03/13/19 Julia Negron

Julia Negron speaks of need for harm reduction in Florida, Kassandra Frederique of DPA re renewed compassion in US, Tony Papa of DPA re sentencing disparity, Justin George reporter with Marshall Program & Howard Wooldridge re UN call for decriminalization of drugs

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Guest: 
Julia Negron
Download: Audio icon FDBCB031319.mp3
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

MARCH 13, 2019

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. Today we've got a series of interviews I conducted over the past 24 hours I want to share with you, and I hope it gives you motivation, a kick in the butt, because it's really up to you to end this stupid drug war.

JULIA NEGRON: Okeh. My name is Julia Negron, I live in the Gulf coast of Florida, and I've only been here about four years, I'm originally from Los Angeles. And, I kind of landed in Florida and got involved because I looked around and saw there was a need for somebody to be bringing up the harm reduction strategies to Florida.

So I kind of cultivated a small but savvy group of, you know, mostly moms, it just turned out that way, and we've been running about four, almost five years now.

We've been fairly successful. We have a grant from the state of Florida Department of Children and Families to distribute naloxone to the community, by standing order from Doctor Hansel Tookes, who's kind of a dynamic harm reduction hero here in Florida.

And we've been effective in the legislature, too, helping to, really instigating the naloxone access bill, the first one in 2015, and working on that, and the syringe exchange pilot. So, you know, kind of hit the ground running.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Julia --

JULIA NEGRON: I didn't expect that to happen, by the way, you know, so.

DEAN BECKER: Well, no, Julia, let me interrupt you for a second. Well, recently, Julia, you and your friend, Jan Spring, were part of the focus in an Orlando Sentinel story dealing with the needle exchange. The title of the article, The Overdose Crisis Continues So Why Do Moms Want To Pass Out Clean Needles?

And, you can answer that one, because you're also a member of a group of mothers who have lost children, due to overdose or to prison, or to other ramifications of the drug war. Tell us about that entanglement, that involvement, please.

JULIA NEGRON: Yeah. Actually, that was my title, but, I wrote it that way, you know, because it's always interesting to me that it seems so counterintuitive, you know, for moms to want kids to get clean needles and harm reduction services, you know, just because of the prevailing paradigm that's out there.

But, as you know, I originally started in Los Angeles, and I'm on the board of A New PATH, and Gretchen Bergman and I back in 2009 kind of co-founded the Moms United To End The War On Drugs movement, so, we've been parlaying our mom cred, you know, and using that, because it's so important.

You know, I mean, the people that are -- moms are, like, tenacious, they're the people you want to work with, they never give up, you know, and most of the women I've met have had experienced some kind of devastating trauma, you know, whether it's kids in prison or loved ones lost to overdose, or, you know, there's all kinds of things that have happened to people in this thing.

And, you know, personally, I lost both my mother and my sister to overdose, and about two years ago my daughter-in-law, and I'm now raising my nine year old grandson for that reason.

But, you know, my son also, he's in recovery now, but, I mean, he served two terms in California prisons, and cycled in and out of rehab and prison for almost twenty years or so.

So, moms seem to have that, I don't know what it is, there's a spot in their heart where they want to do the right thing, and they don't want to throw their kids away or tell them to go suck pavement or throw them out in the street, but someone needs to educate and tell them it's okeh, you know, to be supportive and to educate them about harm reduction so that they understand more about what's really going on. You know?

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Let me ask you this, now, what you're bringing forward is a huge part of why I have so much respect for you and Gretchen and all the others, because what we have is this situation that 20 years ago, no mothers were speaking out, or very few, and what has happened is the truth has been coming out. The truth is writ large.

The understanding is there. But what I'm saying is, it's okeh now. And I guess what you're relaying there too is that it's okeh for other moms to get involved, because, if, you know, it could be your kid next, it could be --

JULIA NEGRON: Well --

DEAN BECKER: Go ahead. Go ahead.

JULIA NEGRON: Well, that's the thing, you know, I'm a drug and alcohol counselor, I'm a certified addiction specialist, and for a couple of decades I worked in the treatment field, and it was real easy for me to, you know, back in the '80s, be telling parents, you've got to disengage, you've got to throw them out in the street, you've got to lock your doors, you've got to call the police on them, you know, and all that stuff.

