The Mind of James Donahue

Drug War Insanity

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America's Drug War Is Mass Insanity

By James Donahue

It is ironic that Valentines Day 2000 fell just hours before the United States hit a new milestone in man's inhumanity to man.

Statisticians who calculate such things say that the nation's
jail population topped over 2 million sometime on Feb. 15. An estimated 60 percent of these prisoners are there for drug law violations with no violent criminal history. One article stated that with less than five percent of the world's population, the U.S. now can boast one-quarter of the world's prisoners.

What is wrong with this picture?

If you could approach anyone casually on the street and ask them, most people in the United States would agree that they live in something called "the land of the free." This is a myth implanted in our minds when we are children and rarely questioned. Our freedoms, which still exist in fractions, have been eroded for years.

The fact that 2 million citizens are
serving time in our prisons is probably the most dramatic proof of this statement.

I am apparently not alone in my alarm at hearing this statistic. Protesters planned silent vigils in over 30 cities on Feb. 15 because they, too, are objecting to what is going on in America.

It appears, mostly because of our nation's failed and irresponsible
drug war that the United States has become a larger violator of human rights than the nations we publicly admonish for such inhuman behavior. And if the statistics could be told, I suspect that we pick on certain ethnic groups, like black or Hispanic, more then the others. Because they have a harder time fitting into the good paying jobs, these groups may be more likely than others to be involved in drug trafficking.

There are so many issues to address on the subject of prisons and the drug war, books could be written on the subject.

For example the most popular "drug" that is getting people in trouble is the common weed
marijuana, which has always grown in abundance just about everywhere. Because of its fibrous substance, it was once harvested as hemp and used in making the finest ropes in the world. The fibers also can be used to make cloth and fine quality paper. It is an ironic fact that the U. S.
Constitution was printed on paper produced from cannabis.

Because it cannot be classified as a narcotic, authorities identify marijuana as "a controlled substance." Anyone who has ever smoked a marijuana cigarette knows the substance does not make a person dangerous or out of control like alcohol does. Instead, it seems to have a calming effect, making the user quite docile and possibly even more mentally alert. There are some that argue marijuana has medicinal qualities.

In all of my years of reporting, I don't know of a single bar fight or even a serious traffic accident caused by the use of marijuana. By contrast, I've seen a lot of bruised and battered women and children, and watched police pick up lots of bodies from automobile crashes where alcohol was involved. So why are the people who sell and possess marijuana clogging our prisons?

If the truth were known, the whole affair, from the so-called drug war to the operation and construction of our prisons, is a multi-billion dollar-a-year industry. Extra police are in place to make the drug buys and arrests, police departments can legally seize property and sell it to maintain their anti-drug operations, special prosecutors and legal counsel are reaping large profits moving the so-called "drug offenders" through the courts, and many new prisons are built or under construction to accommodate all of the new "convicts." A lot of people profit on many levels here.

And there is yet another dirty little aspect of prisons. They are sources of forced slave labor. It is a known fact that prisoners in the U. S. are put to work for very low wages in the manufacture of automobile license plates, furniture and even clothing which is bought and sold by some of our large department stores.

The American prison system stigmatizes people. Whether guilty or innocent, once convicted of a crime and sent there, an individual is branded for life as a former jail inmate.

It is a fact that people who have prison records rarely have a chance to succeed. Once they have this blot in their past, a former prison inmate might as well walk around with the scarlet letter "P" tattooed on their forehead and black and white striped clothing on their backs. They cannot get good jobs. If they do get employment, and were imprisoned in certain states, the government files suit to collect room and board for the time spent behind bars. With no incentive to try, former prison inmates are literally driven to either live a life of crime or starve.

The very question of guilt for many of prisoners has recently made headlines. Investigations into corruption in police departments have been turning up terrible stories of injustice all across the nation. Police officers have been found to have falsified evidence to get innocent people convicted of things they did not do. The State of Illinois recently released several death row inmates after the unorthodox practices of one police officer were uncovered. A forensic specialist in Oklahoma City was found to have been doing the same thing there for years.

Among the things police officers have confessed is planting small packets of marijuana or other drugs on "victims" to cover up for false arrests, or sometimes because the officer did not like a certain individual.

The very fact that we have made all drugs (except alcohol) illegal has helped generate a very profitable business for the underworld. The moment popular products like marijuana, amphetamine, LSD and opium became illegal, the price for these products went up. Because there are great profits to be made in trafficking these items, organized crime syndicates are quick to supply the public demands.

Since President Richard Nixon launched the nation's ridiculous war on drugs, the availability of drugs of all kinds has increased. We have reached a point today when any young person with a little cash can go out on the street and buy whatever drug he or she wants within a matter of minutes.

Ironically, Nixon was a known amphetamine user.

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