12/25/15 Jeff Mizanskey

Jeff Mizanskey who served 22 years in Missouri prisons for pot possesion & Peter Christ founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, December 25, 2015
Guest: 
Jeff Mizanskey
Organization: 
NORML
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

DECEMBER 25, 2015

TRANSCRIPT

CAROLYN WONDERLAND: [MUSIC] Time goes slow here
From behind these bars
But I'm not so far away that I can't hear the cars
Driving down the freeway
Wishing one of them could give
me that short ride downtown where my little boy lives

But I'm an expatriate in my hometown
I can't even vote to change the laws that put me down
I only pray that you fare better
I'll wear my marijuana leaf like a badge, it's my scarlet letter.

DEAN BECKER: Hi folks, this is Dean Becker. You're listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. The song, "Annie's Scarlet Letter" by Carolyn Wonderland. This is our Christmas show, and it's time to think about the 50 million that have been locked up in these United States for drugs.

Today's program, rather unique, is going to feature a discussion between Peter Christ, the founding member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, he's speaking to Mister Jeff Mizanskey, a man who had three relatively minor marijuana charges and was sentenced to life without parole. After 22 years behind bars, he was released in September, and he was attending the drug policy conference there in Washington, DC. I invited him up to my room, and just set the recorder going. Here's most of that discussion.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Well, when I first got there it was pretty, pretty eye-opening. Because, being a nonviolent prisoner, I came in and I got put into maximum security. Okeh? Well, there you got a lot of violent prisoners that have been in for a long time, and unfortunately sometimes they try to prey on the nonviolent. Well, when you go into prison you've got to prove yourself anyhow.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, I know.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: And, oh, they thought they were going to come up and tell me, well you're, you know -- first of all, they all know why you're in there. They can find out, quicker than people out on the streets can, I don't know how it's all done, through, I guess they call the families and get the name and all that. But then, when you get there, they want to come up, well, I had three of them come to me and tell me, well, look, we know why you're here, and we know your reputation. You're going to get some drugs in here for us. You know? Of course, I told them to stick it where the sun don't shine.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Right.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: And, ended up getting in a fight over it. So, I'd fight three of them one time, they pulled me in a cell. I got out of there, and actually got put in the hole. Didn't get charged for a fight, because of course I'm not going to -- I'm not a snitch.

DEAN BECKER: Right, right. Right.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: So, we ended up under investigation. I was in there for over 90 days under investigation. Got put back out, finally, and about three days later, another guy come up to me, now it was at Potosi at the time. Potosi is where they kept death row. And, of course, they were out among the people, which is great, they need to be. Well, one of them come up to me, he says, hey, I ain't got nothing to lose. They're going to put me to death in, I think it was three or four months. Anyhow, so you know, you're going to give me some drugs or else I'm going to come after you and make sure you die first. Of course, I had to do what I had to do, and, they found out that I wasn't just going to bend down to what they wanted, and they finally left me alone.

PETER CHRIST: Finally left you alone. It takes -- any system that you go into, it takes you a while to figure out the system, I don't care if it's a new job, I don't care if it's prison, I don't care where it is, it always takes each of us as individuals time to figure it out. I was just curious, that process, is it -- it's such a word -- you know, it's amazing to me. I tell people, and I do presentations all the time. I had a prison guard call into a radio show that I did, this is all going the same place. And, he said, well if we do what you say we should do, you're going to put a lot of prison guards off the job. And I said, well, the first thing is, we didn't build the prisons to give prison guards jobs, that isn't why we built the prisons. Okeh?

I say, secondly, how does this sound? Instead of us cutting the prison population by at least a third, okeh, by getting all the nonviolent drug offenders out and taking care of that, how about instead of laying off those prison guards, we keep them on the job, only what they do now is spend their time teaching and training the people that are locked up. Because I remind people about this: more than 90 percent of our prisoners in this country have one thing in common, and that is, they're coming home. And you're going to send them off to this place for however many years, do you want them coming home worse than they went away? Or better than they went away? And right now, we're sending them home in a lot of cases worse than they went away.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: You're absolutely right.

PETER CHRIST: Because we're not doing any of the stuff we should be -- we're not, we're not doing corrections, we are doing incarceration. Even though we call it the department of corrections, we're not correcting anything, we are just incarcerating. We're just locking people up.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Absolutely right. There's no rehabilitation in prison anymore. I had some classes that guys were being forced to go to, but as you know, if you're being forced to do something, you're not listening, you're not learning nothing. And, you know, my idea is, why not, we got parole systems, so why not offer these classes and tell these guys, hey, look, you can go to these classes if you want, and learn something, because we're going to look at your record from when you're in here from before you went to these classes, during these classes, we'll kind of grade them things that you made, and how you act after classes. Now your parole's going to depend up on how you react to what you've learned. And if they can take what they've learned back out on the streets, just think, we can keep people out.

And not only that, how about some kind of training in there? Most of our prisons have canteens. In Missouri, they take 20 percent of anything they charge over a dollar for, and 40 percent of anything under. You've got millions of dollars. They use that money for what they want to use it for. Sometimes they'll buy some equipment for us. But, they're paying one of their guys to go around and [inaudible] price.

PETER CHRIST: That whole -- we got a guy that came out of our PD, and he had been a prison guard at Attica. Okeh? For about four or five years, then he got the job on the police department and left that job. And he said this to me, and I thought it was kind of interesting. The only difference between the guards and the prisoners is the prisoners are doing their time 24 hours a day, and the guards are doing their time 8 hours a day. But once you're in that system, it doesn't make any difference who you are, the system is the same for everybody.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: You're absolutely right. And, you know, really crazy is I had so many guards come up to me and ask me why I was in there, because they were doing some of the same things that I was put in prison for. And, I'm talking about 80, 90 percent of them. So, it's a crazy thing. It comes down to who you know, how much money you have to spend.

PETER CHRIST: Well, yeah. And how much melanin you've got in your blood, let's not forget that.

DEAN BECKER: I'm going to interrupt here again. You're listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network. We're listening to Mister Jeff Mizanskey, a man who spent nearly 23 years in prison for, in my opinion, minor marijuana charges, and Mister Peter Christ, one of the founding members of LEAP. Continue, gentlemen.

PETER CHRIST: Yeah. It's -- so, yours was a drug charge, third time offense so you were a three time offender, and that's what got you -- that was 20 years to life, is your --

JEFF MIZANSKEY: What I actually had was a life without -- I actually got sentenced --

PETER CHRIST: Life without parole.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: I actually got sentenced by the judge to a life sentence. But about 14, 15 years into my sentence, I found out it was life without, because even DOC thought I had a regular life sentence. I had papers to go see the parole board, and when that time came, and went, I got back in touch with the parole board to say hey, what's going on, why wasn't I ever called up there? I got told, we'll find out. Well, they found out within about three or four days, real quick, and told me, well now, under statute you're in here on, it's life without. You'll be in here forever, you're going to die here.

PETER CHRIST: In the 22 years you were locked up, you met a lot of people that came into the system. And being there for 22 years you met a lot of people that came into the system --

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Over and over.

PETER CHRIST: -- and then went out. Right?

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Over and over.

PETER CHRIST: Right? Anybody ever, like, come in for rape and then getting released during the time you served.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Hey, I'll tell you what, it was like they had keys. They'd come in, I've seen some guys come in two or three times for the same charge.

PETER CHRIST: In the period you're serving time for selling something to somebody that wanted to buy it, that's what they charged you with. Okeh? And a rapist, and you get to see the rapist come into prison and leave prison, and you're still sitting there. What a threat you were to society.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: It didn't make a whole lot of sense, did it?

PETER CHRIST: No.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: I actually seen people that were doing life sentences for murder get out, and come back in, on the same charge again, another murder. And, one of the gentlemen I know real well, he's getting ready to go for parole again. Whether he gets it or not, who knows? But it makes a man think, when you're sitting in there and, here I'm in here for marijuana. Weed. I'm a threat to society, so they say. That doesn't hurt anybody, completely nonviolent. It helps people with the medicine they use, and everything else. And then you see these people going in and out, they're raping our kids, our women. People that's killing, robbing. Very violent crimes, and they're getting in and out. And, I thought many times, I said, you know, I was in military, and I volunteered for that, and this is my country. What is this world coming to? They got everything upside down.

PETER CHRIST: Now, we -- you sat in a room with a closed, locked door for a long time, the only difference between those rooms and this room that you're sitting in now is any time you want to, you can leave. And that's a big difference.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Those rooms that you're talking about? It's about the size of a pretty good sized bathroom, and you're stuck in there with another man. And a lot of those guys are in there for 23 hours a day. Now, can people think about, can you be in there with your spouse or your significant other? I challenge anybody to sit in there and try and go in there for a couple of days with them.

PETER CHRIST: Even with your best friend in the whole world, you don't want to spend that much time locked in a box. That's what it is.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: That's why there's so much violence coming in, because no matter what, you're going to rub that other person the wrong way. And vice versa. And it just builds up and builds up and builds up, before long, somebody gets killed. Because they got so many nonviolent prisoners in prison, and think about it, $57.17 a day. There was 2,000 people at the prison I was at. That's a lot of money. Now, don't get me wrong, we have to have prisons. We've got people that need to be in prison.

PETER CHRIST: Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: I'm 100 percent for it. Some of them guys, I don't want out ever around my family or anybody else's family. But to put a nonviolent prisoner in there with them? It's a training ground. First of all, the nonviolent prisoner's got to protect himself, so you've got to do what you've got to do, so, there's a lot of them that end up catching a new case while they're in there.

PETER CHRIST: Let's talk a little bit about what made this conversation possible, because you're out.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: That's great.

PETER CHRIST: And you had life without parole, and now you're out. Give us a little concept, I understand your son had something to do with that, working on the outside, and --

JEFF MIZANSKEY: My family's been fighting for a long time, trying to get the word out to people. They put stuff on Facebook, and everywhere's else, and it just didn't seem like it was getting any traction anywhere. Of course, the industry grew, people have been -- their minds have been changed through a lot of efforts that you've done. Which is great, I thank you. And Show-Me Cannabis, a marvelous group in Missouri, they're leading the way there, as far as legalization, medical, and/or recreational. And the hemp industry, that's exactly right.

But anyhow, he had seen where they were going to, I think it was 2012, either 2012 or 2014, I think it was 2012, well they were going to try to put a bill out for legalization, and on that bill was where anybody that was in prison would automatically get put out on a certain date if it passed. So they went to a meeting, and at that meeting, they went around the room asking everybody, well, why are you here? Well, he told my story, and everybody was just blew away, they just couldn't believe it. And that's got -- a lot of what got it started. From there, it took a little time, of course they were trying to pass the bill at the time, but, they actually investigated and found out it was just purely marijuana, that's all the charges I've ever been arrested on.

Then they, John Payne, got in it, I talked to him, he said, I'm behind you, if it's one of last things I'm going to do, we're going to get you out. And Show-Me Cannabis. Of course, he posted a few things on his network, and they, a little newspaper in St. Louis called The Riverfront Times, Ray Downs worked for them and read it, or, and heard -- read the thing on the internet. He got interested, and decided to come and see me. Well, he did, we did an interview, he wrote the story and it was so compelling that the day that the story came out, my son started getting calls from people. Within a week, I started getting letters and cards from around the world. To write a story like that. And that's pretty much what got it all started.

From there, it spread. People was interested in it, their eyes finally were opened up that yes, there is people in jail for just strictly marijuana, and doing life without. And with the movement, it grew and grew. Of course there were reporters, newspaper people, and all kinds of news outlets there. There was times I was doing two and three interviews a week. But that was getting the word out. And unfortunately, people don't listen to just the once, but if you hear it over and over again, it starts resonating. And between facebook and all the news coverage, it got the word out.

Then all of a sudden, when I was at work, I got called up front. And heck, I didn't know why, I thought well maybe somebody was going to do another interview. So I walk up front and they're just pushing me on through, no no no, we're not stopping here, you go on right on through, and I come around the corner and there's three people sitting there. So, Representative Dogan, first time, he wasn't even in office very long, three or four months if that, I believe. He come up to me, and introduced himself, Representative Shamed Dogan, and told me he was from St. Louis area, and he read about my story and was interested in it, he didn't think it was right, and he wanted to talk to me about it. So we went over everything, and he checked it out, and it matched up with what he was hearing. So, he jumped up and he said, you know what? He said, it's wrong you being in here, and we're going to get you out. I'm going right now to go write a bill. Missouri had some problems at the end of their session, so a lot of bills didn't get looked at, and my bill was one of them that didn't get looked at.

