by Dean Becker
Guest: Nora Callahan, Director of the November Coalition
(Audio Track) Intro – 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.
Dean: Nora Callahan, she’s the director of the November Coalition. We’ll have her on here in just a moment, but first I want to talk about the fact that the King County Bar Association – this represents the people of Seattle, Washington – have just issued a report that in my interpretation basically calls for an end to all the harms of the drug war. This is a coalition of people – ministers, pharmacy advisors, psychiatrists, doctors, and many, many people within the community – who have seen the harms of the drug war, and the director of their drug outreach program is Roger Goodman. Here’s a little bit from him in this regard.
Goodman: We are now gathering the support of all the other organizations in our coalition including the wide range of professional, civic organizations – the Church Council of Greater Seattle just adopted the same resolution we did, before we did in fact. The Washington State Public Health Association, the League of Women Voters of Seattle, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, have already adopted this resolution. Coming up is the African-American Bar Association, the Washington State Pharmacy Association, the Society of Addiction Medicine, believe it or not – you know, the state Society of Addiction Medicine understands that this opens gateways to treatment. And that treatment is very important. There are a lot of people who are misusing drugs. The misery of drug addiction cannot be ignored, and yet we’re not funding it and we’re not really prioritizing it. And so, the Society of Addiction Medicine understands that. You know, a lot of people can’t adjust properly to the complexity of our modern world, and so drug addiction and drug treatment are realities. So anyway, the Academy of Family Physicians will likely support it, the State Psychological Association has just indicated its willingness to join in the group, whatever we do; the State Psychiatric Association, and so forth. So you see the coalition that we’ve built, and I guess you would call it reform from the center because, you know, we’re the stuffed shirts of the world. And we are asking for change, and this seems to be unstoppable.
Dean: Unstoppable, indeed. The stuffed shirts of the world are indeed beginning to see the light. As I understand it in talking with Roger, in about 6 weeks they are going to ratchet this up another notch; and he’s going to be our guest at that time. We do have with us, though, she is now online – Nora Callahan; can you hear me, Nora?
Callahan: Yes, I can.
Dean: Welcome to Cultural Baggage. Nora, tell the folks a little bit about yourself and your organization.
Callahan: Well, the November Coalition was founded in 1997 to represent and advocate for the prisoners of the drug war. Myself, I’m the sister of a prisoner of the drug war. My brother asked me, along with other prisoners, if we couldn’t start an organization that would be the voice of the drug war prisoner and join in the other coalitions that involved stuffed shirts. They were kind of more the victims of the drug war. And so we’re not reform from the center, we’re reform from the bottom.
Dean: Well, indeed, it’s been a long road; but I think very worthwhile. You’ve gained great recognition for your work and for your magazine Razorwire. Tell us a bit about that.
Callahan: We publish a newspaper, not as regularly as we once did as more and more people go online; but we still try to maintain regular communication with imprisoned members and people who don’t have internet access to go over what’s been going on and what the future holds for us. And we just mailed a recent issue, and we have an activist packet that will be mailed to our dues-paying members at the end of February. We try to keep a consistent communication up. That’s sometimes quite difficult when you are dealing with people who are imprisoned and who don’t have money, but the internet is a God-send in that regard because people are able to communicate more for less money. It doesn’t include the prisoners, though.
Dean: Right, and they need the hardcopy if they can get it.
Dean: Let me ask you this, Nora, there was a recent Supreme Court ruling that impacts many of the people who have been sentenced under these drug laws. Was it the Booker ruling?