But, you know, it's almost -- when you know better, you do better, and it's like, this is the way, for so many years we taught parents how to deal with the loved ones, whether, you know, any family member, you know, with the kind of tough love routine, and we all believed that that was going to work. You know?

And I was right there with them. I was teaching it to them. So, I mean, it's only when my son, about twenty years ago, really, you know, got, hit a bottom and just decorated it, and stayed there, you know, for about twenty years, that I realized that I'm not willing to lose this child, you know, I'm not willing to turn my back on him at any point.

You know, and I mean it changes everything when it is your kid. So, I mean, the people that I engaged with and worked with over the last decade helped -- and people that have, like, skin in the game, do you know what I mean?

DEAN BECKER: I do.

JULIA NEGRON: They have -- they've been through this with loved ones, they've been through all the parts where, you know, they steal everything in your house that has a plug on it, and, you know, and your ATM, and run away the day before they're supposed to go to rehab, and all the other heartbreaking things you see in movies.

You know, I mean, you spend your whole life waiting for that call to come, that they're either dead or in jail or something like that. You know, it's a real horrible thing, and the way we used to look at it, with the tough love approach, is just so wrong. I don't think people realize how much harm they were doing. I know I didn't.

DEAN BECKER: Well, let me interrupt here again, please.

JULIA NEGRON: Okeh. Yeah, interrupt me anytime, because I could go on forever on this, so ...

DEAN BECKER: We both get to preaching. I understand that, But, no, I was just going to say that I don't talk about it much on air, but I have two relatives right now in prison, one in Texas, one in Kansas, and I guess what I'm trying to say is that very recently it was reported that, I think it was one out of three American families has had or now has a relative behind bars in these United States.

And, if we -- it comes back to what I was saying, if you think you're immune, if you think it can't happen to you or your family, you'd better think again.

You know, we're going to have to wrap this up, but, I want to come back to the article you had that caught my attention, there in the Orlando Sentinel. It ends with this phrase: Needle exchanges are legal in 39 states. We need to catch up to the rest of the country with a bold move towards compassion, good science, and better health for all Floridians.

Julia, my state of Texas is one of those not in that 39. We don't have needle exchange. We don't --

JULIA NEGRON: I know.

DEAN BECKER: -- how many of our kids get diseases and die. Your closing thoughts, Julia Negron.

JULIA NEGRON: I know. You know, it was kind of a culture shock to move from California to Florida because, I mean, Florida, they don't want to admit it, but they are very behind the curve in dealing with addictive disorders of any kind, you know, and, I mean, now we have such spikes in HIV, like Miami is number one in new HIV cases in the nation.

It's like, how can people ignore this stuff. You know, the only way you can ignore this is if you just don't give a damn, you know, about other people. But if you care at all about your community, even if it's not your family involved, if you care about the money the state spends on incarcerating people, and on treating people in emergency rooms that aren't getting healthcare.

I mean, it's like, you've got to step up, you know, and say let's do this thing right. There are ways to do this that make sense, save money, and save lives. You know, so why not do that?

DEAN BECKER: There it is. There it is. Well, Julia, thank you so much. I appreciate you getting with me. I hope it wasn't too inconvenient, and this will be --

JULIA NEGRON: No, no. Hey, listen, you know, I'm not the only one. There's a lot of grandmothers taking care of kids whose parents have overdosed and died, now, it's like almost epidemic. So, I mean, I could name five right off the top of my head that are grandmothers taking care of grandkids, you know, that have lost their parents.

And I'm one of them. I've got a nine year old waiting for pizza, so, I'm going to get that one.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, Julia, thanks again. Hope to see you soon.

JULIA NEGRON: Yeah. Nice talking to you, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Bye bye.

KASSANDRA FREDERIQUE: My name is Kassandra Frederique. I'm New York State Director at Drug Policy Alliance.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Kassandra, the news about the opium wars, the opioid problem, the need for alternatives, is really growing, is it not?

