12/19/10 Kimba Smith

Crack the Disparity: Kimba Smith,Dorothy Gaines, Mr. Hilary Shelton, Margaret Love & from KushCon Keith Stroup of NORML

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Guest: 
Kimba Smith
Organization: 
Drug Policy Alliance
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Century of Lies / December 19, 2010

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The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

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Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Most of our listeners will remember a few months back. The US Congress changed the crack cocaine sentencing laws but there are now thousands of people who are in prison for decades to go on these old crack cocaine laws.

Recently, the Drug Policy Alliance held a conference in this regard which included several people who were pardoned for their crack cocaine sentences by President Clinton several years back. They’re beseeching President Obama to do the same for all of these folks still behind bars for miniscule amounts of crack cocaine.

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Announcer: We will first hear from Kemba Smith, who was sentenced as a first time non-violent drug offender to 24.5 years in federal prison, even though the prosecutor handling the case said she had never handled, used or sold any of the drugs involved. Currently, she is a national public speaker, advocate and founder Kemba Smith Foundation. Kemba?

Kemba Smith: Basically, with my situation, I was a college student dealing with self-esteem issues and got into a relationship with a drug dealer, that relationship after initiated because abusive.

The federal government had him under investigation and wanted him throughout the relationship. I found out later into it that he killed his best friend because he thought that he was cooperating with the authorities. Pretty much, I was scared to cooperate, which is what the government intended for me to do.

Eventually, I turned myself into the authorities seven months pregnant and scared to death. My parent’s only child, I grew up in a middle class family. I really didn’t know what I was walking into.

The prosecutor had said that if I turned myself that he would give me a fine to allow me to give birth to my son. He reneged on that promise. About a month later I did decide to cooperate after I had just turned myself in but it was too late.

They found my then boyfriend murders in Seattle, Washington. Thereafter, the prosecutors also made another promise saying that that if I pled guilty that at most, I was to receive twenty-four months and prison and he reneged on that promise, as well.

I ended up giving birth to my son while incarcerated, where when I was in the hospital five minutes after I gave birth the US Marshals came into my hospital room and said that my leg had to be handcuffed and shackled at all times, while I was there. That is a most impressive point that any woman can go through in their life.

Later, after that I was sentenced to twenty-four and a half years by eighty-six year old judge, who was witnessed sleeping while expert testimony was going on about the battered woman syndrome and domestic violence, like you mention previously, the prosecutor never handled used or sold any of the drugs involved. Yet, I was still sentenced to twenty-four and a half years, more than I had been living on this Earth.

Fortunately, I had very supportive parents. They are my true heroes. They raised my son while I was incarcerated and they spoke out about my situation. Fortunately, as well, the NAACP legal defense fund had taken on my case pro bono. They rallied around my case and got other organizations involved but it wasn’t about “Poor Kemba” or – it was more so about the fairness in drug sentencing and policy. I was somewhat of the poster child for this particular issue.

I could remember actually being in federal prison in the television room and seeing Bobby Scott and Congresswoman Maxine Waters doing the Million Woman March or even my dad on a panel on CNN during a CDC conference or the TV talking about this crack cocaine disparity.

Its’ quite disturbing because some of those people that I was sitting in the TV room with that were supporting me and supporting seeing these influential figures up there and my parents. They’re still sitting there. I was one of the fortunate ones.

These organizations and individual people that backed me, they backed me because not only did they want to see a change in my case but they hoped that this would be justice in the form of setting a precedent for others and setting a change for other people with similar cases to myself.

Now today, almost twenty years later, since these harsher laws were enacted and ten years since my release, I feel committed and passionate for continuing to be a voice for the voiceless, for those that I left behind in prison who had similar cases as myself.

I’m grateful for the recent of legislation but it is quite disturbing that it doesn’t affect the ones that are still – who are incarcerated. Today, also I’m a wife. I’m a mother to a sixteen year old and eight month old. I’m a national public speaker were I share my story to youth across the country, accepting responsibility from my actions fully and hoping that young people can learn from that. Rainforest Films, they’ve acquired the film rights – the story rights to my story. So, I am working though a script with them, as they continue to develop the screenplay.

