The $250,000 Joint

by ANTHONY PAPA

In 1992 Anthony Williams, now known as Amir Varick Amma, was sentenced to 25 years to life for a non violent drug offense under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Amir was convicted of two felonies, the worst of which was the sale of 2 ounces of cocaine in Albany County. Amir was badly assaulted by the police when he refused to give up his accomplices. His refusal to cooperate guided Judge Keegan to sentence him to 12 and a half years to life on each charge, meaning he had to serve 25 years. Most judges would have incorporated the two charges together, resulting in a 12 and a half year sentence. But Keegan was a "hang em high" judge, part of a tightly knit crew of upstate judges that dished out extraordinary sentences for drug offenders.

Amir challenged his conviction, but lost every legal challenge he pursued. On the outside, Amir’s greatest supporter was his mother Queen Nazimova Varick. Over the years she fought tooth and nail to get her son out of prison. She joined the Mothers of the NY Disappeared, a leading activist group that fought the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws for many years. She was suffering from several ailments, including cancer, but she never gave up hope that her son would return home to her, although his continued incarceration made her healing process all the more difficult.

In 2004, the legislature passed some incremental Rockefeller reforms that would help individuals like Amir who were sentenced to extraordinary amounts of time. Amir filed an application only to be denied. The judge could not even address his motion because he had been busted for smoking marijuana in prison. For this they gave Amir 60 days in solitary confinement and took away his merit time, rendering him ineligible for judicial relief under the new reforms of 2004.

Activists quickly rallied together to seek justice for Amir, but to no avail. Amir then filed for executive clemency, but his application was denied by Gov. Paterson. Amir did not give up hope. In 2009, under the new Rockefeller reforms that were championed by Gov. Paterson, Amir was finally granted his freedom.

On March 23, 2010, after 19 years in prison, Amir was released. He came by my office and I hugged him. I shared a laugh with him when he showed me a check he had received, issued by the prison from their parole release funds in the amount of 83 cents. What the hell was he suppose to do with that check, I asked. When I telephoned Albany County District attorney David Soares and asked him his opinion of Amir’s case, he described it as a travesty of justice.

In this time of economic crisis in New York State, when politicians are looking for solutions to reduce the budget deficit, they need look no further than the state’s correctional system. That single joint Amir smoked cost him an additional 5 years in prison, and taxpayers roughly $250,000. Was it worth keeping him in prison and punishing him for an additional 5 years after serving 14 years for a first time non-violent crime? How many other Amirs are wasting away in our gulags?

To reduce the budget deficit, law makers need to take a good look at our criminal justice system and how punitive methods of incarceration waste not only billions of dollars, but also human lives.

ANTHONY PAPA is the author of 15 Years to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom and Communications Specialist for Drug Policy Alliance. He can be reached at: anthonypapa123@yahoo.com 

 

WORDS THAT STICK

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
September 4-6, 2015
Lawrence Ware
No Refuge: the Specter of White Supremacy Still Haunts Black America
Andrew Levine
Compassionate Conservatism: a Reconsideration and an Appreciation
Paul Street
Bi-Polar Disorder: Obama’s Environmental Bait-and-Switch Politics
Arun Gupta
Field Notes to Life During the Apocalypse
Steve Hendricks
Come Again? Second Thoughts on My Ashley Madison Affair
Ron Jacobs
Bernie Sanders’ Vision: As Myopic as Every Other Candidate or Not?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Arkansas Bloodsuckers: the Clintons, Prisoners and the Blood Trade
Richard W. Behan
Republican Fail, Advantage Sanders: the Indefensible Budget for Defense
Ted Rall
Call It By Its Name: Censorship
Susan Babbitt
“Swarms” Entering the UK? What We Can Still Learn About the Migrant Crisis From Che Guevara
Kali Akuno
Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era
John Wight
Adrift Without Sanctuary: a Sick and Twisted Morality
Binoy Kampmark
Sieges in an Age of Austerity: Monitoring Julian Assange
Kathleen Wallace
The Child Has a Name, They All Do
David Rosen
Why So Few Riots?
Norm Kent
The Rent Boy Raid: Homeland Security Should Monitor Our Borders Not Our Bedrooms
John Helmer
IMF Officials Implicated in Theft, Concealment of Ukraine Loan Corruption
Michael Welton
Canada’s Arrogant Autocrat: the Rogue Politics of Stephen Harper
Patrick T. Hiller
There’s Nothing Collateral About a Toddler Washed Ashore
Ramzy Baroud
Palestine’s Crisis of Leadership: Did Abbas Destroy Palestinian Democracy?
Pepe Escobar
Say Hello to China’s New Toys
Sylvia C. Frain
Tiny Guam, Huge US Marine Base Expansions
Pete Dolack
Turning National Parks into Corporate Profit Centers
Ann Garrison
Africa’s Problem From Hell: Samantha Power
Christopher Brauchli
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Citigroup
Norman Pollack
Paradigm of a Fascist Mindset: Nicholas Burns on Iran
Roger Annis
Canada’s Web of Lies Over Syrian Refugee Crisis
Chris Zinda
Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie
Rannie Amiri
Everything Stinks: Beirut Protests and Garbage Politics
Missy Comley Beattie
In Order To Breathe
James McEnteer
Blast From the Past in Buenos Aires
Edward Leer
Love, Betrayal, and Donuts
Cesar Chelala
Cruelty is Not a Human Right
Louis Proyect
Migrating Through Hell: Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”
Charles R. Larson
Class and Colonialism in British Cairo
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine