It has been nearly a month since one of the most infamous prisoners of the drug war, Jeff Mizanskey, learned that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon would not grant him a pardon. The 61-year-old is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a streak of bad luck in which he was convicted on three separate occasions for possession of marijuana, with Missouri’s three-strike rule sealing his fate. He has now been incarcerated for over two decades. Without a pardon he is doomed to live out the remainder of his days as a resident of the Jefferson City Correctional Center – a maximum-security detention facility that houses some of the most wicked members of uncivil society.
However, unlike some of the inmates Mizanskey has been caged with since 1993, he does not have a rap sheet that includes acts of violence or vile-spirited debauchery. On the contrary, he was simply found guilty of having an affinity for a plant that the United States decided decades ago should be considered an illegal substance. And while common sense should dictate that this man, or any other for that matter, not be buried underneath a prison for holding an admiration for a flower, this is exactly the deranged logic that has led Mizanskey to this point – and sadly, dwindled away at his hope of ever seeing the outside world ever again.
In a letter obtained by High Times, Mizanskey pens a gut wrenching account of the insanity that has led to him serving a life sentence with no chance of parole over a substance that has been made legal in over half the states in America. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would end up in prison for smoking cannabis, with a life sentence without parole,” he wrote. “After all, it was, and is, and it will always be a non-violent crime.”
“I didn’t kill, rape, steal or hurt anyone,” Mizanskey continues. “Believe me, I never knew anyone could end up in prison with such a cruel and unusual sentence as I have for cannabis! Boy, was I shocked.”
The letter, which was provided to us by the folks at POW 420, an organization dedicated to the release of individuals serving life sentences for marijuana, goes on to paint an ugly portrait of Mizanskey’s broken spirits and his grim outlook on the future. “I have to face the facts that I may not live long enough to get out of prison,” he wrote. “After all, I don’t have that many more years left in my life.”
Without a doubt, serving 21 years in a state penitentiary is more than enough injustice for a marijuana-related offense – much less life without parole – and it has sparked a legion of local lawmakers to plead for Mizanskey’s freedom. In a recent letter sent to Governor Nixon, the Missouri General Assembly explains that keeping Mizanskey, a non-violent drug offender, incarcerated for the past two-decades has cost Missouri taxpayers, so far, a whopping $400,000, which is an astronomical amount considering his “violations have not produced enough harm to justify a life sentence without the possibility of parole.” Yet, Governor Nixon made it clear late last month that he did not intend to honor the request presented by a number of state senators and representatives when he simply passed over, or ignored, the commutation of Mizanskey’s sentence.
In his letter, Mizanskey speculates as to the reason why he has been left to expire as property of the state and suggests that, perhaps, it is because not enough people have taken a stand on the issue. “I don’t know why Governor Nixon has not granted me clemency, or if he will,” he wrote. ‘I am just guessing that he hasn’t received enough letters, calls or signature yet. I hate to say this, or even think this, but sometimes I wonder how many has he really got? I wonder if a lot of you are talking about me, and expecting someone else to do something about it. I can only hope and pray not. Please don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate all that you have done… even talking helps. I just hope my case has opened up some eyes!”
Mizanskey then goes on to explain that, while it may be too late for him, the need to end harsh punishments for non-violent marijuana offenders is something the entire population should be concerned with, as well as work to destroy. “What has happened to me can happen to you and your friends and loved ones,” he explains. “I have lost everything except for the love of my family, and now, the friendship of all of you. I don’t want any of them or you to ever get caught up like I am because you also enjoy using cannabis.”
One of the primary calls to action resonating throughout Mizanskey’s letter involves passing initiatives and legislation to legalize marijuana in the United States, specifically in Missouri. “Yes, you can change this crazy law,” he wrote, adding that it is crucial for people to get involved in order to make the change. “If you don’t, and they come for you, your family, or your friends, be prepared to lose everything, and expect your family to be hurt as well as you; missing out on being around one another on through life.”
Show-Me Cannabis, an organization fighting to legalize marijuana in Missouri, is in the midst of collecting signatures for their initiative in hopes of securing a spot on the ballot in 2016. The coalition attempted to pass a similar measure in 2012, but failed to secure enough signatures to earn a vote. This has Mizanskey convinced that while the majority of the population may support putting an end to prohibition, only a select few are allowing their voices to be heard. “Does every person expect someone else to get it done for them?” he asks. “As you can tell, it doesn’t work that way.”
In an attempt at communicating the terminal nature of situation, Mizanskey finds it difficult to keep himself from dwelling on the doom. “I will die here in prison,” he writes. However, the media attention surrounding his case seems to have given him the inspiration to embark on a mission to protect others from ever spending a single day in such a dire place because of weed. “I am worried about you,” writes Mizanskey. “I know a lot of you use cannabis, or someone in your family does, or a friend does, and no one deserves to be locked up for cannabis… I am not the only person in prison, and others are going through the same thing I am going through.”
Although his hope for a pardon continues to fade with each passing day, Mizanskey still plans to do his part to help Missouri legalize marijuana by donating to the cause, and he suggests you do the same. “I only make 71 cents per hour,” he writes. “I don’t have any money, and can’t afford to do very much, but I am sending Show Me Cannabis $10. I wish all of you could do this.”
All of Mizanskey’s appeals options have been exhausted, which leaves only two remaining possibilities for his release: a pardon from the governor or a casket. And while the horrific nature of his story may sound like a rare occurrence, there are countless others, just like Mizanskey, all over the country who have found themselves prisoners of the War on Weed. Your only line of defense against this madness it to get involved and start taking an active approach to changing the pot laws in your neck of the woods.