04/29/09 - Nora Callahan

Nora Callahan, director of November Coalition for prisoners rights + Terry Nelson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition + "Most Interesting Man" + "Plant Police" song

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Nora Callahan
November Coalition


Cultural Baggage, April 29, 2009

We are the plant police
With each arrest we bring peace
We fight eternal wars
So you can never score
Yes, we are the plant police

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

It’s not only inhumane it is really fundamentally un-American….. ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’

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.

Alright, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage.

You know the drug war is basically over? Except for the shouting, the screaming, the pain, the misery, the imprisoning of more than 2 million of our fellow citizens.

We have today with us, the director of a group that stands for truth, logic and common sense and they work with prisoner families around the nation to bring a more common sense approach to all this and with that I want to go ahead and welcome our guest, Nora Callahan. Hello, Nora.

Nora Callahan: Hello, Dean.

Dean Becker: So good to have you with us, Nora. We haven’t had you on for awhile and it’s good to have you back.

Nora Callahan: Thanks. Thanks for having me on the show today.

Dean Becker: I don’t know how much of the intro. you got to hear, but the stature; the nature; the implementation of the drug war is subject to a lot of investigation and change at this point, is it not?

Nora Callahan: It is. Well, part of it, if we’re real honest about where things are at, the economic boom having ended and now gone bust, we don’t have the ability to pay for so much injustice. When we’re cutting back school budgets and teacher’s salaries and medical care to the poor… and states, they’re finding it isn’t economical to take the drug prisoners, non violent drug offenders, and give them long prison sentences. So we will see, probably in prison stats in the near future, to see a leveling off of, compared to what we’ve been doing for thirty years.

Dean Becker: There was a story that just caught my attention, it was so powerful, the thought of what our over-expenditure on the drug war has cost us in the long run and it’s the Contra Costa County, I believe it is, there next to San Francisco, the Prosecutor, the DA, no longer has the money to keep enough prosecutors on hand. So, they’re no longer going to arrest people for less than a gram of cocaine, half a gram of heroin and I think that’s good. But they’re no longer going to be able to prosecute people for shoplifting and burglary and petty theft as well. What have we wrought, Nora?

Nora Callahan: Well, what we have is, we have a terrible cash crunch in America, to where they can’t afford the large policing they have. But I think that sometimes alarms are sounded. I remember years ago when there were tax changes in California and people were saying, ’Houses are going to burn down and violent crime is going to go up,’ and those things actually didn’t happen.

So, what I think we’re seeing is; I know we’re seeing is, state legislators are looking at drug laws because so many studies have come out to say, ‘At a certain point, when you imprison these people, you’re doing much more harm than any good to society over all.’ Because we can’t forget that the one thing we know prison does, is to destroy a person’s ability to live in a free world.

So, leaders are willing to look at that for the first time and say, ’Well, we can’t put this good money to do something bad,’ and rather than just changing; and we are having, like in Washington State, a lot of changes even in the way some cities are looking at, ‘Well, we’re going to stop making this a crime and give people a citation for this. So, instead of giving them a full blown criminal record, we’ll give them a citation.

We’re seeing a move away from criminalization of non-violent people. It’s probably all a good thing. I wouldn’t worry about burglars going free and that because I don’t think that’s where we’re headed.

For one thing, they put so many non-violent prisoner’s into prison that every state, and when we get to talking about the feds the numbers double, but every state could afford to take their prison population down by 25%, off the top, without suffering any violent effects on the street as long as communities can help. Instead of building prisons, build sustainable economics where people live.

Dean Becker: Nora, a couple of stories, just here in the Houston area, broke in the last week. One was this gentleman who was convicted of; it turns out that the Crime Lab had done two test on evidence from a rape. One of them showed this guy might be guilty, the other one showed he was NOT guilty and they sent him to prison.

He spent some twenty / twenty-two years behind bars and today and the last couple of days they’ve been saying, ‘Well, the evidence that they destroyed is no longer available,’ because they use to destroy all that evidence. But the little bit of evidence they had left, showed that it was not him and he’s now perhaps going to get a million dollars in restitution. But I’m sure he would trade those years of freedom for that, in a heartbeat.