KASSANDRA FREDERIQUE: Yes. I think we're in a situation where so many people are being affected around the overdose crisis in the country, that people are desperate to look at alternative interventions, and we're having conversations that are actually rooted in what's going to work, as opposed to old school drug war rhetoric.

DEAN BECKER: We have cities, a couple of them up around your area, New York City in particular, Baltimore's really leaning towards some sort of injection site. Ithaca, New York, if I remember right, Seattle, San Francisco. It's catching on, politicians are daring to speak of that need for change. Right?

KASSANDRA FREDERIQUE: Yeah. You know, what's amazing about what's happening in the United States is that cities and municipalities are taking control, and recognizing that they can't wait for the federal government or the state to move forward on something that they're dealing with every day.

They're really pushing to have conversations about what's going to work for their community. And when you're centering science, and when you're centering outcomes, there is very -- there is a clear road to get towards harm reduction interventions that include safer consumption spaces.

And so you see places like New York and San Francisco and Philadelphia and Baltimore and Seattle having real conversations about what would it take, what are the conditions, that we need to create to open space for a safer consumption site or overdose prevention center, which is what some people are calling it now.

But what I would say is that we have so many municipalities that are having the conversation currently, but they are -- they haven't moved forward yet. And so I think we have to make it -- we have to make it clear that talking points are not enough to save lives.

DEAN BECKER: You're so right, there, Kassandra, and I look at it this way, that mostly it's local folks whose own citizens are being, you know, overdosed, who are being penalized for their addictions, and they come up with the idea to do this and perhaps then the state, the governor, or the legislators say, oh, not in our state, we're not going to allow it, or the same if it's happening in a state, and the federal government says no, not on our watch. It's not going to happen.

But, education, we need a lot of education for these politicians at every level, do we not?

KASSANDRA FREDERIQUE: Yes, we do. We need way more education, and I think part of the conversation is really getting people to understand what risks are involved, and the strategies that, you know, will reduce the risk.

And I think most people are scared, but, you know, nothing we've done around HIV and AIDS was easy, or not controversial. We've been in these situations where we've had to deal with health crises before, and it took moral courage for us to get to a better place.

And that was about building understanding, and I don't think that we have to wait for everyone to get on board. We just need a courageous few that have power to push the movement forward.

DEAN BECKER: I would agree with you, and I think there's a new contingent, a new division of folks who are willing to do that. Many of them went to Lisbon, Portugal, almost a year ago, to see what they were up to, to understand what's working for them, and to now bring that information, that potential, back to America, to call for that new direction, new compassion, new means to save lives. Am I right?

KASSANDRA FREDERIQUE: Yes. Yeah, and you know, I think there's so many international examples of places that have had this conversation, have pushed forward, and it's important for us to get out of our own way and to talk to people that have done this before, and look at their outcomes and see what they did right and see what they did wrong and see what it is applicable to our landscape.

And so it's important for advocates to not just look at what they see here, but also look outside, because there's so many international intervention models that could be super helpful based on the principles we purport to support here in New York, or in the United States.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with Kassandra Frederique. She's with the Drug Policy Alliance. Some closing thoughts, there, Kassandra.

KASSANDRA FREDERIQUE: You know, I think it's really important for us to recognize that we are in a crisis, and that we are in a situation where we're losing so many people that we need to act with a sense of responsible urgency.

And it's important for us to do that, and remember that we're -- there's nothing wrong with saving lives.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Itching, difficulty breathing, bone pain, chest pain, dark urine, irregular heart beat, fever, chills, red, blistered, peeling skin, seizures, severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, swelling of the hands and feet, unusual bruising and bleeding. Time's up! The answer, from Schering Plough Healthcare Products Incorporated, a subsidiary of Merck and Company Incorporated: Zegerid, for heart burn.

Well, folks, a gentleman I've been working with for, lord, I guess ten or more years now, Mister Tony Papa, works for the Drug Policy Alliance, he's based up there in New York, and Tony, I want to get your thoughts, your perspectives.

Recently, this friend of our president, Mister Paul Manafort, got 47 months for being a traitor to our nation. What's your thought in that regard?