Callahan: They call it the “Booker decision.” It kind of came out of the Blakely case, which came out of a case called the Prendie, which came out of a case called Singleton years and years ago. So this has been a long process; but yes, on January 12 the Supreme Court rendered the U.S. sentencing guidelines unconstitutional. Now what happens is, no one knows. It’s a very interesting decision. Partly we know, the sentencing guidelines never were really a guide. This is difficult to even discuss. Names were kind of important, but in the mid-80s when new sentencing laws went into place, they had two schemes, one called mandatory minimum sentencing – there was nothing minimum about them. And the U.S. sentencing guidelines that weren’t a guide, but a grid – hard and fast – more mandatory sentencing. So you have to imagine it as if there were two rails of sentencing that a Federal drug defendant might encounter. And one rail, the U.S. sentencing guidelines, are now deemed unconstitutional as a mandate and they are supposed to be only advisory. So, that’s good news; but it isn’t good news for people languishing in prison whose appeals are up and over and have been denied. They are not granted automatic retroactivity, so that becomes the November Coalition’s challenge. How do we extend constitutional protection to those prisoners who are abused by a law that is now deemed unconstitutional?
Dean: It is quite a challenge that you’re going against here; and I know that you will make progress, because you have the attitude, the people, and the commitment to get it done.
Callahan: Well, I hope so; because it’s not fair to extend this to people who pled guilty on threat of these terrible grids of sentencing. Again, they weren’t to guide, but that’s what they are called to this day. Now they are a guide – but the people that were threatened by that and who were under the terrible monopoly of power that prosecutors had before this recent decision.
Dean: Take the 10 years, or you’re going to get 20, yes.
Callahan: Yes, so people pled guilty who, if they could have faced the discretion of a judge, and not be sentenced without the jury knowing of things. That’s another thing that this recent decision does. It puts the burden on the prosecutor to prove these charges by the jury, or they can’t be sentenced. Whereas up until this time, defendants might have been declared not guilty on some of the charges, but sentenced to those charges nonetheless. It was a terrible scheme. And so we want people who are in Federal prison now – and there’s almost 200,000 of them – and so many of their appeals were already denied. Because when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred and Timothy McVeigh had done that terrible deed, our President at the time, Clinton, responded with the anti-terrorism act, the anti-death penalty act of that day, terrorism and death penalty act. And what it did was it restricted everyone to having just a short time to file for appeals, and other restrictions were placed, and a lot of Federal prisoners rushed through their appeals quickly. And they still have to do that today. And so these things have to be looked at and addressed. And the interesting thing is that almost everyone analyzing this situation is saying that Congress is going to revisit drug sentencing and sentencing laws.
Dean: Well, the last time they did that, they had a pissing contest to see who could have the worst problem in their city and how bad they needed to change the laws. And let’s hope they don’t do that again because…
Callahan: Well, they had better not; and they shouldn’t, because if you look at how editorial boards around the country are responding to the Supreme Court decision that gives judges more discretion, they are responding favorably and many are calling on Congress to do this with a cool head. Look at the research, look at the studies, you know; the facts are in now, and we need to take a hard look at those facts and with cool heads and proper policies; work on making society safer, not just less free.
Dean: Indeed, you are so right, Nora. You know, I monitor the papers in various cities in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain; and I see such a parallel track being taken. The Pentagon files reveal more prison abuses in Iraq. It’s coming out the Brits were doing it. They are saying that in the British prisons now, there’s more inmates being intimated, beaten, and raped by prison gangs and it’s – in Mexico, they are having problems with the prisoners of the drug gangs and violence. It’s everywhere.
Callahan: In a recent – Thomas – I believe his name is Emigh, but I don’t know how to pronounce it, but he’s currently a correctional officer in California of high repute and he recently came out in the Sacramento Bee newspaper, and we reported this in ours, that one of the concerns that happens in prison is the guards take on the culture of the prisoners.
Dean: Ofttimes wear the colors and such for the gangs, right?
Callahan: Yes, and so all of this culture, this odd culture when you take a group of people and hide them and guard them – prisoners are both hidden. They assume each other’s culture; and it becomes this weird blend, and it’s in the Razorwire, if people want to find our newspaper online, it’s on the world wide web at november.org. And look for the Razorwire, and there are two articles about correctional officers. One is a former lieutenant in the Bureau of Prisons who is now working with our organization and others to voice an opinion he has after being a guard in the Federal prison system and retiring from it. And he wants these laws changed. He believes that it is a form of genocide for black people, because they are imprisoning so many young men.