Second story that caught my attention was the DA noticed that there were some six hundred murder cases that were just kind of lost. That were dropped, you know, off the back burner and they’re now going to go after those six hundred murderers. It makes you wonder. Where have their priorities been over these last several decades, going after all the drug users?

Nora Callahan: Well, largely in a war on drugs, because it was declared by a president. Many, many years ago, President Reagan and his wife Nancy and the ‘Just Say No’ campaign’s and things which field mass hysteria. I mean, you go over this in your program a lot. But, some of the changes coming down the pike is for the first time.

We have a very bold champion in the Senate. Senator James Webb, out of Virginia, has introduced the National Criminal Justice Act of 2009. It’s S-714 and he desires, along with his former labor public and co-sponsor, Arlen Specter. He just became a democrat, I guess, last night. So, I can’t say that anymore but, you see how the powers are aligning around this and the deeply committed Arlen Specter out of Pennsylvania and James Webb along with, I believe, nineteen co-sponsors altogether, I might have it off by a few.

They want an eighteen month commission, ‘blue ribbon’ of experts from a broad spectrum of criminal justice interest, to get together and make a commitment to have the imprisonment rates drop and when the federal government, you know when it comes from the federal government, we get excited because most of November Coalition Members are federal prisoners doing time on drug charges.

So, we get excited to see that they want to do this and Senator Webb promises that nothing is left off the table. The war on drugs is paramount in his concern and discussions. That it has driven this horrible explosion of imprisonment around the nation and in the federal system. He says that marijuana decriminalization will be on the table. That nothing will be off the table.

If it involves something driving imprisonment and the problems of having so many former prisoners in communities, then we’re going to talk about it and fix it, come out with recommendations. That’s not to say, on a grass roots level, it isn’t going to be a difficult job, from start to finish. But the reactions from people has made this legislation, I think, more interesting than most introductions, of legislations.

Dean Becker: Let’s take time to talk about the November Coalition. Tell us a bit about what y'all are about.

Nora Callahan: We were founded in 1997 because the prisoners of the drug war in federal prisons realized that they didn’t have a voice in calling for change and that people on the street didn’t really know about the laws they’re subject too. They didn’t understand them. ‘Cause few people that went to federal prison, in the 80’s and probably still today, honestly to speak about it in an honest way, it’s been hard to explain federal drug laws to people. They want it, but that was the desire, that we would begin to education of the public, so that they understood the drug laws, so that they could say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to them.

People that don’t understand something have a tendency to ignore it and so we wanted to explain how a person who was involved peripherally or low level involvement or even no involvement; an innocent, could be subjected to decades to even life, in prison for a non-violent drug offence. That we needed to explain that to the public and it involves the use of informant’s telling the drugs on ‘words’ rather than physical evidence. Going to prison on things the jury said you were acquitted of.

A lot of legal procedures, States never adopted, wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. The Federal Government did and this happened through the Sentencing Reform Act and we’re getting ready to celebrate twenty-five years. Commemorate. We think it should be like a funeral. Bury it. Abolish it.

But, the Sentencing Reform Act of 1986 was the law culprit for these dramatic changes in sentencing and that’s wherein we got a Commission. We actually already have a Commission, not the kind Jim Webb’s calling for. But an actual seated group of people who are called the United States Sentencing Commission, but they have power over many areas of Federal Criminal Justice, beyond sentencing.

Dean Becker: You brought up a story I was reminded of while I was perusing the website of y'all’s group, november.org and there’s a story there about Lawrence Garrison, one of two twins…

Nora Callahan: Yes.

Dean Becker: …who was sentenced to twenty plus years I think it was…

Nora Callahan: Yes.