Most importantly for me, during this of the year, the holidays are a wonderful time of the year. It always give me time to reflect and look back but I remember that first year when I was released from prison and how some people asked me, “Well, how did you feel when you got word that President Clinton gave you Executive Clemency on December 22nd, basically walking out of the prison and hearing all the well wishes and coming from the women that were there and coming home?”

I had crying spells because I knew that there were other women that I was there with who had twenty, thirty, forty years. There are women that I know there that are serving a life sentence and so it still breaks my heart to know that they’re still in there and I know that while I was in, I would struggle to remain positive and hopeful an grateful that my son was having a good Christmas with my family.

At the close of one year and heading towards the beginning of the new one, I would always wonder if there would be a change for me and the other women who were like me.

So, in remembrance and I guess the recognition of this ten year anniversary when I was commuted from President Clinton. I’m just strongly urging president Obama to exercise his power and not to be scared to do it. To me, it seems like only the right thing to do.

I’m so grateful that President Clinton allowed me a second chance in life and allowed me to be blessed and to do the wonderful things that I am doing but I know for a fact that there are so many other people who could be doing the exact same things that I am doing as far as influencing the community.

So, that’s why I’m committed to fasting on the 22nd in prayer because I know it’s prayer that opened the prison doors for me. I know how important prayer is for the people who are still currently incarcerated. So, I just hope that others will join in.

Last but not least, I just want to thank the media Dorothy and I know for a fact that it had not been for the media and some of our situations. The media is what kept our stories going. So, I just hope that the media will continue to do so and not forget those that have been left behind under these current policies.

Dean Becker: You are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. This is Dean Becker. We’re sharing a conference put together by the Drug Policy Alliance featuring several of those who were sentenced to decades-long prison time for minor crack cocaine charges. Charges, which now would not warrant these same draconian sentences but which are still in place for thousands of American citizens now sitting behind bars.

Announcer: Thank you so very much Kemba. We will next hear from Dorothy Gaines a single mother of three, who was convicted in minor involvement in her boyfriend’s small scale crack distribution and served six years of nineteen and half year sentence before she was granted commutation. Miss Dorothy Gaines currently works with at risk youth in Mobile, Alabama. Dorothy?

Miss Dorothy Gaines: I am kind of emotional, coming behind Kemba and thinking – sitting here thinking of the big thinking that I did being in federal prison and to know the people that I left behind and I’m reminded on December 22nd of 2001.

At one o’ clock that day I was talking to my son and he said, “Momma this is your sixth Christmas in prison. I thought you were coming home.” I told him these words, “Son, the day is not over yet. Keep the faith. Keep praying. We still have the rest of the day.”

While he and I were on the phone, the phone buzzed and there was a reporter, a reporter from the media. It was a reporter, calling him and asking him if he had seen President Clinton’s speech that morning. At that time he said, “I’ve got to get off the phone, Momma. Something is going on.” I started wondering, “What is going on?”

It was one hour later that the paperwork came through and said that President Clinton was releasing me to come home to my children, after spending six years away from them. It could have been sixteen years if I had still been there.

I’m thinking about the women that I left behind that are doing life, twenty and thirty years hollering. When I walked out the gate and I looked back and they begged me not to forget them. That’s what kept me going the last ten years fighting and traveling to Washington and walking the halls of Congress begging them to change these laws.

Yes, we are asking president Obama to do something in our anniversary for the ones that we left behind because he does have that power and he is the only one that has that power to sign that piece of paper and say that they can go home.

People like Stephanie Lenore, that met a guy for one month and she’s serving thirty years and has already served twenty of her thirty years. Lonnie Lundy, Bill Beasley, Clarence Harris and I can go on and on of the people that I left behind that are suffering and just waiting on somebody, like what we had that could put our case out there and keep it going.

It was my family and my son tried to kill himself three times and tries walk to Washington and beg for them to let his only parent come home because his mother – his father died when he was two years old and he was all that I had.

