05/06/16 Tony Papa

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Tony Papa, Mgr of Media relations at DPA has a new book This Side of Freedom + Nurse Ken Wolski, Veterans advocate Michael Krawitz and nurse Amy

Audio file


MAY 6, 2016


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

DR. G. ALAN ROBISON: It is not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally un-American.

CROWD: No more! Drug war! No More! Drug War! No More! Drug War!

DEAN BECKER: 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.

Today, we're privileged, I think, to have a gentleman who can talk about both sides of this drug war, who has worked in drug reform but who spent years in prison because of youthful indiscretion. You may have read his first book, Fifteen Years To Life. And he has a brand new book out now, This Side Of Freedom. I want to welcome the manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance, Mr. Anthony Papa. Hey, Tony, how you doing?

TONY PAPA: Hey, Dean, I'm happy to be on your show. Thanks for inviting me.

DEAN BECKER: Tony, your book touches on the situation in the original book, Fifteen To Life. But it goes beyond that. It talks about the other side, talks about the side of freedom. And once released from prison, there's a whole new set of obstacles, is there not?

TONY PAPA: Yes, there are. You know, one of the things with the first book was a memoir about my prison experience. This book, This Side Of Freedom: Life After Clemency, is the story of my 18 years of freedom. You know, I always dreamed of regaining my freedom while in prison, and when I was granted executive clemency in 1997, my dream came true. But what happened, the reality was, freedom wasn't all what I expected to be. And this is because of the struggle I had getting it together while, you know, I served the 12 year sentence in prison in maximum security, and then being slapped in the face rudely, with my freedom, I had no preparation. I just came out and was thrown into the real world, and then I realized that there were so many barriers, roadblocks for ex-offenders to overcome in order to properly interact with society. I couldn't believe it. Roadblocks, I mean, the legal roadblocks that actually President Obama has talked about recently, when he let people out with -- giving them clemencies.

John Oliver talked about it on HBO. These legal roadblocks, they're barriers with housing, getting a job, just so many barriers that are against ex-offenders returning to society. So for me, with this new book, what I tried to do is document, you know, what I went through as a former prisoner reentering society, and the people I met along the way, the struggles that I had, and interacting with people, relationships, just getting a job, just trying to get housing. It was just a real struggle for me. So, hopefully, you know, people can read this book, get an idea what it's about to be an ex-prisoner, to come into society, maybe it will help better frame what's going on in an ex-offender's life so people can help them, communities could accept them. Hopefully, politicians read the book and see, you know, what goes on in the life of someone who spent an extraordinary amount of time in prison, then comes to the free world and try to interact positively. So hopefully it will work.

DEAN BECKER: And Tony, I think, woven throughout this book and your previous book is the fact that your talent, your ability to paint and to present circumstance through those paintings, has been instrumental in changing your life as well. Am I right?

TONY PAPA: Well, yes, you know, people, pictures, go to my website, 15yearstolife.com, and take a look at the work, my art, and what I've used my art, you know, I discovered my talent as an artist while in prison, and one night I was sitting in my cell, after three years in prison, I discovered my talent as an artist from another prisoner. Picked up a mirror, looked in the mirror, and started to visualize he was going to spend the rest of his life in a 6'x9' cage. Picked up a canvas and I painted a self portrait, and it appeared at the Whitney Museum of American Art about 7 years later. And the governor of New York, Governor George Pataki, granted me executive clemency based on my art, so I literally painted my way to freedom, which was the subtitle of my first book.

But, it shows, like, how I discovered my political way in this, where I stand in society. The second book, now, This Side Of Freedom, talks about the people I've met, you know, the rich, the famous, how I tried to enlist them to help me change the laws that put me away and to save those I left behind. In the book, there's many people you can see I met, like Cameron Douglas, who I feel is the poster boy of drug relapse, where he was punished for his falling off the wagon and getting an unbelievable, the toughest sentence I ever recorded, five years from this judge that actually gave him the extra sentence because of a drug relapse. And he was an addict all his life, and when he came to prison, he got no drug treatment, and he was punished for what he did. He fell off the wagon. So, this talks about these situations. Robin Chambers, who was in New York, people familiar with his case, he actually murdered someone. And it was a horrible murder. And basically, he got less time for the murder than he did when he came home and was sentenced under the Rockefeller drug laws and was given a 15 to life sentence.