Dean: Nora, I don’t know how true this is; perhaps there is a spark of hope on the horizon. I got this off the AP right as I was headed to the studio today. It stated that the Supreme Court has asked Federal courts to reconsider sentences for hundreds of defendants who contend they were wrongly punished under a sentencing system the court has declared unconstitutional. I hope there is some substance to that.
Callahan: Well, that’s what we are hoping for. We’re thinking that the immediate need, the immediate concern, is how many people are languishing in prison due to the unconstitutional laws that were in place. And how they can start sentencing people differently and with judge’s discretion today, leaving thousands of people behind bars. And by the way, there were 16 states that had the same sentencing structure that now has to be reworked. It wasn’t just the Federal system. This not only affects the Federal system, but about 16 states. So there’s massive amounts of reform, and what we are pleading for is for good citizens to let your newspaper editorial boards know how you feel about this miserable war on drugs. Let your leaders know that imprisonment is not the answer. Prisons are too expensive and do too much human damage to be used as a first resort. They need to be a last choice, not a first choice.
Dean: Nora, I know that in many states, certainly in many municipalities in Texas, there is a raging controversy about the crime labs and their part in sending people to prison – that many times the people doing these tests don’t even rinse the containers before the next test.
Callahan: Well, that’s the same problem, if you look at it; it’s the same problem of all of the prison abuse and the weird culture. What happens when you lose a system of lawful checks and balances that’s called the “rule of law.” It is what is the definition of justice. That’s the definition of justice, that we would follow legal procedures. But when you have people in custody and they’re not following legal procedures and being abusive, when it’s a crime lab and nobody is looking, it allows for so much abuse. And this is what we have to stop, is this constant moving away from the rule of law. The definition of justice is that we follow rules. The other is lawlessness; and there is lawlessness in these crime labs, yes.
Dean: Indeed. Nora, I want to ask you about this, and I don’t have a lot of stats involved; but this afternoon I caught from the Dallas Morning News a report that prison rape has increased by 160% in the last 4 years, and they say that’s a sign of vigilance. What is your thought in that regard?
Callahan: Overcrowding. If you put people in cages like animals, you are going to get animal behavior. It is used as a system of control. You know – be good, do this, do that, or you might get harmed and it could be rape. It is a problem. I do think that in some prisons, it’s not as bad as in others; and each prison needs community oversight. Again, if you hide people away and nobody is looking – good isn’t going to come out of that. We are supposed to have an open society, in part because that’s what keeps us in check. You don’t close corners. You don’t put people into cages and closets and nobody is looking in. It opens the door for abuse, and it is something odd about human nature. If you give a set of people within another group of people absolute power over these people, they will abuse it. The Stanford Experiment of long ago proves that.
Dean: Right, right, the gang up.
Callahan: Took the college kids and set them up and said, “Okay, you’re prisoners; you’re guards.” And within hours, the abuse started. They had to stop the experiment quickly. The abuse – in fact the college came under fire for allowing as much abuse of student on student. It occurred so quickly when they went into role, playing prisoner and guard.
Dean: Well, Nora, if you will, tell the folks a little bit more about your website, what they might find, where it is on the web.
Callahan: Well, you can find us again on the internet at november.org. We have a collection of news, late-breaking news, we have a lot about the Blakely-Booker Supreme Court decision. There is a blog on there where I’m talking to people about what they should do to get retroactivity, to have this apply to people already sentenced unconstitutionally, or threatened into a plea agreement. They can read about other projects we have going on. And within a week or two, an outline that will take us from now until Mother’s Day actions around prisons and Federal courthouses, the week of Mother’s Day. That’s all preliminary. We’re scrambling because a lot of people, including ourselves, we expected a good Supreme Court decision; but I have to say, we didn’t expect it to be as broad as it’s turning into. So we are excited and we’re scrambling and if people are sure to visit november.org on a weekly basis, they will be up to speed on what the November Coalition is doing to ensure that prisoners in the Federal system are released early on some kind of special provision by Congress or the President.