But, they turned around and decided that they didn't want to wait until next session, and they all put a letter together and they signed it, it was, from what I understand, a majority of the House of Representatives and almost a majority of the Senate, all signed a bill, or a letter to the governor, telling him to let me free, that it wasn't right I was in there. Finally, the governor listened. I guess between all the people, we had 400,000 people, close to four hundred thousand people sign a petition online, and it helps. People finally got what they wanted, and helped me out.

PETER CHRIST: That's -- Now, you mentioned earlier about people coming up to you in prison because you were in there for a drug offense, trying to get you to get drugs into the prison. Right? And you didn't do that, you refused to do that.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Didn't really have to refuse, there was enough there.

PETER CHRIST: Well, I was just going to say. See, you just spoiled my question. Because what I was just going to ask you is, what's it like to live in a drug free community for 22 years. But you already spoiled it, because there's drugs in prison. My goodness, I'm shocked.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: There is -- I was offered marijuana, and cocaine, the very day that I walked in prison. And, I was told people got anything I wanted, any day I was in there.

PETER CHRIST: I was talking to an ex-con and he said the strange thing about prison was the hardest drug to get was marijuana. Because it was harder to use in the prison, because you could smell it. Cocaine, you could just, it doesn't smell, it doesn't odor, stuff like that. So, it's, by having the intense prohibition that you have in prison, you create a situation where the thing that's most available is the worst drugs that you could possibly have and the one that's the hardest to get is the one that probably, if I was a prison guard, and marijuana was legal, everybody that I had locked up would be getting weed if they wanted it, because people that are smoking weed usually ain't out killing people and beating people up and stuff like that, they're -- and there's another thing I've often said about marijuana. You'll find a fire at a house with a dead heroin addict laying on the couch. You'll find a fire in a house with a dead alcoholic laying on the couch. You'll never find a fire in a house with a dead marijuana user laying on the couch.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: That's true. How true.

PETER CHRIST: And their using might have been the start of the fire, but when the fire starts, they're sober enough to get the hell out of the house, you know?

JEFF MIZANSKEY: And everybody else in the house could get out.

PETER CHRIST: Exactly. Exactly.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: And you know, it's a funny thing you mentioned that about the guards, because countless guards come up to me and said, I wish we could hand it out to everybody in here.

PETER CHRIST: I know.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: They wanted marijuana to be in with the inmates.

DEAN BECKER: A mellow prison, imagine that.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Well, the -- you've got some really violent people in prison, and they know, through experience, how much it would help. You know, what really helped me get by is my family values when I grew up. I was taught to try to help others. And I've seen a lot of youngsters coming in and going back out, and coming back in. But I've seen a lot of these old-timers that were there forever, living their lives through these young guys, and getting with them, saying, hey, you know, we know you're in here for burglary, and I committed a burglary, and so and so did burglary, and so and so did burglary, let's all get together and talk about it, and see how we done it, see where we made our mistakes. So the next time you go out, you can do it different and succeed. So that's why I say it's a training ground. Okeh?

PETER CHRIST: So we are actually correcting these people, we're just correcting them to be better criminals. That's what they mean by corrections, I guess.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: It's just a shame.

PETER CHRIST: It's -- the thing that, to me, that shames it the most, is the fact that it's us, America. This land of the free, home of the brave, this understanding of the concept of liberty and that that's where we get the benefit from other people is by allowing them to be free and all that, and then we get sucked into these --

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Lies.

PETER CHRIST: Lies. Absolutely lies. And interestingly enough, I'm going to throw you a little picture on something else. I ask a lot of people why did we start alcohol prohibition? And I get a lot of different answers from people. Here's my reason, why we started alcohol prohibition. In the late 1800s, the early part of the 20th century, there was a huge movement in America, and it was called the Protestant Reformation. And they had tent meetings all over the country, and there was a big deal, big resurgence of Protestantism throughout the country. There were two groups of people those Protestants did not like. One group was called Catholics, and the other group was called Jews. And pouring in through Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th century were Italian and Irish Catholics, and Jews from western Europe. And they didn't like that. But you couldn't make a law against being Catholic or being a Jew, because that's against the Constitution, they have a right to do that. What's their drug of choice, those Catholics and Jews?