DEAN BECKER: Tony, in your book, you even talk about, in the early days, once you were released from prison, how just getting on a train and getting jostled and bumped went against the grain, went against the mentality you had developed in prison, and how difficult it was to hold back responding to just being bumped. Talk about that, please.

TONY PAPA: Yeah. Well, I talk about these mechanisms that you use in prison to survive. They're great in prison, but outside, it's another matter. The, you know, the incident I talked about was when I first got on a train. I was bumped, and all of a sudden I went into survival mode, feeling like I felt while I was in prison. You know, basically, what happened in prison was the same thing, got bumped in line, and then the safety mechanism, survival mechanism in effect, and I, you know, the way I survived in prison hit me on the outside when I was in this train, I felt the same feeling. But, those feelings can evolve into behavior that could become negative, that might result in a parole violation. This is what I talk about. Those survival mechanisms that you have in prison, which are great for prison but you drag along those survival mechanisms into the free world, it's like, you're doing time but from the other side of the gate. It's, you know, you're in a free society, and you still live with those thoughts in prison.

Right now, it's like 18 years afterwards. I still get those feelings. It's always been with me, the nightmares, the sweats, it's horrible to do time. So, you know, people, I think, should know about, people who come out, who are trying to enter society in a positive way, and maybe by reading this book, get an idea how to help people make that transition.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed. Indeed. Prison, being locked up, has its own kind of PTSD, does it not?

TONY PAPA: I think you hit it on the head, it's true.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, we've been speaking with Mister Tony Papa. He's manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance, author of a brand new book I highly recommend, This Side Of Freedom. Mister Papa, any closing thoughts you'd like to share?

TONY PAPA: People can learn something and help an ex-offender when he comes home by reading this book, get an idea what it's like doing time in prison and reentering society.

DEAN BECKER: Again, that was Tony Papa, author of This Side Of Freedom. I urge you to get a copy out there on Amazon.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Euphoria, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, addiction, respiratory arrest, and death. Time's up! This drug, 80 times stronger than morphine and heroin, is available via schedule two prescription: Fentanyl, for major pain.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, my name's Michael Krawitz, I'm the executive director, and I was invited by Patients Out of Time to help lead a veterans' community panel, discussion panel.

DEAN BECKER: Now Michael, over the, hell, I don't know, decade or so we've known one another now, it's been slow progress, little step forward, two steps back, three steps forward. Did we just take three or four steps forward recently, with this Senate panel approving new nuances for veterans to use medical cannabis?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: I think you're seeing the tip of the iceberg break through. So, I don't know about two steps forward, but it's a big issue that's emerging. And it's been really a delicate and difficult process for us to get to the point where we're at. In, what was it, 2010, we were able to pass a medical marijuana policy inside the VA, and that was updated in 2011. In that policy, it made it clear that the VA felt that they were under threat of arrest, should they recommend cannabis. Now, every doctor outside in the real world knows that they're not under any threat of arrest for writing a recommendation for cannabis, and they don't really understand the legal background of that, but they know that they're safe in doing that.

Well, the legal background is a Ninth Circuit case that we won an injunction, in a case called Conant v Walters, Conant v McCaffrey later renamed Conant v Walters. And in that case, the doctors won an injunction against the federal government from going after them for writing recommendations. But that's only west coast law, because the Supreme Court never took the case, it never became national law. Because it never became national law, even though the doctors around the country feel very comfortable with the free speech arguments and whatnot that make up the case, the VA has never been pressured into, or more specifically, the DEA has never felt any pressure to change their stance. Even though they really have no teeth, they have no ability to really go after doctors inside the VA for recommending it, they've never lifted that threat.

