12/16/08 - Vikki Hankins

Century of Lies

Vikki Hankins who served 18 years behind bars for crack cocaine + Neal Peirce of the Washington Post + Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition + Abolitionist Moment III

Audio file

Century of Lies, December 16, 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.

Dean Becker: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Here, in just a moment, we’re going to bring in our guest, Vikki Hankins. She spent about eighteen years behind bars for crack cocaine possession. But first I want to point out something: just last week Obama’s website, Change.gov, asked America what is important to you. And six out of the top twenty stories dealt with the subject of drug war. The top one was “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?” And just today they responded to three of those top twenty and the bottom one they listed was the one I just read you, dealing with marijuana, and their answer in twelve words: “President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.”

That seems like this is another recalcitrant, feigning and ignorant and logic-defying stance taken. It brings to mind the last known quote from the former CIA director William Colby who stated “The Latin-American drug cartels have stretched their tentacles much deeper into our lives than most people believe. Its possible they are calling the shots at all levels of government.”

Change does not belong to Obama. It is yours and your responsibility alone.

And with that let’s bring in our guest, Vikki Hankins. Are you with us?

Vikki Hankins: I’m here.

Dean Becker: Hello, Vikki. How are you?

Vikki Hankins: I’m fine. And yourself?

Dean Becker: I’m well, ma’am. I appreciate you coming in here. I think it important that we discuss the hammer that’s wielded to the heads of so many people. Now you will admit you had some crack cocaine, right?.

Vikki Hankins: I did.

Dean Becker: Yes, ma’am. And I talked to you about it and I mention it this quite often. It takes one gram of powder cocaine to make eight grams of crack cocaine. And the fact is, though, that you could take that one gram and suddenly it becomes a felony. Now, you had more than that. As best I can determine about a quarter ounce worth of powder cocaine within the crack you possessed. Is that a fair assumption.

Vikki Hankins: That is a fair assumption.

Dean Becker: And, here again: that’s seven grams of powder that somehow they multiplied and compounded and makes you all the worse a criminal deserving of, what was the total sentence they gave you?

Vikki Hankins: Twenty-three years and four months.

Dean Becker: Oh, Lordy!

Vikki Hankins: [laughter]

Dean Becker: And you were how old at that time?

Vikki Hankins: Twenty-one years old.

Dean Becker: Twenty-one-years old. So the fact is that, I guess, every major elected official, presidential candidates anyway, mostly on the Democratic side -- John McCain never admitted to anything but I know he spent some time in ‘Nam and Thailand and whatever and who knows what he ever did in his youth? -- but it almost seems a prerequisite to have down some marijuana or crack cocaine in the past. And yet, like you, twenty-one years old, caught up and sentenced to prison for twenty-three plus years. You wound up spending how much time behind bars, ma’am?

Vikki Hankins: Eighteen years. I went in at twenty-one-years old as we just mentioned. At the time I was arrested I was twenty-one-years old and, of course, the sentence meted out and I remained there in the confines of the prison environment from twenty-one-years old to thirty-nine-years old, total of eighteen years.

Dean Becker: And that takes a huge, enormous chunk out of one’s productive years of your youth, right?

Vikki Hankins: I agree. It definitely does. Some of the the concerns that I have are, definitely, the fact of the extension of time. I don’t have a problem admitting, of course, and naturally, I needed to, because I broke the law, there needed to be some form of punishment or even imprisonment. My issue is not the crime itself or the fact that I had to be punished but it was the length of time for the amount of drugs that I had the problem with.

Dean Becker: You know, and Vikki, it occurs to me that, you know, maybe young people need a little redirection, some treatment, some education, some help, a job, a better scenario. That’s what we need to craft in this county rather than more prisons. And it also occurs to me -- Manuel Noriega, the former president of Panama, the biggest drug kingpin of them all, is set to get out after serving twenty years...

Vikki Hankins: Wow. [laughter]

Dean Becker: … and draw that comparison, if you will, folks. I mean, think about that. And we’ve down this hundreds of thousands of times over the years, have we not, Vikki?