TONY PAPA: Dean, thanks for having me on your show. I think this is outrageous. It's -- people, oh my god, I can't believe that he got such little time for what he did.

There are people, nonviolent drug offenders in the United States that are doing life sentences. I did a 15 to life sentence myself for five hundred bucks to pass an envelope, and I was thrown into prison. I did 12 years before getting clemency from Governor Pataki, and then I got a pardon from Governor Cuomo, to show the atrocity of my crime, the sentence was unjust.

But here is a traitor to our country, and he only got 47 months? It's an outrage, Dean. It's a slap in the face of all hardworking Americans that pay taxes and for those activists out there, you know, who fight the war on drugs, it's a double slap in the face.

I mean, there are so many people rotting away in prisons for nonviolent drug offenses, getting hit with 20, 30 years in prison. I mean, I advocate on their behalf, for the last 20 years, and I think it's an outrage. Something should be done about it.

DEAN BECKER: I agree with you, Tony. Hell, it's a slap in the face to all our military, fighting the battles around the planet, to protect our nation, to maintain freedom, if you will. It's just outrageous that these rich fatcats can forgive one another so easily.

Closing thoughts, Tony.

TONY PAPA: Well, Dean --

DEAN BECKER: Go ahead.

TONY PAPA: Dean, closing thoughts. I wrote an article a few years back for the Huffington Post, called Justice In Black And White, and this is what it's about. If you're poor, black or Latino, and you commit a crime, you're not going to get the same type of justice if you are rich and white and commit a crime, and can afford a good attorney and good legal representation.

It's a travesty of justice. It's the way the system works, it's the way the world works, and that's my closing thoughts. I appreciate, Dean, having me on your show.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, Tony, look, man, I appreciate the hard work you and all the good folks at DPA do. Once again, folks, they're out there on the web, please check it out, lots of information you can share, information you can use to educate and if need be embarrass your elected officials. Please go to DrugPolicy.org.

JUSTIN GEORGE: Okeh, my name is Justin George, I'm a reporter for the Marshall Project. We are a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers criminal justice matters across the nation.

I cover the federal government, and so anything that has to do with sort of federal criminal justice issues. That includes the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons as well as laws and policies that affect local communities and crime enforcement.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Justin, I've been, you know, observing the mechanics of the drug war for 20 years, and it seems like we're on a slow rise towards justice, a slow rise towards truth and reality, if you will.

We've had a lot of people stepping up, talking about we've overdone it, that we've arrested too many people, we've made the drugs more deadly through the policy of prohibition et cetera and it's time to change things.

And one of the things that recently got a lot of attention was Congress came together and did the First Step Act, which is in my opinion a very minor adjustment to our draconian drug war policy.

But, just recently, President Trump put forward his budget, and he addressed the First Step Act, but how did he address it, please?

JUSTIN GEORGE: You know, he did address it. He definitely was an active supporter who helped that bill pass in Congress. It passed at the eleventh hour in December, literally at the last moment that it could.

And President Trump was a strong and vocal supporter behind it, as was Jared Kushner within his administration. Yesterday, the president released his first projections, or request, for the 2020 budget, and within it, he included money for the First Step Act, but he did not include the amount that would essentially fully fund the law.

And the law includes several sort of rehabilitative programs, education classes, job training, and things like that within the prisons. So if it's not fully funded, it can be a bit of a toothless law, even though there are other aspects of it that are already taking place, such as sentencing reductions for drug crimes and things like that.

But without that full funding, prisoners and inmates are not going to receive the same benefits that they're hoping to get, which is, you know, education, better conditions, better rehabilitative services like substance abuse treatment, things like that.

So, you know, to supporters of the First Step Act, this is essentially showing whether the Trump administration is making the First Step a priority or not.

DEAN BECKER: And, from my perspective, and I think from yours, we would tend to think not, that it's just short shrift, it's not giving it the respect it deserves. Your thought, there, your response.

JUSTIN GEORGE: Well, I mean, I think it's early, you know, I talked to several people who have spoken at the White House, the White House would not comment with me, but, you know, I mean, it's early in the budget process and at this point, when the president sort of releases his initial sort of budget request, oftentimes those are drawn up by staff members in different agencies, such as the Department of Justice or the Bureau of Prisons.