And it really has only been this recent action in the US Congress, with the Veterans Equal Access Amendment that you're talking about, and on the Senate side the CARERS Act, where we've actually finally been able to have this dialogue with the VA, and the VA has expressed to the Senate and the Congress, this very threat that they still feel that they're under, which was illuminated by a 2008 memo from the General Counsel of the VA. So that's where that comes from, it's not from the medical marijuana policy, the medical marijuana policy just sort of notated that fact, that was brought up in the General Counsel's memo. But that's where we're at.

Now, it's kind of a dialogue, that this bill in Congress helped to create, and now we're looking at, I guess, what you might call a sit-down discussion that the DEA, the VA, and the Congress are having right now, as I understand it. And resolving from that should be a new VA medical marijuana policy. The one that we were operating under expired in January of last year, January 2016 was the end date of it. So, we're operating under no new policy. The old policy doesn't go away, the clinical guidance stays in the system until it's rescinded or replaced, and they're talking about replacing it with a policy that will make it clear that VA doctors have free speech.

Now, this is going to be a real dance, because, as we understand it, as we all know, the writing of a recommendation is a free speech activity. And if they still feel that they're under threat of arrest for writing a recommendation, but they still feel that the doctors have free speech, this is going to be a real interesting memo that they're going to be coming out with.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and what you touched upon, the DEA is doing some sort of reconsideration. The Senate -- it seems that anywhere you look, somebody's slightly rattling the bars of the cage. It's beginning to, I don't know, just become less taboo to talk of that need for change. Am I right?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: I think that's very true, but I think there's even a more important thing at stake here, and that is, they've been passing the buck, back and forth and back and forth. You see the executive branch, the White House, say, oh we can't reschedule cannabis, for example. That's Congress has that duty. Well then Congress says, no, no, that's an executive branch, you have the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the DEA, and, you know, HHS, all that's, you know, in the executive branch. What are you telling us to do this for? You're the ones that do this thing. So back and forth, and back and forth. But every time they knock the ball back and forth across the table, it seems like the ball's a little closer to the table. You know?

And I think that it's getting harder. And I think this conversation in VA, if it has any real value to the overall reform, it's making it almost stop, the ball's stopping. And they're having to just share this responsibility. That's what it's going to come down to. They're not going to be able to dodge it, it's not going to be able to passed back and forth, it will just stop on both ends. We're pushing it hard enough now that I can see this happening. We've got lots of bills in Congress, we've got lots of activity, the DEA is now talking about rescheduling cannabis, at least to schedule two, which is at least one step closer to sanity. So, I think that that's what we're really looking at, is the reform movement's effectiveness in having a battle on each front, so that they can't, you know, bounce it back and forth so effectively anymore.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, we've been speaking with Mister Michael Krawitz. Michael, what am I leaving out? What would you like to share with the audience, some closing thoughts, websites? You know, wrap this up for me.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Well, you didn't even touch on the next thing that I'm doing. I'm getting ready to leave here to go to the United Nations drug summit, up in New York, which is a rather special, you know, kind of moment in time, where the world will stop and reflect on drug policy. A lot of people are looking at this process in New York and, you know, kind of shaking their heads in disbelief that we're not seeing any real concrete change. But this is a huge freight train, and as you said, you know, it's little bits and pieces that you see as evidence of change. If you're looking at a huge train, it's hard to really tell it's turning around. Right? But, the train is slowing down, and I think it is beginning to prepare to turn around.

You're not going to see any real concrete change in New York, in these United Nations meetings. But on the margins, the United Nations is just now really, I think, coming fully to terms with harm reduction, and I think human rights are starting to bubble to the surface. You know, all the activity of the United Nations is supposed to be governed by basic human rights and the charter of the United Nations. And both of those are pretty horribly trampled on by the drug policy as it plays out around the globe. So that's what a lot our activists are looking at, is, you know, how can we eliminate the death penalty as it applies to drugs, and how can we ensure medicinal access, and how can we ensure indigenous rights to their plant materials and their cultures and rituals?

So that's kind of the questions that we're starting to bring to the table. But I think we're not going to start seeing answers to those questions for many years, maybe about 2019, you'll start seeing the system answer those questions. But today, harm reduction is on the table.