This is an emotional time. It’s not like it’s a happy Christmas but I thank God that it’s been like it’s been and it only takes prayer. We’ve got to have prayer to do this. I know what faith and God in the media people like the coalitions, like the Families Against Mandatory Minimum Collation and the Drug policy Alliance and the NAACP. If it had not been for people that knew that it had to be done, we would not be where we are today. We would still be behind bars.

My release date was 2014 and that’s why I do what I do. I go into these schools. If you want to know more about me, go to orothygaines.org. I go and try to talk to these kids to let them know, like Kemba said.

Sure I had low self-esteem. I thought because I was a large woman that I wasn’t wanted but you have high self-esteem and know who you are.

My own child’s father put me in prison and his mother. She served five years. So that’s how low it gets. The lowest thing I saw when I was there – and I’m going to close – when I saw a grandmother at the age eighty-six her daughter at the age of fifty and the granddaughter at the age of twenty-four serving 34-50 years. Their own son put them in prison because he did not want to be there. He did not serve a day. That eighty-six year old grandmother died two years ago, begging to just let [her] die at home and she died in Texas, in the hospital.

That makes my heart say, “I have to keep going. I have to keep this fight going and we got to do it.” We are begging people to do what you’ve got to do to make this happen on December 22nd. Thank you.

Dean Becker: You are listening to the Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. Once again that was Dorothy Gaines, talking about the need to make these changes to the crack cocaine laws retroactive. If you would like to share your thoughts with President Obama in this regard, please call: 202-456-1111.

Announcer: We will now hear from Hilary Shelton. Mister Hilary Shelton is the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy. He played an integral role in the Civil Rights Act of 1991, as well as other policy he measures effecting equality in our society. Hilary?

Hilary Shelton: Thank you very much and certainly after hearing the very compelling stories of Kemba and Dorothy, the big question is how did we end up here?

If we look at how we end with our present crack cocaine sentencing disparities, we know that over twenty years ago, as our nation confronted a new a epidemic of drugs on our streets, the question was how should we handle it?

Indeed in post haste, with a number of circumstances occurring, we know our Congress made some discussions that were made very quickly without the benefits of research, without the kind of assistance that they would have needs from everyone, including the health community and the committee within our criminal justice communities.

What we end up then is a sentencing range of crack cocaine 100 times longer than that of powder cocaine. We also ended up with the situation that for some reason, the focus of those that would end up being prosecuted and sentenced with this disparity being overwhelmingly racial and ethnic minorities.

Even to this day we have found that our criminal justice system has prosecuted African Americans that when we are looking at the overall or 84.7% of all those prosecuted and sentenced under our crack cocaine sentencing laws, again being 100 times longer than powdered cocaine and looking at White Americans in our society making up nearly 10% of those that are sentenced under these same extraordinarily long sentencing ranges.

Indeed what this has meant that our communities having lacked this support and the belief and understanding of the integrity of our criminal justice system in which race seems to make a tremendous difference in who is sentenced and for how long they are sentenced for the same infraction.

Most Americans look at crack cocaine as being no different than powder cocaine. After all, it’s an illegal substance since either of the drugs is cocaine. When we look at what happened over the years, we’ve moved to change the minds of people’s understandings – that many of the misunderstandings about crack cocaine were simply folklore.

There were people not understanding that crack cocaine does not have a more intensive effect on anyone than powder cocaine does. It’s a matter of fact, many people thought that during that time period that women that used crack cocaine would be addicted to crack for the rest of their lives. It proved to not only be true – not true but when comparing to something like alcohol fetal syndrome.

It was determined that alcohol fetal syndrome was much more dangerous to the fetus than crack cocaine was. So, we believe no one should use illegal drugs certainly during the time in which they are pregnant, nor should they drink.

They looked closer and realized that there are other problems that were not true as well. Many people in Congress made the dissension for those 100-to-1 sentencing range, based on what happened to Len Bias, an up and coming basketball start that had just signed with the NBA, assuming that his death was the result of crack cocaine. Before the autopsy could be completed, the US Congress mage theory decision to create this extremely long sentencing rates, finding out later that Len Bias did not die from a crack cocaine overdose after all.