Now, it's an interesting dichotomy here. There's many different things, as many of your listeners probably know, the White House has differing views. They're not always speaking at the same -- on the same points. President Trump began sort of as a hardline person when it came to crime, and then over time he has even said that he has seen that there is unfairness with some sentences, and he believes in greater second chances. That's something that he's been talking about more and more.

But at the same time, some of those hardliners are in offices or, you know, such as in the Department of Justice, or even in the White House. And in the DOJ, and the Bureau of Prisons, there has been a track record of both essentially not following Congressional mandates when it came to sort of reforms in the past, the Bureau of Prisons has been reticent to adopt a lot of the things that Congress has asked for, whether that be giving prisoners more opportunities for time in halfway houses or more good time credits and things like that.

So, you know, again, a lot of these, especially some of these conservative lobbyists who favor criminal justice reform, they want to believe, and they think that the president necessarily did not see or has not made, you know, his full input into what the budget should be, especially with things like the First Step Act, and so their belief is that this sort of lack of funding is coming -- a lack of funding request is coming from the Department of Justice.

Now that's tough to say, and I guess we will find out as the budget process goes on, and negotiations with Congress happen. So we will find out essentially what the president wants.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, once again we've been speaking with Mister Justin George, he's with the Marshall Project, out there on the web at TheMarshallProject.org.

Well, according to Mister Tom Angell and his very powerful website, MarijuanaMoment.net, UN organizations are uniting in a call for international drug decriminalization.

It seems the UN Chief Executives Board, which represents 31 UN agencies including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the UNODC, has adopted a position stipulating that member states should pursue science-based, health oriented drug policy, namely decriminalization. Here to talk about that development is a gentleman who went to Vienna to attend their meetings in this regard for many years, he quit a couple of years back, but it is my good friend, Mister Howard Wooldridge, the long rider.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: These people are Pete Sessions, William Bennett level assholes, I mean, they're never going to change.

DEAN BECKER: But, does not this tend to indicate something, or what's your thought? I mean, this --

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Oh, this is a very positive change. I just don't think it's coming because of our words, our appearances, our line of reasoning in Vienna at the international drug summit. I think it's just that the forces across the planet now are just winning, like, changes in Uruguay, Canada, Mexico, Portugal, US. And it's just the world's finally saying, you know what, this whole thing is stupid.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and that's what I've been talking to folks about today, several stories about, you know, opium crisis, injection centers, needle exchange, all this stuff is happening, politicians are developing the courage and the backbone, and it's starting to get traction, and I guess this UN situation's just another -- just another example. Would you think?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: It's just -- exactly. It's just another example of the world is moving on, and moving away from the old model. The question's where to give credit to, and that world leaders are doing that has nothing to do with the folks in Vienna, I don't think, that have listened to our side of the arguments for 20 years from guys like Michael, and just, you know, it's **** you, if I may be so bold.

DEAN BECKER: Right, right.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: And it's just what world leaders -- you know the story, I mean, well, we've got five or six ex-presidents of South America, Mexico, calling for legalization of all drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and --

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: This is all just -- it's all just a continuous change path, and that we're seeing now, you know, people finally taking a vote and speaking out.

DEAN BECKER: Right. No, I think about it like, there's nobody willing to publicly, openly, defend this drug war. They run from good folks, you know, with a microphone and an outlet.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Correct.

DEAN BECKER: They just don't want to be spewing the old wive's tales.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Right. I agree, guys like you and me, we'll make them a laughing stock.

DEAN BECKER: Folks, we've been speaking with Mister Howard Wooldridge, my compadre, my amigo for the past score of years. He's head of Citizens Opposing Prohibition. It's out there on the web at CitizensOpposingProhibition.org.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: That's it. And, keep the faith, everybody, because it is changing. Keep your cards and letters and phone calls going to your politicians, to say this: drugs should be a medical issue, full stop. The police should be doing other things besides drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Please visit our website, DrugTruth.net, and as has become more obvious every day, the US and the UN have literally wasted trillions of dollars pursuing a miserable drug war and again, I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.