DEAN BECKER: All right. And your website, Michael.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: The website, you can find us most easily, Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access, on facebook. And it's Facebook.com/USA.VMCA, as in Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access. And send us a message via that platform, or through our website, VeteransForMedicalCannabisAccess.org, and we'll be happy to talk with you.

DEAN BECKER: [MUSIC] This pot's so good, that when I smoke it, the government freaks out.

Here in Baltimore, Maryland. I'm at the Patients Out of Time conference. I'm with Mister Ken Wolski.

KEN WOLSKI: Hi, I'm Ken Wolski, I'm the executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey. We co-founded this nonprofit 501c3 educational organization in New Jersey about 13 years ago, Dean, to get a medical marijuana bill passed. I'm also a founding board member of the American Cannabis Nurses Association. I've been a registered nurse for 40 years in both New Jersey and in Pennsylvania.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Ken, over the years, it's been a hard slog, but it seems like, I don't know that the battle's coming to an end, necessarily, but little gains, little bits of traction, are coming forward, coming our way. Am I right?

KEN WOLSKI: Oh yeah, absolutely. You know, this is a very exciting time for drug policy reform. You and I have been involved in drug policy reform for decades, and you know, we are starting to see some significant progress here, I think, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Now, there are the recalcitrant officials, like Christie, who just cling to their old beliefs, but more and more youngsters, more and more enlightened people, are stepping forward to counter those prior stances. Are they not?

KEN WOLSKI: Yeah. You know, it's funny how one person can really stop progress for so many people. You know, we saw this with Governor Christie Whitman in New Jersey, who stopped needle exchange programs for 8 years during her administration, and now we have Governor Chris Christie, who is impeding the meaningful implementation of our medical marijuana program. He's been doing that, well, he's got another year and a half or so to go, but he will have been doing that for 8 years also.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And you mentioned, like in Texas, we've had a law on the books that allowed for an experimental needle exchange, but the state representative says not in my county, because it offends their morals. It's such a preposterous notion, is it not?

KEN WOLSKI: Oh, yeah, absolutely, you know, to offend morals, you know, it reduces the incidence of HIV and infectious diseases among IV drug using population by as much as 30 percent, you know, scientific studies have shown, and it does not encourage more drug use or more drug users. You know, we've had a pilot program going on in New Jersey with needle exchange programs for maybe a dozen years since Governor McGreevey first started it, and we get glowing reports from this pilot program from the local departments of health, but we have still not expanded this. It's only in about 5 cities in New Jersey, Trenton and some other, the major cities, still do not have any needle exchange programs.

DEAN BECKER: I don't know, it's a busy time of year, busy time during this conference, but I think it was last night, or quite recently, Senator Bernie Sanders got up and said it's time to end the drug war. He kind of cross threaded things a bit, saying we have too many marijuana offenders behind bars for long periods of time, that's not necessarily true, though there are many cases where it is. But, he's opened that Pandora's Box, he's begun to explore the need to totally reassess our nation's drug war. And, there's a UN, the UNGASS coming forward in the next couple of days. A thousand notables around the world came out in favor of ending the drug war. I think it's time for these politicians to just get on the right side of this issue, because history will not be kind to those who cling too long to these reefer madness beliefs. Your thought, Mr. Wolski.

KEN WOLSKI: Well, thank you Dean, yeah. You know, we just need more elected officials to really get on board with the recognition of how much harm this policy of mass incarceration is doing to our society. You know, we're creating second class citizens. I worked in a prison system for 22 years, Dean, as a registered nurse, and you know, I saw that what happens to people, you know, it is so -- who go into the prison system, and it is such a traumatic thing for them, you know. They come out with PTSD, just by the fact of going into this prison system. It is made to humiliate and degrade people, and furthermore, it's really just like getting an advanced degree in criminality. You know, the average sentence is four years in the New Jersey state prison system, so, they get, it's like getting a college degree in how to become a better prisoner, how to become a better offender.