Vikki Hankins: Exactly. And the thing that I want to point out here, Mr. Becker, is the fact that I agree with you completely that the answer is not always, or simply, black and white as to when a young person is involved with illegal drug activities or are they actual drug abusers. Sometimes what needs to happen is not just throw them in prison or give them sentences or things of that nature, but also to educate or redirect the system. In particular, in my situation, it was clear. I mean, two years prior to my getting involved with illegal drug activities my mother committed suicide. Prior to that, of course, I’d gotten into some little things because of my mom and the things that happened to her, a mental breakdown, of course that had an effect on me. And eventually she killed herself. After that is where a lot of the illegal activities began, hence the illegal crime that I was committed of, the law that I broke.

Nonetheless, and going back to the point that you made about educating and redirecting the penal system in certain situations, it was clear in my situation that I needed to have some counseling because of the traumas that were suffered as a result of my mom’s suicide. It was clear how I got on the path of this illegal activity. So, in addition to, or an alternative to, sometimes, you know, incarceration, mete out counseling. I mean, if you truly, if the government and the system truly want to correct or rid of the problem of breaking the law, in my specific situation I needed more counseling than incarceration.

Dean Becker: I would agree with you. And, I think, that would hold true for ninety-something percent of our -- and its youths, young people out there, sometimes confused, sometimes lost and alone like you were -- you’d lost both parents, right?

Vikki Hankins: It was after I went into the prison systems I lost my father, shortly after. But my father wasn’t really the father, or the father figure that he should have been, or being the parent that he should have been. So my mother was, more or less, my father and my mother. So that when she was removed out of my life, tragically, the parental structure of both father and mother was gone.

Dean Becker: Now, I want to talk about the fact that, you know, you have attempted to get your college degree -- while in prison, as I understand, you were a model inmate and there was some talk, or at least an attempt, to get you pardoned by President Clinton back when, right?

Vikki Hankins: Yes. Yes. I sought to, initially -- just to correct a few things, I’d ran into a couple of problems when I went into the prison system in certain areas, you know, there are some officers and some of the staff, they tend to feel as though they are in control and they want to insure that the inmate, or make the inmate feel as though, that they are supposed to -- in other words, these staff members feel the need to continue to judge the inmate -- so I wasn’t so receptive to that. But, nonetheless, yes, as time went on I came to a different place of change, of growth, within seven, eight years. Nonetheless, actually even earlier than that, within four years the change had came. But, of course, because of the twenty-three year sentence I had to remain there and go through, just going through the system. So I determined to utilize whatever resources I could, whether it would be -- at that time they had college courses that people could take, the inmates could take. They gave out grants and so-forth and so-on back in the early 90s for inmates to continue their education while incarcerated. Once that ran out I started doing long distance learning and whatever educational tools that still remained within the prison system.

Well, back in 1999, 2000 I came to understand that there was an alternative, one, a different, one avenue that could possibly free me, where I’d exhausted all other forms of legal work to get out of prison, and that was the clemency. So I started -- in the prison system there are jobs where inmates work for maybe $40 a month -- so I knew that, if I was going to have a chance of getting out of prison, I had to pick up a pen and start writing. Well, with the $40 to $60 dollars, $40 dollar max, maybe $60 on some jobs, I said, I was determined to use that money to buy stamps and write every member of congress in the United States -- picked up a big book volume they had up there, I was in Fort Worth, Texas -- of writing every member of congress in that big catalog.

So I understood that in order to get a clemency, or your chances are better with a clemency, if you had congressional support, or a member of congress supporting the inmate receiving the clemency, or organizations, churches, things of that nature. So I wrote every member of congress that I could. The inmates there saw that what I was doing, they donated stamps and things things of this nature so I that I could get the clemency, and an attorney came on board and filed the motion, filed the clemency application for me, asked me if he could represent me. So we started working. I couldn’t -- there was so much, the inmates at the prison were so supportive and insuring that I had the postage, ‘cause if I’d done it my way of $40 to $60 dollars a month writing every member of congress, of course, the money would have ran out because I wouldn’t have enough money to cover the postage.

Dean Becker: Well, Vikki, I want to pause here for just a second. We are speaking to Vikki Hankins. She spent eighteen years behind bars for a crack cocaine sentence. And, Vikki, I want to talk about the year -- what was the year you went to prison?

Vikki Hankins: 1990.

