Jeff Mizanskey—the Missouri inmate who has become the poster child for sentencing reform in regard to the offense of marijuana possession—is scheduled this week for his first parole hearing since receiving a life sentence with no possibility for an early release nearly two decades ago.
On Thursday, the 62-year-old will take full advantage of a recent commutation granted by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, which stated that Mizanskey now has the “opportunity to demonstrate that he deserves parole.” After waiting three months for a hearing, the veteran inmate hopes the parole board will acknowledge that his sentence has never fit the crime and ultimately hand over the keys to his freedom.
In the early 1990s, Mizanskey fell victim to Missouri’s three-strike rule, which earned him a life sentence with no chance of parole over three separate non-violent, marijuana-related offenses. He has resided at the Jefferson City maximum-security Correctional Center ever since.
Despite the fact there are thousands of prisoners across the country serving life sentences for similar crimes, Mizanskey’s case has become one of the most highly recognized in the United States.
Earlier this year, a legion of lawmakers from the Missouri General Assembly signed a letter begging Governor Nixon for his release, while a petition authored by Mizanskey’s son, Chris, has also managed to collect nearly 400,000 signatures in favor of his freedom.
Yet, in a letter written by Mizanskey, back in January, the prisoner indicated that he had all but lost faith in ever seeing the light of day again. He penned speculations over how many more years he may have left in his life, while also expressing a fear of dying in prison.
Although Mizanskey admits that the news of his commutation was a shock, a recent interview with 41 Action News revealed that the lifer still remains apprehensive about ever being released.
“Just because you’re going up for parole, don’t mean you make it,” Mizanskey said, adding that had it not been for the outpouring of support from so many legislators, he doubts Governor Nixon would have even considered his commutation.
Even Mizanskey’s attorney Dan Viets, who will be present during the hearing, said that he, too, is not fully confident that his client will emerge victorious. However, he believes there are plenty of reasons to go into the hearing with a positive outlook.
“It’s not a sure thing,” he said, “but I’m optimistic, and I think everyone who’s familiar with the system is optimistic.”
Viets went on to say that Mizanskey’s chances for being awarded an early release are much better now that Governor Nixon sent “a strong signal to the parole board” by granting the commutation.
High Times will deliver updates on Mizanskey’s progress, as it is made available.
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