And that's why the recidivism rate is so high, because there is no rehabilitation. It's not, you know, when the prison population exploded, all of the rehab efforts were done away with, and all the money just went to custody control, building new prisons, enhancing the security around that, and the training around the new prisons. So, you know, and you bar, and when these people leave prison, they find it so hard to become educated, to resume education, to get employment, and even in some cases housing. So, you know, they really have no choice but to reoffend, and they're so much less likely to really reintegrate themselves into society. So, it really is such a mess, you know, prison really is designed for our most hardened criminals, the people who present the most amount of threat to our society, and it certainly is not appropriate for drug offenders.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with nurse Ken Wolski. Ken, any closing thoughts, some websites you might want to recommend for the listener?

KEN WOLSKI: Well, thanks, Dean. Yeah. Our website is CMMNJ.org, and, you know, but, we're here at the Patients Out of Time conference, and I just have to tie up into this, my eighth Patients Out of Time conference, and every year, every two years, I go to these conferences, and I'm just amazed at the new material, the new advances in this emerging science of the endocannabinoid system that we find every year. I mean, I highly recommend these conferences.

DEAN BECKER: Drug Truth Network. Teaching the choir to sing solo.

AMY MACK: Well, my name is Amy, and I am actually a nurse, and I am here from Eugene, Oregon, just outside of lovely Eugene, and what brings me here is actually our involvement with Patients Out of Time, and having a tabling event with our organization, the American Cannabis Nurses Association. We're a national nursing organization that's working towards having a sub-specialty in cannabis nursing. So, a group of us nurses, working together at a national level to help excellence in nursing, and in cannabis nursing, and getting the word out there, helping our patients, helping the physicians, helping everyone across the board.

DEAN BECKER: I would think, under the current situation, where the evidence is coming forward so strongly, especially towards those little kids with epilepsy, and the amazing difference that it can make, that it's making your job a little easier. Am I right?

AMY MACK: I would find that the doors and the barriers are being opened and broken down just a little bit more, because more and more people are hearing about children like Charlotte. We're having more and more folks who are cannabis refugees, people who are moving to states where they can access this medicine that's safe for their children, and the more people that are getting those stories out there, and hearing about these stories, it's really helping to legitimize cannabis as a viable medicine.

DEAN BECKER: Couple of weeks back, I interviewed Alexis Bortell's dad, Dean. We talked about their necessary trip to Colorado, and why they must remain there until the laws are changed in Texas, and it's -- it's horrible what it's doing to their overall family, you know, grandparents, and on down. But that's just representative of what's happening all too often, am I right?

AMY MACK: Exactly right. And this is happening, and has happened, for many, many, many years. We're just now hearing about it with the advent of social media, with the advent of all this great new technology we have about spreading, you know, to spread the word. People are being drawn to these stories, people like, you know, Sanjay Gupta, who are talking about these situations and evaluating this, and bringing it to the national forefront in a national media spotlight. And I think the more we can spotlight those folks, and help them get that access to safe medicine, the more it is going to allow for the prohibitionists to see another side. And that's what nurses do, actually, we're educators. We're patient advocates. And so the more educating that we can do, we help eliminate a little bit more ignorance every step of the way.

DEAN BECKER: You know, what should those out there listening do, how can they help move this forward?

AMY MACK: It's all about getting the word out, doing the education yourself, and joining these legitimate organizations that are available to help safe access, and to help patients get that safe access to medicine. So, if you're a medical professional, if you're a clinic person, if you're clinical, you know, ACNA, the American Cannabis Nurses Association, is a great place to start for that. Any level of involvement is important, and I always say, just get the conversation started.

DEAN BECKER: All right, that's it. Here to close us out is a version of Dopefiend Robber, written by Woodie Guthrie, here played by Anders Parker and crew. And as always, I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

ANDERS PARKER: [MUSIC] I’m just your dopefiend robber you read and hear about
I’ve kicked a million joints in to grab my swag and drag
My coffeepot is whistling me, I’d better be hittin my trail
My bluecoat boys are here to haul my ashes off ta jail.

Dopefiend robber