01/08/16 George Martorano

George Martorano, sentenced to life in prison w/o parole just got out after serving more than 32 years behind bars for cannabis + "When Cops Kill Blacks"

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, January 8, 2016
Guest: 
George Martorano
Organization: 
Activist
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

JANUARY 8, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Hi, this is Dean Becker, thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Recently, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says there's an American arrested for marijuana every minute of the day, 365 days a year. And, we have, you know, become puritanical, hysterical, about this plant. And a gentleman who represents that failure, that futility of these laws, a man who spent decades in prison for marijuana charges, is my friend, Mister George Martorano. How are you, sir?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Okeh, Dean. Thank you for having me on. Always a pleasure.

DEAN BECKER: George, I'm looking here at your wikipedia page here, and it's saying you were the longest-serving first time nonviolent offender in federal Bureau of Prisons history. Tell us about your sentence, how long you were behind bars, please.

GEORGE MARTORANO: Well, in 1983, they put the cuffs on me, and in 1984, I was sentenced to life, no parole, I was the fourth person, basically, in America, the first person ever in the state of Pennsylvania life no parole. The other three before me were violent, repeat offenders. But I was the first person to get life without parole for marijuana. Now, there's other conspiracies in my cases, because in my indictment there was 12, then went down to 9 because three became informants.

And that the 12 -- you know, we were young guys, running here and there, and there was a lot of conversations, a lot of people recorded, etc. And, it was 19 counts. A lot of conspiracies of other drugs, that were mentioned in conversations, okeh? And I wish, I wish the other drugs that I wouldn't have time for like one situation which was supposed to be heroin, but it was two pounds of sugar. And then the informants would say other drugs are involved. And I wish it was true, because of all the conspiracies, all the conspiracies I wouldn't have done more than five years. What kept me in for 32 plus years is that, three overt acts concerning 848CC count, where the government on three different cases bought marijuana, gave it to these guys, let them sell it and keep the money, they just wanted these guys on tape saying that they were working for me.

And it was a total of 2,600 pounds, which believe me I think they smoke that in about 30 minutes across America. And, I did 32 plus years.

DEAN BECKER: George, this is an example of just overreach, over-incarceration. And I guess it brings to mind, you know, you mentioned the conspiracy. I want to share with you a quick story. The first day I met Jack Cole, who was then the first director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, he told me a story of how they would bust in, they would find minor amounts of harder drugs -- cocaine, heroin, or whatever -- and they would throw it in a big bag of sugar, so that they suddenly had pounds of these harder drugs, even though the percentage was less than one percent. It's just a classic example of overreach, all these conspiracy type charges, correct?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Yes, I mean, look, look, I had no record, I didn't even have a traffic ticket. But I was a criminal for three years. I have to, I'm no angel, I was a criminal for three years. Okeh? But, the probation department, on the old law was, under the old law had a serious job, and their job was to read your indictment, okeh, scrutinize every bit of your criminality, create a PSI and a recommendation to the judge. And as a leader in a managerial role, I was recommended 48 to 52 months. Okeh? And the judge, they actually recommended less than that and the judge called the private hearing with the probation department and screamed at them. He says, you have to do more. I think it was less than -- I think it was like 30 months. And they redid the whole thing and came back and calculated 48 to 52 months. So where was life no parole came in?

Well, it was all political. Again, you know, you can point the finger here and you can point the finger there, but Philadelphia had a lot of problems with street violence. Street violence with the Italian element. Okeh? It had things to do with my father, but not me. There's no violence in my case at all. So, there was no arrest, I imagine the powers that be in government were screaming, what's going on? What's going on? And then here comes me, a knucklehead, I fall on the marijuana case, and that's when they started to use me, put the screws to me. So, basically, it was a political situation, ladies and gentlemen. But again, if I didn't go out there and do wrong, I wouldn't have got the -- put myself. Yes, justice and mercy has to work, has to come together, but in my case, there was no mercy at all, it was all political, they needed me to, I guess they thought I knew the secrets of Philadelphia and the streets, which I did not.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

GEORGE MARTORANO: So even went further, Dean, and ladies and gentlemen, when I got the life sentence, I was put in solitary for five years. Okeh? Not five months, not five weeks, five Christmases. And the wardens, and I kept getting moved around the country, the wardens used to come by and, every warden makes his round within the hole, and they used to tell me, Martorano, we don't have you in here, it's that prosecutor in Philly. And, you know, I survived it. And then, once I got out of there, I went on to do extraordinary deeds as a mentor and a teacher. I graduated the certificate, certificated over eight thousand inmates in lifestyle change courses. I'm very proud of that.