Dean Becker: .., cocaine conspiracy and they were found without drugs. Without guns. Without money. The guy who informed on them got three years, behind bars. He was…

Nora Callahan: Yes. Because that’s how it works. When people are arrested by the Federal Government and they are taken in for their, it’s called a free talk. They have different names for it, nicknames for it. But they can go in and then they tell them, ’You’re either going to get charged and you can face thirty years to life or you need to tell us everything you know,’ and then if a person says, ’Well, I don’t know anything,’ then they might offer to let them wear a wire and go out and learn things and give information.

So in other words, you can work off your sentence by the entrapment of others. If you can entice others into drug crime or give the police information about a lot of people you know that might be involved in illegal drugs. So, people do time, especially in the federal system on the ‘words’ of the people trading these words for their freedom. Yeah and freedom, what’s that worth? Yeah, way more than money and people respond to that.

We think it’s a form of mental torture that a lot of the… and the idea of detainee’s and rendition, has been part of the drug war since day one. Because so many people, especially again in the federal system, are denied any bail. So, they have to stay inside ‘cause they say they’re more of a flight risk. In part, because they are threatening them with life in prison and people who are threatened with life and who look at the statistics, the feds win. Ninety-seven percent of the time they get a conviction, whether it’s by plea agreement or trial. They win. So people are more likely to abscond, perhaps.

They haven’t really checked this data for a long, long time, so it’s hard for me to send it out there as a stat, but many, many drug offenders, I think it’s thirty-five percent are held, before they’ve been convicted. You know that period where you’re presumed innocent? They have to stay in jails and these county jail situations and detention centers are always terribly overfilled.

Often filthy with the sewage problems and the lights on and the screaming and the rape and all those things that break a person down, psychologically. So, when you ask, ‘Well, how did a person give up their mother and do that to them?’ It’s because they were tortured.

Dean Becker: Exactly. There’s so much comparison to the inquisition of old, involved in this that…

Nora Callahan: Or the Kubark program of the 1950’s where psychologists designed ways of breaking people without leaving physical marks. Torturing people in their head, so that they could never be brought into a court and say, ’Yeah, they put electricity to my genitals.’

You could put sewage on the floor and have somebody have a ‘mad and overcrowded’ jail and you can get a better effect than if you break somebody’s leg, and they know that now. For sure, they know that because we took it globally.

But the nakedness and this is horrible… They go from freedom one day into this cesspool of life and so the informant system works really well, because people break down very quickly.

Dean Becker: It’s such a horrible legacy, but we’re trying to change that. We’re trying to…

Nora Callahan: We’re trying to change that and November has been one of the groups, one of many, who took the constituency effected and said, ’Well, instead of just enduring this, we’re going to start trying to teach others what we’re going through,’ because as long as people didn’t see the hidden problems of imprisonment, and drug war imprisonment particularly, only the propaganda on TV. You know, ‘Be very afraid, be very afraid’.

Now, for instance, one of our legislators who was lobbying here, appealing to her other co-legislators in Washington State said, “When we talk about those people in prison, who are we really talking about? We’re talking about Uncle Larry. We’re talking about our cousins. Our sister. Perhaps our parents. Those people are our people,” and for a legislator to say that, in a debate on a bill, it’s pretty cool. Cause that’s, kind of, who we said we were.

But that’s sad also, because that’s how many people have been criminalized. It’s that everyone knows someone now, who’s been directly affected by drugs and/or illegal drug problems and/or imprisonment.

Dean Becker: We’re speaking with Nora Callahan of the November Coalition. Nora, I want to ask you, I don’t know if you’d done a census, so to speak, of your membership, but I would imagine a large percentage of them are African-American? Is that correct?

Nora Callahan: Yes, easily said. Men, young men.

Dean Becker: I want to read. This is from Senator Webb, you were speaking of earlier. Here are some statistics he brought together. “Although experts have found little statistical difference between racial groups regarding actual drug use, African-Americans, who make up about twelve percent of US population, accounted for thirty-seven percent of those arrested on drug charges. Fifty-nine percent of those convicted and seventy-four percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison. Your thoughts?

Nora Callahan: It’s just terrible, isn’t it?

Dean Becker: It is.

