolerance stance to it. I talked to the City Attorney of Orange and I asked him why and he said he felt like the city’s position is they don’t want someone going to a dispensary and then coming back and turning around and selling, you know, what they get there on the street. And I’m just thinking what they’re buying per gram there is so much more expensive it’s prohibitive to resell it on the street.

Dean Becker: Well, your website is OCRegister.com and you guys have a poll online asking people how they would treat marijuana or how they would hope to treat marijuana in the future. What are the current results?

Eugene Fields: The current results are seventy percent said that marijuana should be legal like alcohol. I want to say nineteen percent said that it should be legal for medical use and ten percent said it should remain, be illegal. So you’re looking at about ninety percent almost saying keep it legal.

Dean Becker: And I guess the point is these politicians, these people in positions of authority need to take a better pulse of what’s going on in their community. Think that’s a fair statement?

Eugene Fields: Well, I can understand their concerns. I mean, you know, marijuana is a drug, whether it’s legal or illegal, and there are studies that say that it is medically helpful. I think maybe the government should spend a little bit of time researching the possible medical benefits rather than breaking in on a guy who is paralyzed and can barely use his hands.
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Dean Becker: All right, y’all. As we indicated during the discussion with Warden Rich Watkins, you’ve got to do your part. This drug war will continue forever until you dare to speak up, challenge the status quo. I want to thank him for being our guest.

You know, I get a lot of letters from prisoners asking for my support, my direction, my guidance, if you will, and I want to tell you: I’m no lawyer, I don’t have the contacts, I don’t have the money, I do provide some content you guys send me once in a while but, you know, I love hearing from you but just trust me -- I’m not the guy to solve most of these problems that I receive.

I want to alert you to the fact that on this week’s Cultural Baggage Show our guest will be Nurse Mary Lynn Mathre, she works for Patients Out of Time, the four federally supplied medical marijuana patients gathering data in their regard. We now have transcripts of all our half-hour shows available online. I urge you to check ‘em out, use them in letters to the editor, and as always I remind you there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data, in fact no reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped! The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Do your part to end the madness.

Visit our website, EndProhibition.Org.

Prohibido istac evilesco.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.