DEAN BECKER: George, that gave me a focus on your situation. I was privileged that some years back, you arranged for your warden to allow you to get on the telephone and to do a radio interview. I think that was when you were in there about 28 years or something, right?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Right. You know, basically I was allowed because -- I cannot fault the Bureau of Prisons, the Bureau of Prisons knew that my sentence was unjust, and for years, years, they would write all kinds of letters, whenever I needed it for the court, or Washington, and they, they were just as puzzled as me, going why, why? Because -- in 32 plus years I didn't get an incident report. And, I just stayed the course, the the BOP even let me create my own educational curriculum programs, and that actually keyed into the Bureau of Prisons system. Never been done before. How did I not lose my mind? I don't know, Dean, I don't know.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I think having good friends in support, like your brother-in-law, who worked tirelessly to bring your situation to bear. Right?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Right. He stepped out, but -- I'm living with him right now, he's still supporting me.

DEAN BECKER: Well, George, you need to get your feet on the ground again.

You are listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. We're speaking with Mister George Martorano, a gentleman who spent more than 32 years behind bars for marijuana.

The way I understand it, you're really celebrating being on the outside, you're sleeping outdoors most nights, right?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Well, that, you know, I was in a cell all them years, and always when they slammed that steel door, I never accepted it. I always -- grinned and grinded my teeth. Now, I get out, and I try to sleep inside but, I sleep outside. Last night it was basically in the 40s, and I'm in my tent, and I got the flap, and I look up, and I got my hat on and I'm up, I'm up before the birds. People think birds get up at dawn, but they don't. I'm up before the birds, and I even have a cold shower set up, and I'm under the -- go right under the cold shower, and I just love it. I have my obscure places where I walk and run, and I'm just, just loving it. So much so that my lawyer's screaming at me because I've been procrastinating on a book proposal that he wants me to complete.

DEAN BECKER: Let's talk about that, George. I mean, it was your writing in prison that also got my attention. You write so well, and so succinctly, about your situation and just about life and freedom. Let's talk about that book proposal, what's on the burner for that?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Well, he's a very nice man, Frank Wyman out of New York. He's an agent, and he's from Philly but he's been in New York for years, and he knows of my father and me. He know -- he's been following the story, I think he's with Lexington literary agency. And, basically, you know, he wants to hear my perspective on it, and -- I shall get it together this week. I'll send you a copy, Dean, when I do the book proposal. You know, when you're doing bios and autobiographies and nonfiction, you don't have to actually write the book itself, you've just got to sell the, you know, the proposal, basically, the, you know, tighten up the history. So, that's what I tend to do. But, I'd also like to announce, you're going to probably be the first to air it, I am going to do my own radio show.

DEAN BECKER: Wonderful!

GEORGE MARTORANO: And we'll do blog radio, and it's non-political, he's going to let me do advocacy, cannabis, drug war, it's got to do with -- it's going to be called The Shoulder To Cry On, and it's got to do with loneliness. Because, you know, I went away in my 30s and I come out in my 60s, and the conversation's much different with the American women. And loneliness is a direct factor in distortment of American women's lives. Bad relationship, bad marriages, alcoholism, drugs, prison, and even death. So, and then we have all these federal women prisoners coming out, I just want to be a voice. And then, a lot of women say, what's the connection? Well, what's the connection to loneliness? Well, who knows about loneliness better than I? I believe, better than I, because from loneliness I became a prolific poet. So, I'm looking forward to that. Maybe when we get started, I'm going to call you for some pointers, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Hey, call on my any time, man. You are my friend. I sent you a copy of my book, To End The War On Drugs, contains the thoughts of about a hundred drug reformers. Did that, just --