Nora Callahan: Now we’re going to talk about this, a little bit more risk here but, I often am sent fascinating books and I just read one. It’s called the, “Slavery By Another Name.” It’s written by a Douglas Blackmon and it just received a Pulitzer Prize, in fact. But, I’d read it a couple months ago and it was about, just before WWII.

In the South, if you were a black man or woman walking through a town and didn’t have any money on you, they could pick you up for vagrancy and put you underground in a mine and you stay there for a week at a time. They let you out for a peek of sunshine. Kind of like our prisons today and the cages and all the lockdowns, and they would die in these mines. It wasn’t until our President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had to get our country all excited about human rights’ abuse abroad and the Holocaust and the Japanese invasions, that we addressed this and made that illegal, because we couldn’t decry the human abuse abroad, while we were abusing the blacks in the South.

Well, I contend the same things happening today, and some leaders know it. I think that Senator Webb is one of the very intelligent leaders that knows, as we try to increase democracy abroad, these terrible abuse of prisons, both overseas and at home, and the torture within our criminal justice system, is something that’s going to disrupt and tear down our reputation.

When you have a bad reputation, you don’t have the power; political power and now with the world being very global. It’s essential that we address massive imprisonment. Because, even if United States citizens say, ‘Fine, lock all those black, young men, who do not have jobs or good schools in their communities to start with, end it in prison. I’m fine with that,’ that that might be fine for American’s to accept. I don’t really think it is fine. I think this has been something done behind the scenes more than in front of people because I know that I visit prisons and they’re hidden in corn fields.

So back to, I think that to have a global influence, we’re going to have to address our mass imprisonment and the torture and the psychological break down of our community because people around the world find it horrifying. Even if we accept it in America. But now, back to accepting it in America.

I think the gigs up and people don’t like it and they’re feeling embarrassed about it. Senator Webb brings out very clearly, I use to scream it from the Hempfest stages and all around communities and in Unitarian Universalist Churches and Baptist Churches. But asking people, “Are we so evil?” “Are we that bad?” “How can we have only five percent of the population and twenty-five percent of the worlds prisoners?”

Dean Becker: Exactly. Nora, we’ve got about two minutes left and I want to address one more thought. We have this situation where parole officers; probation officers, in many states at least, are so willing to send people back to prison for minor things. For missing an appointment…

Nora Callahan: Yes.

Dean Becker: .., for failing to pay a fee…

Nora Callahan: Yes.

Dean Becker: …etc. etc. But, we’re even recognizing the futility of that in….

Nora Callahan: …and cutting probations, around the different states, in half and even less; the time that people have to be supervised. They’re giving less supervision. Also, a lot of states are starting to look at the mentally ill and realizing, ’Wow! We’re putting them in prison and that’s way too expensive and inhumane.’

Dean Becker: Yeah. OK, once again…

Nora Callahan: But, it doesn’t mean everything’s over. We have big, big, big, big, big work to do and as we get broke we can just scapegoat the people we think are causing the problem. So, it’s not like it’s over. If you don’t believe me, you can go to november.org, right there at the top; first line in the middle of the page. “Senator Webb Lays It Out” Click that and read what the Senator has to say and also, he’s made beautiful educational materials on this issue, available for any citizen who wants to download it and post it in their congregation or take it down to the PTA. Because, you know, your educational dollars are building prisons.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Nora Callahan: Senator Webb has put together beautiful sets of educational material. It’s awesome stuff.

Dean Becker: Now, in just the last thirty or forty seconds here, I want to just first of all, thank you, Nora. You were one of those pioneers who just inspired me. I’ve tried to emulate and corroborate with you in many ways over the years and... I hear you laughing. Have you got any closing thoughts?

Nora Callahan: Well, I’m laughing because some people say, ’You always make me cry.’ But it depends on where they catch me talking. {chuckling}

I have a brother, twenty years down now, on drug charges and still we have a lot of years left. So, it’s imperative to reunite families. This idea of torturing people for ’a’ mistake in life, is incredibly painful. Must stop. So, thank you so much, Dean, for having me on today and again, I urge your listeners to check out Senator James Webb’s National Criminal Reform Act of 2009 and you can get to his information by visiting november.org.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Nora Callahan.