Dean: Nora, one last question. Now we are both well aware of the fact that there’s 2 – almost 2.1 million of our fellow citizens in prisons, the vast majority of them there for drug charges. What has been your observation? Is this going to change without the involvement of Joe Citizen out there? The one’s who understand the problem?
Callahan: No, because historically it doesn’t change. People in power abuse people that have no political power. The only way that it is going to change is if everyone assumes that political power as the 4th branch of government, “we the people,” and learn to use their voices and demand change, demand justice. Because the war on drugs – we can’t afford the injustice anymore. We’re going broke. Not to mention financially, that’s only part of it. The emotional damage, the long-term societal damage of locking up this many people. No one has done it before. We don’t even know where it is leading, but we do know that we have 7 million people in this country in some form of legal custody. 2.2 million are in prison, the rest of them are on some form of supervised release. That’s a lot of people.
Dean: It is indeed, and such a waste of people and money and capability. Where we could invest that money in other more worthwhile endeavors.
Callahan: That’s right. Schools, not prisons.
Dean: You bet, you bet. Nora, I want to thank you for joining us. I want to bring you back later on, perhaps once they sort out what exactly they are going to do with this retroactivity.
Callahan: Yes, we know today though, we do know today, that people that are going before judges around the country, not all are being slammed with these horrible 10 and 20 years. Some are walking out with time served, while they awaited trial in jail. So, we are thrilled that it is helping people today. Don’t get me wrong. We are glad that people today do not have to go through what we did the days we sat in sentencing courts expecting a few years and ending up hearing 27-1/2 years. That’s over.
Dean: Nora, if you will listen in, we are going to play that little clip that you guys had done against our own – I’m sorry if I forgot the title – but …
Callahan: Oh, that’s a cut of a song written in response to the terrible abuse in Iraq. And we’re not professional singers, but we hope someday a professional will do that song for us.
Dean: And you make a strong point with it; and once again, I want to thank you for being with us.
Callahan: Okay, thank you.
Dean: Thank you, Nora.
It’s time to play “Name That Drug by Its Side Effects”: tingling, dilated pupils, palpitations, breathing difficulties, disorientation, headache, liver damage, kidney damage, brain and blood system damage, heart failure, and death from suffocation. Time’s up. The answer: inhalants. Not exactly approved by the FDA, but they’re under every kitchen counter.
Next up, we hear a song from today’s guests, Nora Callahan and friends. “It’s Our Own Kind.”
Francis: So, you think you are for drug legalization, for stripping the government of its authority to enforce drug laws? Laws designed to protect citizens from their own irresponsible actions and to prosecute citizens as criminals when they have committed no crime. Really? Then how do you feel about gun control? You see, gun control laws restrict citizens from manufacturing, possessing, and distributing certain property – guns. If a citizen is found to be in possession of a gun not allowed by the gun control laws, that citizen is labeled a criminal though he or she has committed no crime. The laws are designed to protect citizens from what they might do with items deemed too dangerous for us to have. Sound familiar? You cannot be for gun laws if you are against drug laws, because both follow the same path of logic. Think about it. This has been Winston Francis with “ the official government truth.”
Dean: Next up, our reporter and sometimes engineer, Steve Nolin.
Nolin: From the pages of Hempstery, an essay on hashish, historical and experimental by Victor Robinson, MD:
1925: “Hemp, says professor Horatio C. Wood, is not a dangerous drug. Even the largest dosage of its active preparations, although causing most alarming symptoms, does not compromise life. We have never been able to give an animal a sufficient quantity of the drug to produce death. When study of the drug was first commenced, careful search of the literature on the subject was made to determine its toxicity. Not a single case of fatal poisoning have we been able to find reported, although often alarming symptoms may occur. A dog weighing about 25 pounds received an injection of 2 ounces of the USP fluid extract in the jugular vein, with the expectation that it would certainly be sufficient to kill the animal. To our surprise, the animal, after being unconscious for about a day and a half, recovered completely. Another dog received about 7 grams of the solid extract with the same results. Join us next time on “From the Pages of Hempstory.”
