busted: america's war on marijuana
FRONTLINE Interview with Jodie Israel. Israel was sentenced to a federal mandatory minimum sentence of eleven years, three months.  Her husband was convicted of growing marijuana; he is serving 29 years. Interview conducted winter of 1997-98.
INTERVIEWER

What was your involvement with marijuana? Did you use it?

ISRAEL

The man that I met was a Rastafarian and used marijuana for religious purposes. Marijuana wasn't my thing. I didn't smoke marijuana. I didn't enjoy marijuana, but he did. They smoked a lot of marijuana, him and his friends, it was a sacred thing for them. He wasn't growing marijuana; evidently, they were buying it.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me what happened with the arrest.

ISRAEL

The FBI rounded up--it was called Reggae North--it was against the Rastafarian religion, religious group in Billings, Montana. And they targeted this group because they knew they smoked marijuana. And they made it into something way bigger than it was. We were arrested, we went to trial, and the government offered several deals to people, for their cooperation in testifying. They were given no time, or virtually no time at all.

They offered me ten years, at one point, if I would testify against someone outside of the group. Somewhere it's got to stop. If I was to testify against someone and bring down ten people, it's got to stop somewhere. I don't feel it's right for me to go free and bring ten people down to drag them away from their families and loved ones over trumped up charges.

INTERVIEWER

What happened to you?

ISRAEL

Well, I got eleven years, three months in the federal prison. Because I lived with this man, the jury felt that I had knowledge, and I also felt that the jury felt that if the government [was] saying this [it] must be true.

INTERVIEWER

Was this a mandatory minimum?

ISRAEL

Yes, it was a mandatory minimum, I got it on the conspiracy charge. The problem with conspiracy is it's the only time they allow hearsay into the courtroom. So, if they can't get you for anything else, they can get you for conspiracy. Your husband could go away on a business trip for the weekend, and come back home, and he could have been out buying drugs, and you're going to be charged.

INTERVIEWER

A lot of people listening to this would think--how could you make that choice and leave your kids when you were weighing your decision about what to do? What was going through your mind?

ISRAEL

I never imagined that the jury would find me guilty. I thought there would be justice, and I really believed in our system until I went through this. I still have hope that justice will be served.

INTERVIEWER

You are appealing?

ISRAEL

Yes, I have a 2255 motion that'll be going in and I'm hoping for some kind of a reduction.

INTERVIEWER

What's happening with your children?

ISRAEL

When I came in my children were one, two, and my three-year-old had just turned four, and my daughter was nine. They're all in different homes and my littlest son doesn't even know who I am. It's hard because as a parent you want to protect your child from hurt. And it's like I have caused this hurt, so it's really hard.

INTERVIEWER

Do you blame yourself?

ISRAEL

Well, I blame myself for the choice that I made and the man that I was with. I can't be responsible for another adult's actions. I can only be responsible for my own. That's what I thought. But I was wrong because conspiracy doesn't work that way.

INTERVIEWER

How often do you see your kids?

ISRAEL

I see them once a year. Every summer my mom brings them up.

INTERVIEWER

What do you tell them about the situation?

ISRAEL

Well, now that they're getting a little bigger, it's easier. When I first came in, they were all so small, it was hard for them to understand that I couldn't be with them, that I wanted to, but I couldn't. And now at least they understand, but my littlest girl would wake up in the night screaming for me, "Mom," ... I think they felt like I abandoned them. So, now they understand I don't want to be here, but I have to be.

INTERVIEWER

What are your feelings about marijuana?

ISRAEL

I don't smoke marijuana, and I don't enjoy marijuana. But I don't see why it's illegal. I know we had a prohibition on alcohol, years ago, and I believe marijuana is where alcohol was then. It grows from a seed in the ground, it's natural, it's not refined, it's not processed. They dry it and they smoke it.

INTERVIEWER

People who are against drugs, marijuana, would say you were with him, you knew he was breaking the law, you should be punished. What would you say to those people?

ISRAEL

I can only be responsible for myself. I made a mistake in that I chose the wrong man. But eleven years of my life away from my children isn't right.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me exactly what you were sentenced to, and how much time.

ISRAEL

I was sentenced to eleven years and three months, which means I will do over nine and a half years before I will be eligible to go home. In federal ... you do 85% of your time, which is more than a murderer would get. You can go out and kill somebody, the average is eight years. We haven't hurt anyone. It's a victimless crime.

INTERVIEWER

No chance of parole?

ISRAEL

No parole. First time I've ever been in trouble.

INTERVIEWER

Could you explain your appeal?

ISRAEL

The motion I'm filing would be for a sentence reduction for ineffective assistance of counsel. My lawyer had made a deal in the judge's chambers, and I wasn't aware of it. And it hampered my defense.

 

 
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