Dean Becker: 1990. But it was in the late 1980s that they really ratcheted up the mandatory minimum sentencing. All across this country thousands of people were just rounded up and convicted and sentenced to the maximum, like you were, correct? Let me ask you this: in that prison how many other people were of similar circumstance?

Vikki Hankins: You know what, Dean? Mr. Becker, I would say that eighty percent of the people that are in federal prison that I encountered, throughout my eighteen years, are, again, female, are under the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Initially, of course, like you said, in the late 80s is when they brought this in and that mandatory minimums, that’s the law, that’s the way that they have it, and eighty to eighty-five percent of the people that are incarcerated in federal prisons they are under that mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. That’s what they use now. They use the book, they use a chart, go up and down a column and this is what the person will be sentenced to, versus individualizing and seeing the circumstances surrounding the crime and alternatives.

Dean Becker: Yeah, yeah. And my good friend, Eric Sterling, head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, worked for Peter Rodino in Congress when they were writing those mandatory minimums and when they started out they were talking about boatloads and planeloads and truckloads as being a drug kingpin. But the people in the various states, Kentucky and whatever, said ‘We don’t ever get those boatloads.’ So they lowered it and lowered it and lowered it until they got to five grams. And we’ve all been hornswaggled by this and I think the American public is beginning to realize that. It was just about a year ago that congress finally did a little nuance dance around this mandatory minimum and that’s what allowed you to get out in eighteen rather than twenty-three years, right?

Vikki Hankins: It’s true. And let me make a point there, Dean: where these, congress, sat and structured the mandatory minimum guidelines for the purpose of the big kingpins and so forth and giving them these type of sentences, what’s happening, and what’s happened is people like myself with the equivalent, I’m going to give an equivalent of weight of a bran muffin, maximum, in my situation. A bran muffin amount of cocaine, cocaine base, if that much. And even that may weigh too much, I mean, compared to the amount I was actually convicted of. Nonetheless, a bran muffin amount of cocaine are receiving sentences of twenty-three years where these sentences, where this type of sentence was supposed to be for boatloads of cocaine.

Dean Becker: [laughter] Yeah.

Vikki Hankins: Boatloads and planeloads of drugs. But the people with the bran muffin amount of drugs are the ones that are getting the kingpin sentences. Not that I am for, at this point in my life, for either one -- the bran muffin or the boatload -- of cocaine, but when you talk justice and when you talk balance and when you talk what the law was constructed for … it’s not working.

Dean Becker: No, it’s not. And again, Manuel Noriega’s getting out in less time than many of these American citizens who had the bran muffin worth of cocaine. It’s outrageous.

Vikki, we’ve got just a couple of minutes left. I want to give you a chance to talk about … you’re now vice-president of Advocate 4 Justice. Tell us about that group.

Vikki Hankins: Yes. I’m now vice-president of Advocate 4 Justice. I volunteer. What the Advocate 4 Justice primary mission is to bring balance to the very things that we have spoken about here today. We seek to, one thing that we can do, that we are determined to do, is bring back federal parole back to the prison system, the federal prison system, so that when these sentences are given out or as these judges give out the sentences at least the inmates who have these lengthy sentences can come up for federal parole and be released to the communities, in particular non-violent federal inmates. Now, in addition to that we’ve seen a problem, with the economy being the way that it is, that there will be a hard problem with employment and housing -- we also are broadening out into insuring that these ex-offenders receive some form of employment and trying to make a way for them, also, to receive housing. Because that too is a problem for everyone, not just the ex-offenders and even more so for the ex-offenders. So the primary mission of Advocate 4 Justice is to insure that balance is brought back into the criminal justice system, specifically within the Federal Bureau of Prisons for non-violent offenders.

The laws have to be changed, Dean. They have to be balanced. Situations such as mine -- eighteen years in federal prison for a non-violent offense when, let me bring a point out here: my brother, the weekend he was accepted into Bethune-Cookman College he was murdered. And the person that murdered him was out of prison within two years.

Dean Becker: [exasperated sigh]

Vikki Hankins: My brother murdered and the murderer out of prison within two years. And here I am with a bran muffin amount of weight of cocaine base -- twenty-three years --- something is wrong with that. That has to change. So Advocate 4 Justice has set out to insure federal parole is reinstated back into the federal prison system for non-violent offenders. And once they’re released, making sure there’s an avenue for them to receive employment and housing. So we are faced with the crisis that we are faced with at this time.