Nora Callahan: Thank you, Dean.

It’s time to play: "Name That Drug - By It’s Side Effects!"

Euphoria, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, addiction, respiratory arrest and death.


Time's up! This drug, eighty times stronger than morphine and heroin, is available via Schedule II prescription.

Fentanyl! For major pain.

This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The war on drugs drones on and on and the violence spreads daily.

A small glimpse of the past week, reveals five people murdered, at a home, for allegedly cheating their supplier out of money. Overdose deaths reported in Chicago. Heroin siege, in Fort Worth, that is so strong that you will die, almost immediately. A sixty year old grandmother arrested for making ‘cheese’ heroin. This is a method they use that can be snorted and is sold to Middle School students.

An Illinois congressman says, “At least 31 people in two Chicago suburbs have died this year, up from 24 last year, after overdosing on unusually strong heroin from Mexico.“ Will County’s coroner said, “Some of the heroin appears to be so strong, that people die before they can even pull the needle out.”

Near Fort Worth, several grams of black tar heroin seized during an arrest Thursday, were “Forty-one to forty-seven percent pure,“ a local narcotics official said. Thirty deaths have been reported this year. “Street level heroin, in the area, rarely tests at more than six percent pure,” said Herschel Tebay, commander of the Tarrant County Narcotics Unit. “Black tar heroin can be up to seventy percent pure, depending on the lab where it was made,” authorities said. “A dose of heroin, that is more than ten percent pure, can kill you,” authorities have said.

These deaths are the direct result of ‘no regulation’ in the drug market. Prohibition does not work and a more sensible policy must be implemented. Even thought the Mexican government has cracked down in Mexico and hundreds of arrests have been made here in the US, the drugs are still here.

The difference, is that since the regular dealers have been arrested. The ones that have taken their place are less experienced dealers or have ripped off others and sell the product without cutting the heroin enough. The result is death to the unsuspecting user. So arresting the regular dealer, actually is the cause of these people overdosing and dying.

LEAP is working to convince the government, that the current policy of drug prohibition is not working. Just as alcohol prohibition did not work. In that instance, it only took us thirteen years to figure out we had made a mistake. The current drug war is far into it’s fourth decade.

LEAP is calling for a system of legalized regulation and control of the manufacture and distribution of these uncontrolled substance.

LEAP believes that drugs are too dangerous to be left in the hands of criminals. It’s time to regulate and control them. Let’s put the money into education, research and treatment, instead of jails and prisons. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.

This is Terry Nelson at http://www.leap.cc Signing off.

You are listening to the unvarnished truth about the drug war on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. Teaching the choir to sing solos since 2001.

Warning: Adherence to the idea’s presented herein will lead to the death of Bin Laden’s fattest cash cow, the destruction of the Mexican cartels, eliminate the reason for the US street gangs to exist as well as less death, disease, crime, and addiction. www.drugtruth.net

{music playing in the background}

What gives the drug war life?
Is it the cartels?
Maybe it’s the Baptists.
The bankers.
The gangs or the cops?
Who’s in charge of it?
Which politicians?
Peasant farmers? Big pharma?
Is it the street corner vendor?
Is it you? Is it me?
It is FEAR that gives the drug war life.


Because of his enormous intake of drugs
The DEA keeps him on the payroll.
He once purchased the worlds supply of crack
And turned it back into cocaine.
The air he exhales is psychedelic
He is the most interesting man in the world.

I don’t always do drugs
But when I do
I prefer marijuana.
Stay informed, my friends.

Indeed, stay informed. I think that’s what I try to do, for you. I try to educate, motivate, embolden, kick you in the butt, get you to do your part. Nora and I can do our work. We have done it for years. I think we have helped in making this change in focus come about. But, it will come about that much sooner and better, when you get involved. Her website: november.org.

Join us next week. Our guest will be Brian O’Dea, author of “High: Confessions of a Pot Smuggler” and as always I remind you, my friends, that 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.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Submitted by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org