Missouri Man Sentenced to Life for Pot
Jeff Mizanskey is finally a free man after spending 21 years in Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center after being sentenced to life without parole in 1996 for reportedly conspiring to sell 6 pounds of marijuana to a drug dealer affiliated to a Mexican cartel. He was the only prisoner in the state serving a life sentence for a nonviolent crime. “I spent a third of my life in prison. It’s a shame,” said Mizanskey upon his release in early September.
The Missouri law at the time of his conviction permitted such a harsh sentence to be handed down for those who were charged with multiple drug offenses, which was the case with Mizanskey as he had previously been convicted in 1984 and 1991 for possession and sale of marijuana.
However, all of his charges were considered nonviolent crimes, he did not sell or attempt to sell marijuana to children nor did he fail to pass court ordered drug tests. Naturally his extreme sentencing left him and his many supporters feeling that the punishment surely did not fit the crime, especially when he frequently witnessed “child molesters get released” while those charged with lesser crimes remained behind bars.
Road to Freedom
It took years of lobbying for his release and Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon’s action to commute his sentence in May to finally give Mizanskey the opportunity to plead his case before a parole board. At last his message to the parole board was heard loud and clear in August, which allowed him to walk out of prison wearing a shirt that read “I’m Jeff & I’m free” and into the arms of his family who had been waiting for him while he sat in his own personal prison “hell.”
“The reason he’s getting out is because the public clearly has changed its opinion about marijuana, and it’s just one of the many ways in which that has been reflected in recent years.”
His first pit stop as a free man was a diner where he had a hearty breakfast of steak and eggs, which you can surely bet was better than the food he ate while in prison. Slipping right back into his role as a family man was effortless for the Mizanskey as he sat surrounded by family and holding his new great-granddaughter while he ate.
The Marijuana Debate
The marijuana debate is still one heavily discussed today, despite much headway being made towards expanding its legalization. There are currently 23 states allowing residents to use medical marijuana and the use of marijuana recreationally has been approved in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
There is also work being done to take a different approach to the sentences handed down to nonviolent offenders convicted of drug charges. A move that will spare offenders from spending years of their lives in prison as well as millions of tax dollars.
These discussions come at a necessary time as the amount of prisoners serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes continues to rise. As is evident in a 2012 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) based upon a compilation of data from the Bureau of Prisons and state Departments of Corrections. According to the data showed an astonishing 3,278 inmates were sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent drug and/or property crimes. Out of the 3,278 serving time, 18% of the inmates were noted to be first time offenders.
Life as a Free Man
He may have spent two decades behind bars, but he made sure to make good use of his time as he spent countless hours researching marijuana laws in an effort to not only help himself, but to also prevent others from receiving the same “cruel and unusual” sentencing. He also plans to find a job, continue to be an advocate inmates as well as for the legalization of marijuana. Of course, he also plans to spend some much needed and long overdue time with his family.
Mizanskey said of his advocacy plans,
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to get this legalized. Nobody deserves to be in here for marijuana. I’ll be going around talking to a lot of people. I don’t know if I’ll always be politically correct, but I know that it’ll be coming from my heart.”
Returning to his marijuana smoking ways isn’t an option for him at this time, though, as he is still on probation and certainly doesn’t want to make a return trip to prison for failing a random 5 panel drug test. He did say that he “definitely” plans to pack a bowl or two when and if marijuana is ever legalized at state and federal levels.