Heath: The Media Awareness Project is the world’s largest online archive on drug policy news and opinions as printed in newspapers and major magazines worldwide. For 2005, MAP would like to announce their offer for specialized training of individuals and groups that will help you create more coverage of drug policy issues in your state and local newspapers and for increased airtime of drug policy issues on your local radio and TV. For more information on this personalized training, for you and your organization, contact Steve Heath by email, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.mapinc.org.
Dean: From the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, this is Philip Lucas. We begin our discussion talking about NAOMI, the North American Opium Maintenance Initiative. The NAOMI project, going to start soon, tell us a little bit about that.
Lucas: The NAOMI project, it’s a research project being done in Vancouver. It’s going to be comparing the effectiveness of prescription heroin to prescription methadone in helping addicts deal with their heroin addiction and their opiate addiction. It’s going to be started in February, I’m told. It’s going through the final approval. In fact, Health Canada is in Vancouver this week doing their inspection of the site in which the NAOMI project will be run. This is going to be the first time in North America that doctors will be able to prescribe heroin to addicts. We’re going to be comparing the effectiveness of heroin compared to methadone in keeping addicts regulated and productive.
Dean: That should bring forward some positive results in that these people will no longer be shooting up the black market product which is sometimes cut with baby laxatives and other who knows what.
Lucas: Absolutely. As many in the research community know, methadone itself is a very addictive substance that can be very harmful to some people’s health. So, although methadone has helped a lot of people stay off opiate addiction, we hope that heroin is going to do as good or even better job. It seems to make more sense that if the criminality associated with opiate use is through the people trying to get their fix, that this is going to be one solution that keeps people on the productive end of society, which is where I think they want to be and most addicts want to be. It’s similar to projects that they have done in Europe. They found that people who were prescribed heroin were able to maintain jobs and keep working, they were able to keep their families together, and be better fathers and be better citizens than they were when they had to start every day trying to figure out where their next fix was coming from.
Dean: I want to point out those hemp story facts, they were garnered by original documents owned by the Drug Truth Network’s own Hempstorian, Dwayne. I want to thank him for that. You know, many times I have railed against the traffickers, and the smugglers, and the growers and how they don’t want prohibition to end; how it would kill their golden goose. But I have to eat a couple of those words. Just today, I got a little infusion for the Drug Truth Network, enough to power us for maybe a week; and it came from some growers who told me how much they want to provide medical marijuana for their fellow citizens. You know, quality product at a reasonable price. And I want to thank those gentle farmers for standing tall for ending prohibition. Next week, our guest will be Rich Watkins. He has just retired as the warden of the Texas Holiday Prison Unit; and he, too, says the drug war is out of control and must be stopped. I want to bid welcome to a couple of new affiliates to the Drug Truth Network, KUGS in Billingham, Washington. Hello, friends. And KCSB in Santa Barbara, hello, hello. To you folks listening in for the first time on any of the affiliates, please let the station know your feelings about this program and the need to work together to end the harms of the drug war. You know we are broadcasting now on 22 stations in the U.S. and Canada; and we need to work together, because as Nora stated earlier, only by working together, only by informing your elected officials and the local papers of the need for change – because they know, and they need to know that you know that they know. I wanted to read you a quick thought here. This is a quote: “Under existing conditions, private capitalists invariably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information; and so it’s extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions.” That’s from Albert Einstein. As always because of drug prohibition, I remind you, you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.
For the Drug Truth Network, and our affiliates in the U.S. and Canada, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth. This show is produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston. Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.