GEORGE MARTORANO: Oh, yeah, I indoctrinated -- that book, you helped a lot of -- that book was the first one and the second I indoctrinated into my classroom curriculum. And, basically I use it as a deterrent. I said, this man is our friend, you know, he's trying to change the drug laws in this country. But, look at the devastation. Look at this devastation. So if you go out there and you get involved in a gang, you know -- if you're fortunate to get out there -- your lives are going to be taken away. So until people like Dean Becker make the changes out there, you've got to go pack a lunch. So, I use your book. I use your book, in a very different profound deterrent way.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I'm sure there's not much correlation with the movie Con Air, but according to wikipedia, it says that you prevented the hijacking of an aircraft full of prisoners while you were locked up, right?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Yes, that's true, that's one of the elements that was decided in my release.

DEAN BECKER: Tell us about it.

GEORGE MARTORANO: Back in, went for a writ back in 2010, and coming back, basically I was, you know, I'm an old hand at being chained up and traveling by air or bus, because -- I even traveled before they started using planes, I was bused all across this country. And, when I know I'm going to travel, what I do is, I keep myself up, I work out a lot, so when you do it, that plane seat chained up, you sleep. So, I was sleeping, and I felt some movement around my feet, and I looked down. There was something that looked like a pen, but it was a foot, and the toes were actually -- it was a naked foot with a chain around it, the toes were trying to grab. So I came out of my stupor, and I knew a couple of guys, we were in a row in the back of the plane, and they said, George, there's something under your seat they've been trying to get. And I looked and I said, Oh my god, oh my god, it was a speed handcuff key. I don't know if you know what a speed handcuff key is, they're one key that fits all, they fit the leg irons and the handcuffs. They're about three inches long with a grip, so the marshals can un-handcuff you quickly.

And I seen that, and I knew, I knew that, there goes my appeal, I'll probably be killed because you're not letting any, air marshals are not letting any prisoners come out of cuffs over America. You will be killed, and I don't care how many are on that key, you will be shot dead in your head. And a lot of people don't know. There's only three real air marshals with weapons on the Con Air plane, federal prison plane. The rest are contract workers. And there are usually about 8, six or seven of them, and the three marshals. So, one of these contract workers dropped the key. So I had to make a choice. I had to stop this situation, and I had a -- I know if I picked up the key and if I held it and got their attention, I would be dead, I would be shot dead. So, I did go down for the key, there's a certain way you can go down, chained, you go down. And I got the key, and the aisles are about 18 inches long, and I threw the key into a groove, and then I got the air marshal's attention.

Well, guess who got the worst end out of it? Me. I got grabbed and thrown into the front of the plane, and all I kept saying is, I want my warden notified that I gave you that key. Then I was thrown in the hole at Grady County in Oklahoma, and finally, finally, it was a federal prison liaison with the prison that came and made some sense of it. And I says, well, all I want is my warden notified of what I did. And you know how many years it took?

DEAN BECKER: How many?

GEORGE MARTORANO: It took five years, finally, I got all kinds of Freedom of Information Act documents, some said I had something to do with it, some said I had more than something to do with it, and finally, one marshal gave an affidavit but he -- to my attorneys with an eyewitness, and they said they would only give it unless we went under seal, which we had to do. So that's true. That's absolutely true.

DEAN BECKER: The gentleman speaking, Mr. George Martorano, sentenced to life without parole because of his involvement with marijuana.

GEORGE MARTORANO: And then I went a little step further, a couple of weeks before my release, another thing that was considered was I stopped a very violent prison riot. Very violent. I took all the weapons out of the situation. Unfortunately, I didn't stop the riot, the riot did go on, we were locked down, it was between two Spanish groups. And that was all considered, Dean, what my release -- I mean, the six months prior to me walking out is a movie in itself. And I don't believe we have enough time on the radio show to actually go into everything.

DEAN BECKER: Well, George --

GEORGE MARTORANO: But I actually had to become a hero to get out of jail, after 32 years.