Dean Becker: All right. Well, Vikki, we’re going to bring you back in the next year. I very much enjoyed our conversation. Their website: it’s Advocate4Justice.org, is that right?

Vikki Hankins: Its Advocate4Justice.org.

Dean Becker: All right, Vikki. Thank you so much.

Vikki Hankins: OK. Bye.

Dean Becker: Happy holidays.

Vikki Hankins: You too.


This is abolitionist moment. To continue to the Drug War is lockstep idiocy. Such a deviation from fact, from cause and effect; blaming the problems of Drug War on the drug users. Let’s return to the U.S. Constitution, judge people by their actions, not the contents of their pocket or garden. Washington and Jefferson grew marijuana. Franklin was a known opium user. JFK used methamphetamine. Little W used cocaine and alcohol to excess. Clinton and Gore smoked marijuana and Obama used both cocaine and marijuana. Drug use, ‘youthful indiscretions,’ would seem to be a prerequisite to getting elected. With $400 billion per year in profits the terrorists, cartels and gangs continue to buy the necessary fear in congress, in the major media and on the streets of America. The only people -- the only people -- who benefit from this ninety-four-year old war on non-Fortune 500 produced plant products are the cops and the criminals. The rest of us lose. You, me and 300 million of our fellow Americans, we all lose. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of users worldwide who are forced by U.S. mandated drug prohibition to bow before the ‘morals’ of those whose posturing finances terrorism and deception; who motivate and enrich criminals worldwide via their misguided and illogical policy; via their wielding of financial leverage on nearly every government on the planet to participate in this Drug War. Their feigned ignorance serves as a badge and the fear they generate serves as a bludgeon.

Please do your part to end the madness of Drug War. Visit our website: EndProhibition.org.

Do it for the children.

Dean Becker: Once again we’re speaking with Mr. Neil Pierce, writer for the Washington Post Writer’s Group. He was the host, if you will, moderator at the LEAP press conference at the National Press Club just a couple of weeks back to make note of the 75th anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition.

Mr. Pierce, you were able to listen to all those LEAP speakers. What was your thoughts from that conference?

Neil Pierce: Well, it was clear to me that you have a whole bunch of people who’ve been in law enforcement through their careers who just see the dead-end in the current prohibition direction and are anxious to have a new start and are pretty frustrated that the political establishment is not listening. What they did, they used, I thought to good advantage, the 75th anniversary of repealing prohibition to make the case on how critical it is to have a repeat, to repeat repeal, as they put it.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. And you had, your most recent column dealt with the subject as well. Would you care to summarize it for the listeners?

Neil Pierce: I was again referring to the 75th anniversary and the very strong parallels between the situation with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s into the 1930s and what we face today. And so its interesting that the, when alcohol, when it was prohibited, then it became a wonderful thing for rebellious, adventurous young people to try out. The number of saloons -- in New York it was 15,000, it more than doubled to 32,000 speakeasies, and you found, of course, the proliferation, not only of the illegal distribution but the criminal rings that occurred with it, and the most obvious comparison that folks are making, the Al Capone era was just an introduction to what we’re now facing with the huge criminal enterprises around the prohibition of various drugs.

Dean Becker: Well, Mr. Pierce, you, I think, represent the new awakening, if you will, that many people are willing to speak up now because the evidence is just becoming so glaring. And there was even a recent situation where Obama’s website, Change.gov, asked his constituents what topics, what issues, did they want to deal with and it was amazing, the number of people who thought we should deal with the subject of Drug War. Your thoughts on that?