It was with all these myths in mind that the wrong decision was made at the wrong time. The two women you’ve heard from just now are the anecdote. There are so many thousands of others that have experienced the same type of mischief that was done to them.

We were able to move passing a law actually reducing the sentence range, something that had never been done before fin our society 100-to-1 down to 18-to-1.

What we’re seeking now is justice and retroactivity, those two things still need to occur and most importantly, right now what is is in President Obama’s hand is to move ahead of his predecessors and the past and actually move for an Executive Clemency for those who would have completed the sentence range, if it were under powder cocaine.

We’re not saying that those who are in prison now should be fully forgiven for everything that they have done. We are saying that they should be treated no differently than if those, if they were White Americans and those who weren’t sentenced under the extremely long and unfair and disparate sentencing range of 100-to-1 and even now with the sentencing range being 18-to-1.

Our call is for the present to use Executive Clemency power to actually bring justice to these men and women that are still serving these extremely long sentences that should not be.

Dean Becker: Once again you’re listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. That was Mister Hilary Shelton and the President’s phone number is 202-456-1111. Please call Monday through Friday between 9-5PM Eastern/Standard time.

Announcer: Thank you so much Hilary and a now last but definitely not least, we will hear from Margie (Margaret) Love. She is a former US Pardon Attorney under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

She now represents people applying for Executive Clemency and advocates for sentencing and correction reform. Margie?

Margaret Love: I’d just like to emphasize what Hilary Shelton just said and that is that if Congress does not act to make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, those sentenced to mandatory prison terms under the crack laws in affect prior to its passage have only one hope of release, before the expiration of their term, only one hope.

In some cases, their terms are life sentences, that hope is if the president acts pursuant to his constitutional pardon power to commute their sentences. The pardon power had been used many times in the past to shorten prison sentences that years later seemed too harsh.

Dorothy Gaines and Kemba smith are examples of people sentences were cut short as too severe by President Clinton and they have both more than justified the competency placed to them.

They would both still be in prison today if the president had not commuted their sentences. In recent years, there have been very few commutations, even though there is no other early release mechanism now in the federal system.

George W. Bush did only a handful of commutations. This president, President Obama has not granted any to date.

In the past, where punishments for a particular class of case that seemed too harsh in retrospect, the president has acted to grant relief through clemency, sometimes appointing a special clemency board to review cases for possible commutation. This happed with Presidents Coolidge, Truman and Ford. That could be done here.

Thirty – forty years ago President Kennedy and Johnson granted commutation to several hundred people serving mandatory minimum drug sentences, using the regular pardon process of the justice department and these actions paved the way for the more general repeal of the mandatory minimums in 1970. That could be done here.

Even a few commutations granted to deserving crack offenders would send a message to Congress and to the public that relief should be an important priority for those serving sentenced imposed under a law that we now recognize and Congress now recognizes as unjust.

When other jurisdictions have changed their sentencing laws to make them fairer, they have made the changes retroactive, to apply to those current in prison. New York did this when they cut back on sentences under the Rockefeller drug laws.

So, in conclusion, I would just say that now that crack sentences have been made more fair. We must not forget those who have been left behind, some of whom will never come home, never, unless Congress or the President acts.

There are many cases like Kemba and Dorothy that are still imprison and deserve a chance to rejoin their families. They deserve the President’s mercy.

Dean Becker: Once again, that was Margret Love, who was Clemency Counsel under both President Bush and President Clinton.

Reminder: The President’s phone number 202-456-1111.

Perhaps you can visit the website of the Drug Policy Alliance at drugpolicy.org. There you can urge the senate to investigate our whole criminal justice system and to come up with a better way to deal the subject of drug use.

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Hi, It’s Mark Emery, Canada’s Prince of Pot and you’re listening to the Drug Truth Network.

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This is Mark Greer, Executive Director of DrugSense. You’re listing to Cultural Baggage. To end the Drug War, visit mapinc.org, that’s mapinc.org.