DEAN BECKER: George, I know that your involvement in educating those youngsters, really, that were going to get out much sooner than you, to the reality, to the need to bring focus to bear on their lives and where they're going, that also helped you to get out of there, too, did it not?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Well, they were there, as I said, it was a combination of factors. Did you see the, there's a -- I wrote a letter to the judge on the Holloway case, but basically, it hasn't -- the only thing is that the Holloway, the basis of the Holloway case, second circuit decision, is basically, if you've been languishing in prison, and you have done good. So I wrote the letter. The judge gives me a hearing, an in-chambers hearing with my attorneys in 2014, in November, and says, I want to release this man under Holloway. Well, the prosecutors office threw a fit. They said George is too popular in America, especially the third circuit. If you release him under Holloway like they did in second circuit, we're going to have a floodgate. We don't have a problem with George being released, okeh? And the judge says -- told my attorneys and the prosecutor, well, go find a way. And it took from November to October to find a way. Basically, I found a way by -- I got to do another heroic deed. But, yes, my prison programming, the judge reviewed it, and she made a statement that, she said this is historical, all the documents concerning my program. And that was all, it was a combination of factors, plus, you know, I should have been released years ago. Years ago, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Oh yeah. Yeah. Well, George, we're running out of time here. I want to come back to the thought I presented at the beginning. You were sent away in the 80s, right? When they were coming up with mandatory minimums and the three strikes and all hell needs to be unleashed on these drug users.

GEORGE MARTORANO: Right, right. Right.

DEAN BECKER: And right now, they're starting to talk about reversing the mandatory minimums, getting rid of the three strikes, being more lenient, or considerate if you will, to those busted with marijuana. It's a total sea change, is it not, from when you went in?

GEORGE MARTORANO: Yes, they're all talking, but they need to -- me, I am, I have an attorney, Theodore Simon, great, great attorney, and he played a big part in bringing me home along with Roy Black and Marcia Silvers, great, two great attorneys. But, you know, we're talking and talking and then we have to worry about retroactivity if they do, what happens to the ones in there. What I'm trying to do is get in front of the federal -- a judicial conference, national judicial conference, I can speak to these judges. I want to get on the national prosecutors convention, and get onto that. I have to speak because I lived it, and, you know, we're human beings. Marijuana people are human beings. And right now, you know, the president wants to release 60,000 between 2016 and 2017, supposed to be low-level nonviolent drug offenders. But he hasn't even got into -- I don't think he's released two, three hundred yet. Where's the 60 thousand?

And then I want to also speak with the BOP guard union. I'm trying to get to speak to them in Washington, because no one knows the Bureau of Prisons better than I. No one. Okeh? And Dean, you cannot do a magic wand and you say, okeh, these 60,000 are going to get out over a year, and these other 180,000 that are still in, especially the penitentiaries, which the public doesn't know are violent, violent places, federal penitentiaries are violent, gang infested, drug infested, so you're going to tell these 60,000 you can go, and then you over here, in these penitentiaries, you're not going nowhere? Well guess what. The guards won't be able to go to work. And there's some good BOP staff. They will not be able to go to work in the place because now you're just -- you -- then, there is no hope, now you're saying there's, okeh, release these and these here, they ain't getting nothing. It's not going to work, Dean, it's not going to work.

DEAN BECKER: No. No, it's not. Friends, once again, we've been speaking with Mr. George Martorano, a good friend of mine at this point, a man we should all listen to, because as he said, he's been there, he knows, he's done it, and he has some good advice for us all. George, it's a bit late, but you're getting to celebrate your first Christmas and New Year's out of, out from behind prison bars. Closing thoughts, what would you like to say to folks out there, maybe a website they could visit -- your call.

GEORGE MARTORANO: Well, I'm on facebook, everybody, I write something, I write a good story, I wrote columns on a daily basis. I do Youtube. I'm just trying to get myself out there, it might not be what everyone wants to hear. I don't mean everyone likes the stories and the poems, but the Youtube videos, it gets to the nitty-gritty of prison life, and basically, ladies and gentlemen, all I'm trying to do is be in front of you as someone who knows the situation, so I can, fortunately, hopefully, get to speak in front of the powers that be and make some sense of all this. Make some sense of all this, because, why put these weed people away for such a long, long time. And, any nonviolent offender, and I don't care if he's, he framed it two, three times, he's a nonviolent person, and a lot of people don't know what's going on in this country, Dean.