Neil Pierce: Well, I was amazed to see it. The top item, the most cited and the most accepted by the most people had to do with marijuana but some of the other answers had to do with drug use in general and I just think its fascinating that we have a new president who has said he is open to listening to the grass roots and I don’t believe planned to do anything on the drug issue very early because it is such a hot-button issue -- some advisors were telling him it likes gays in the military with Clinton: ‘Don’t touch this. You’re going to destroy or undercut your credibility on other issues.’ There was even some indication that the Drug Czar he might appoint would be a person who would not be very favorable to any kind of liberalization. But now he’s hearing from his own constituency quite to the opposite; that they think this is something that needs attention. And it’s going to be a very interesting test for this new President of whether he reacts of not, and how he reacts. Certainly, the statements that he has made through his career indicate a far less punitive, law-based approach to drug use; far more emphasis on rehabilitation of people who have serious drug addictions and trying to prevent their incarceration over long periods of time. But he’s never come out and said ‘I think these substances should be decriminalized.’ He’s moving down that track and a really interesting question is ‘what will he do now?’

Terry Nelson: This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I’ve spent more than three decades in the War on Drugs and in the course of my duties was assigned to a warrant entry team, serving drug arrests and search warrants. I did not agree with all that went on in the unit but, at least, we never did raid the wrong house.

Once again, I have to report on a police raid gone wrong. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, near Atlanta, police serving a no-knock drug warrant arrived on the scene and a police investigator pointed out the house to hit. A no-knock warrant is usually issued when the subject of the warrant is a dangerous man and poses a threat to officers. The team broke down the front door without knocking, ordered the man and woman occupying the house to lie on the floor and when the man asked why the police were there he was told to ‘shut up.’ Once the police began searching the home they found a small baby asleep in a bedroom and this alerted them that they were in the wrong house. The house they had the warrant for was a few houses down from the one that they raided. They subsequently went to the right house and arrested a person without incident and seized a reported $24,000. No mention of drugs seized. The question is: did the man named in the arrest warrant ever leave home? If he did, then why was he not arrested outside the home and then escorted back inside for the search. This police state mentality where police kick in doors, point guns at innocent people and tell them to ‘shut up’ is not the America I grew up in. This madness must stop. The only reason it is tolerated by politicians is that it is rarely their house that it happens to. I’m willing to bet that the FBI did not kick down the door of the Illinois Governor when they went to arrest him.

All of us must take the action necessary to convince our elected officials to end this madness before it does irrevocable harm to our country and our society. One thing you can do is contact your government official and tell them prohibition is not working.

We did it once before and we can do it again.

LEAP has done the work for you and all you have to do is go to www.WeCanDoItAgain.com, fill out the form and hit ‘enter.’ Let’s spend the money on education, research and treatment instead of incarceration.

We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.

Speaking for LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, at www.LEAP.cc, this is Terry Nelson signing off.

Jock: So what’s that your holding?

Angus: The Controlled Substances Act.

Jock: Controlled Substances Act? Brilliant! What you do with it?

Angus: Well, I found a way to incarcerate 1.6 million Americans every year.

Jock: Can you arrest them in their own homes, wherever they are?

Angus: Yes! Arrest people wherever they are. Brilliant! What else you working on?

Jock: Claiming that marijuana is more dangerous than crack.

Angus: More dangerous than crack? Brilliant! Brilliant!

Dean Becker: Prohibition the drug trafficker’s dream. Enjoy it everywhere.

Angus: Brilliant!
DTN Christmas Wish:
Rejoice in politicians that fence our treasury, our rights and freedoms for a penny on the dollar. Find joy in the million officials and agents, the guards and wardens. Praise for Tasers, torture and eternal wars, for liars, thieves and murderers on high.

What would Santa do? How about Jefferson? Franklin? What will you do?

Merry Christmas!

Dean Becker: Be sure to join us on this week’s Cultural Baggage. Our guest will be Neil Franklin, working cop in Baltimore, thirty-three years experience, just had a letter to the editor in the Washington Post. He’s a member of LEAP.

And I want to remind you once again that 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.

All of us at the Drug Truth Network wish you a merry Christmas and happy holidays all way round.

From "Marijuana Christmas" by Jet Baker, Omnimedia:

So the tradition in my family is stockings first, right? So you go to the fireplace, chock full of stuff, right? Candy canes sticking out. There’s like a Rubik’s Cube in there, right? Like a keychain. I don’t know but I’m digging in there and then at the very bottom, the bottom of the foot there was a baggie, right? There’s a plastic Santa’s bag with a reindeer on it, you know? I got weed in my stocking, man. I got weed in my stocking. I must have been good.

Yeah, I was good last year.

This Drug Truth Network program produced at Pacifica Radio, KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net