Get active. Stay aware. Stay informed and let’s bring an end to this nonsense

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It is such a triumph of fear and ignorance over fact and logic that the drug that kills nobody is the illegal one. How would you explain that to an alien who came down?

(Crowd laughter and chatter)

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Dean Becker: Alright, we’re filing this program from Denver, Colorado. I’m attending the KushCon convention and I have a few segments I’d like to share with you from that but one more time the reminder, the President’s phone number: 202-456-1111.

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Dean Becker: First up we’re going to speak with Mister Keith Stroup of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Hey, Keith.

Keith Stroup: Nice to be with you, this looks like one hell of an event.

Dean Becker: Well yeah they gave us a very from upstairs and it just goes on and on. This is getting very real, this is getting to be something to talk about isn’t it?

Keith Stroup: It is indeed that these sort of business exposition just started, I think I underestimated them. I didn’t think that is was that relevant or would have this much impact.

I’ve got to tell you, these guys have learned how to organize. This is massive. They have over five hundred vendors. They have every political organization that has ever thought about working on the marijuana issue under one roof.

I really give Michael Lerner and Cheryl Shuman a great deal of credit. I think they’ve done a wonderful job here.

Dean Becker: It looks like an excellent start here and in just a few moments we’re hoping to hear from a potential presidential candidate, one former Governor, Mister Gary Johnson. He’s saying some rather bold things, is he not?

Keith Stroup: He is indeed. He has always been out front on his support for the medical use of marijuana. He helped us get that law passed because of some of his early work, it finaly got passed in New Mexico.

More importantly and recently, he talked about his own recent use. Usually a politician says, “I smoked twenty years ago” or “I smoked ten years ago but I learned my lesson.”

No, no no. Gary Johnson said, “I smoked a few years ago” and it really saved his butt because he was going through a lot of pain from some accident he had.

So, he’s going to be a different presidential candidate if he can somehow get that Republican nomination, boy, it’s going to advance our issue enormously.

Frankly, it’s going to advance the issue just because he’s going to raise it in the primaries. There is no doubt. He’s not ducking he issue. He’s trying to exploit the issue in a positive way.

Dean Becker: Well, I think the progress that truthfully happened in California with the attempt there on Prop 19 has really opened the doors and opened the dialog. It’s enabled politicians and others to begin to speak in this regard of that need for change, is it not?

Keith Stroup: I think a lot of people, we all know a lot of people to wait a year and do it in 2012 or whatever. There is still some argument that it probably been more successful, where you probably would have had a higher youth vote, turnout, etcetera.

Whatever he spent, I think he spent a $1.4 million, just to gather the signatures. It was a dynamite legal expenditure because legalization has never received such incredible attention in the press, not just nationwide but worldwide

Dean Becker: You’re right Keith, the fact of the matter is that the unions, police organizations—

Keith Stroup: We’ve got people now that are understanding what we’ve been arguing for forty years, which is this is an issue that matters to a lot of people, including the minority communities, etcetera.

It’s not just a drug issue. So, we’ve finally picked up the support of some of the major intuitions and it’s not going to be just in California but here on out when there’s an initiative in another state and sometimes even legislation, you’re going to see the state chapter NAACP probably coming in to help us. You may see the Democratic Party. You may see the unions and that makes a world of difference.

We used to be playing fringe politics and we are now playing mainstream politics

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Dean Becker: We have lots more from the KushCon conference on this week’s Cultural Baggage show. I urge you to check it out. We’ll have lots more on the 420 Reports and much more form the coming weeks from that major event there in Denver, Colorado.

In that this is the Christmas show for Century of Lies, I urge you to please remember what those ladies Kemba Smith and Dorothy Gaines we’re talking about, their time spent in the US federal prisons for microscopic and in some cases non-existent amounts of drugs in their possession.

No sarcastic Christmas message this show. I want you wish you a Merry Christmas and please, take care of one another.

As always, I remind you. There is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data, no reason for this Drug War to exist.

Please, visit our website: endprohibition.org

And please, call the president to commute some of these sentences. His number is 202-456-1111.

Prohibido istac evilesco!

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

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com