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Alcohol, of course.

PETER CHRIST: Alcohol. How about we just ban alcohol? Now, my mother was born and my father also were born in 1904. My mother, I remember her telling me a story about, there would be ads in the Buffalo newspaper for help wanted, and the last line of the ad would say, Catholics need not apply. That's how open it was, I'm saying, the prejudice. In 1920, we started alcohol prohibition. Who were the gangsters and thugs of alcohol prohibition? Italian, Irish, and Jews. Now, when I say that to people, I say, what's genetically wrong with those people that makes them criminals like that. And it has nothing to do with genetics. It has to do with, we had made something illegal, they couldn't get jobs in the regular marketplace because they weren't hiring Catholics and Jews, and the only place they could make money to pay their rent, to feed their kids, was by getting involved in this illegal activity, and that's what we created. And we're doing the same thing with Hispanics and blacks today, and it's the same motivation in this drug war as it was with the previous prohibition, and it has nothing to do with the thing that's prohibited. It has to do with the people we decide are not like the rest of us, and therefore need to be segregated from society.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: I agree with you a whole lot on that, but you know what, you say Hispanics, and blacks, but being in prison, I found out it's not Hispanics or blacks, it's people, including white.

PETER CHRIST: From the beginning of my life, I had two wonderful parents, I talk about them all the time and everything else. My mother had her own definition of what a fool was. And my mother used to say that a fool is a human being who, when meeting another human being for the first time, the fool is the one who doesn't first observe the mirror.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Exactly right.

PETER CHRIST: In other words, I was brought up to, every time I saw another human being, the first thing I saw was myself walking toward me, because I realized that if I -- you pick any other human being on this planet, from any, furthest, most different from me in the world, and you sit me down with them, and we both make our list of the things we have in common, and the things that are different, and you know what's always going to be the long list? The things we have in common.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: That's right.

PETER CHRIST: The differences are a very small minority, you can deal with them later. And it was interesting because being a cop for 20 years, I took liberty away from a lot of people. And every time I made an arrest, I always got a little flash in the mirror. And it reminded me that I wasn't special, that this was just a situation that I was in that if you turned it 180 degrees around, this person could be putting the cuffs on me. This is life, this is what it is, and I'm, for that, thanks to my mom, after spending 20 years in a very, very, very, very seductive profession, because of the power you have and power, I don't necessarily agree that power always corrupts, but it's very seductive. It really sucks you in. And I got through 20 years of police work without ever buying into it.

In fact, there was a guy that came on the job about a year after I came on it -- after I retired, and I met him at a couple things that I went back to, retirement parties and stuff, and we got to know each other a little bit. And he was on the job about four years or so, and there's a question of police work that you ask new cops when they come on, and the question is, are you a cop yet? Are you a cop yet? And I said to him, are you a copy yet? And he says, you know, I don't think I would have said yes a year ago, he said, but I think I'm there now, he said. I think I'm in it. I said, you know, that's interesting. I never was. And he looked at me kind of funny, he said, they talk a lot about you around here. He said, I think you were. I go, no no no, I was just Peter Christ being a cop. It was never the definition of who I was as a human being. Senior officers would say to me, the strangest thing about this job is that every time you arrest somebody, you're arresting your boss. Why? Because you work for the people. Okeh? And that's what I was taught when I came on the job. By the time I left that job in the late 80s, we weren't arresting our boss anymore. We were arresting the enemy. You don't treat the enemy with the same level of respect you treat your boss.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: That's true.

DEAN BECKER: I think you have some rather unique perspectives, being put forward here by Mister Jeff Mizanskey and Mister Peter Christ, and hopefully it will give you some concern, help you re-evaluate your position on this. At its heart, we, meaning American people, hell people of the world, need to re-assess this thing called drug war, and find a new direction. Something with compassion, understanding, and second, real second chances. Gentlemen, thank you both.

PETER CHRIST: Thank you.

JEFF MIZANSKEY: Thank you very much.

DEAN BECKER: There you have it. I hope you enjoyed our Christmas special, and once again I leave you with the thought that, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

JOHN LENNON: [MUSIC] So this is Christmas,
And what have you done?
Another year over,
A new one's just begun.
And so this is Christmas,
I hope you have fun.