Cannabis prisoner Luke Scarmazzo speaks from solitary confinement.
Some of you may be familiar with my story, for those of you who aren’t, I am serving 22 years in federal prison for running a state-compliant marijuana dispensary. In the federal system, with good behavior, I must serve 19 years of it.
Although we have made significant progress with state-level marijuana law reform, there’s still much to be done. For starters, we must fight for changes at the federal level and demand that every man and woman serving draconian prison terms for marijuana be sent home. These are the men and women that stood up for many of the rights we take for granted today.
It’s absolutely absurd that in a time when you can legally buy marijuana from a store a mile outside the prison gates, that we still have Americans serving life for pot. It is a stain on the fabric of justice and a sin on the national conscience.
I have been in prison for nearly 10 years now, the last six months I have spent in solitary confinement. For unspoken reasons, I have actually spent the majority of the last few years in solitary. I know the public justifications the prison administration gives for my placement, but they simply aren’t true. The truth is I am a living symbol of the gross injustice of a flawed system. Many of the guards have even discreetly acknowledged this to me. It is easier to conceal the problem than confront the issue.
It is Saturday morning as I wrote this and I should be watching my daughter, Jasmine, play soccer on a sun-soaked field, helping my father replace old weathered fence, or laughing with neighbors around a smoking barbeque pit. Instead, I am waiting for a guard to bring my breakfast grits through a metal slot in my door. That’s how I get all of my meals in this concrete box, through that thin metal slot. The Texas inmates call it a bean shoot.
I haven’t been outside in a long time and sometimes these walls can feel like they’re closing in on me. I’d have to say this is the lowest form of human existence. If that slow doesn’t open up and food isn’t pushed in, it would only be a matter of weeks before I died. It is shameful, really, we don’t even treat animals this way. It is inhumane and unworthy of a civilized nation.
Some people make it out of the dungeon though. Through the wave of a magic wand, President Barack Obama freed my co-defendant, Ricardo Montes, thank God. He said Ricardo’s sentence (our sentence) was unfair and outdated. I couldn’t agree more. Eddy Lepp was finally released and Paul Free got his life sentence reduced. I pray I don’t have to do the rest of the quarter century. I am not very fond of this dark cell.
The judge said I owe a debt to society, and that is one of the most perplexing parts. My sentence, and all marijuana sentences, are carried out in YOUR name, the American people.
But that is a misrepresentation, right?
According to recent polls, over 60 percent of Americans are in favor of marijuana legalization and nearly 30 states have medical marijuana laws. Yet, under the cloak of night, in smoke filled chambers of courthouses around the country, the Justice Department conducts these prosecutions, supposedly on behalf of the people. These proceedings are farce and an egregious manipulation of the truth. Your name is forged in the face of these imprisonments.
Nonetheless, because the United States is the greatest democracy on earth, we have the power to end them.
We must hold politicians accountable, support candidates that promise marijuana reform, call for the release of all men and women in prison for marijuana offenses, refuse to fund the ridiculous incarcerations, organize protests and marches and become the catalyst of change.
As I sit in this barren brick room, freedom and prosperity seem like distant concepts; they are so far removed from this world, so foreign. However, together — through our collective action — we can make good on America’s promise of liberty and justice for all.
TELL US, do you think people should be in jail for cannabis?