Very important, this, what I'm going to say right now, with the sex offense. You know, I -- as a teacher, you don't choose who's in your class, you just teach. And a few years ago I was called in by the powers that be, and I was told that I was going to get the emotionally disturbed inmates, the depressed inmates, and the sex offenders. And I got to learn a lot, I had to be actually -- I retrained myself, did a lot of books, spent hundreds of hours with psychologists, trying to learn more on how to do something with these people. What I found out, and when I got out, there's pockets all over America, there is pockets all over America that the public don't know where these sex offenders are being placed, in these trailer parks and these Section 8 developments. And they're just dormant, they're just dormant there, and they don't know what to do with them. Anyway, we have these marijuana people, languishing in prison, and we have these sex offenders in these developments all over America. And the public doesn't know. I mean, that's the voice I want to be. I don't want to -- I don't -- I'm not mad, thank god I'm not mad. I don't hate. But I'm trying to make some sense of it all, and hopefully I can get to people in the decision making factor to listen to me.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Frequent or prolonged or bothersome erections, birth defects, enlarged genitals, premature pubic hair, increased libido, aggressive behavior, male pattern baldness, increased acne, prostate cancer, and -- time’s up! The answer, from Cerner Multum, Incorporated: Axiron, for muscle gain and boners.

The following segment comes to us courtesy of Buzzfeed.

ANDY SERWER: Police sometimes see things differently.

Former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson told a grand jury that Michael Brown looked like a demon, who might shrug off a hail of bullets before Wilson shot him dead.

Shortly after, Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann gunned down Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old holding a toy gun. He told the dispatcher that Rice, who was shot within two seconds of Loehmann’s arrival, was “maybe 20.”

Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney told investigators that Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed man whom he shot 14 times in October, was so big and muscular that “he would be impossible to control if you were one-man.” At 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, Hamilton was below average height and overweight.

Wilson, Loehmann, and Manney are white, and Brown, Rice, and Hamilton were black. They were also unarmed. But in the eyes of the men who killed them, they were frightening enough to provoke the use of lethal force.

These lingering, sometimes unconscious biases help explain why police encounters with black men are so much more likely to end fatally.

On December Third, a grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the white Staten Island police officer with a past record of race-related misconduct who was caught on video choking Eric Garner to death during an arrest on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. On the video, which went viral, Garner can be heard yelling “I can’t breathe” over and over.

Chokeholds have been banned by the New York Police Department for 20 years, and the coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. We don’t know what Pantaleo said to the grand jury, or why they let him off.

Police are empowered to use lethal force under certain circumstances, and sometimes, they have to. The Supreme Court has held that police can use lethal force if they have a reasonable belief they are facing danger or if a fleeing suspect poses a danger to others.

It is difficult to know how many people are killed by police each year, because despite police and their advocates’ affinity for the phrase "data-driven policing," how many times police kill people is data they simply haven’t gotten around to properly gathering yet.

Police sometimes kill unarmed white men, like Dillon Taylor in Utah. But the flawed data we have shows police kill white people far less often than they kill black people relative to their proportion of the population. That white men are also harmed by a system that disproportionately allows black men to be killed with impunity does not exonerate the system.

This has something to do with the way police see things. Police are people, after all, subject to the same flaws and vices as the rest of us. America’s police departments tend to be whiter than the general population, and nearly half of whites believe “many” or “almost all” black men are violent. Whites overestimate the amount of crime, in particular violent crime, involving blacks. Black children like Tamir Rice are more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime.

When society weighs whether the deaths of black men at the hands of police are reasonable, it does so with the additional burden of American beliefs about black criminality, black super strength, black dangerousness. On the other side are our collective beliefs about police, seen as more noble, more selfless, and more resistant to all-too-human flaws like wrath or deceit.

Small wonder, then, that the scales of justice are so often unbalanced.

DEAN BECKER: That's it, all we've got time for. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage and please remember that because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.