“While the rest of America is gearing up to celebrate 420,” writes Mary Bailey, “cannabis prisoners are languishing in a prison cell.”
Bailey is the Managing Director of the Last Prisoner Project, a restorative justice nonprofit that works to free the nearly 40,000 people incarcerated nationwide on cannabis-related charges. Although 37 states have legalized some form of medical cannabis, with 18 of those states and Washington, D.C. also legalizing recreational use, there are still thousands of people waiting on clemency and release due to the harmful policies instituted by the War on Drugs. Even more are working on re-entry after incarceration, trying to rebuild their lives with few resources, employment opportunities or housing options.
For all those whose lives have been upended by cannabis convictions, the "high holiday" of 420 - National Cannabis Day - means something very different than lighting up with friends. Bailey recently asked incarcerated cannabis prisoners to answer the question of what 420 signifies to them. They responded by sharing the touching, very personal letters below.
Read on to learn how someone locked up in prison because of a cannabis plant feels about 420. In this national holiday, we hope you will remember those still suffering in the unequal War on Drugs.
By The Numbers
Written By Edwin Rubis:
This year, cannabis enthusiasts will celebrate 4/20 around the world. In America, thousands will toke up with their friends in their respective states where cannabis is legal. Marijuana businesses will take advantage of the holiday to sell and market their products.
I'll be going through the same rigorous, monotonous routine I've gone through for the past 8,760 days, waking up to see fences upon fences topped with coiled razor wire and gun sentries, reminding me of the place I've been condemned to live in until God knows when. In a place where perturbed loudness and human uneasiness abound, in a place where senseless violence can explode at any moment.
True, there are many who believe I shouldn't be here for a plant that's now legal in thirty-five states and counting. The hundreds of letters I've received over the years testify of such lamentation. Yet feeling empathy for my situation, and others in the same boat, can only take you so far. Telling me, "that's a horrible thing you're going through," can only comfort me so much. Our unjust situation needs radical personal involvement. A campaign in the form of NO-PARDON-NO-VOTE aimed at President Biden in the next election, or something of the sort.
Until Every Last Prisoner Is Set Free
Being in prison during 4/20 frustrates me more than anything else. The government is keeping us locked up for a product that many are profiting from, including politicians. Just ask ex-speaker of the house, John Boehner, member of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company, who would rather make a buck than advocate for congress to let us go in the name of social justice.
Many celebrating 4/20 are unaware what prison is like for me. Over the years, I've had to scrounge for funds to further my education. I've had to go without food items and toiletries from the prison commissary just to buy my college books and pay for my tuition. I've had to go without so that I could make phone calls and send emails to my loved ones and friends.
Don't get me wrong, Last Prisoner Project, FreedomGrow, MissionGreen, Cheri Sicard, and others help as much as they can (LPP bought my college books for my Masters Degree). But it's still not always enough to carry the day. A few weeks ago, I had only $.85 on my prison account, until Amy Povah and her organization deposited $150.00. This enabled me to buy food essentials in the form of pre-cooked rice, turkey sausage, tuna, oatmeal, peanut butter, dried fruit, and so forth to make my own microwaved meals. Regular prison food is unhealthy and not always so edible after eating it for over 24 years. The rest went to the phone and email. Everything in prison costs money.
So on this special day, all I can muster is a glimmer of hope and faith that someone will speak on our behalf, that someone will remember the forgotten ones, that someone will pledge and sponsor us, to ultimately bring us home to celebrate 4/20 with our friends and loved ones.
Edwin Rubis is serving 40 years in federal prison for a non-violent marijuana offense. He has been in prison since 1998. His release date is in 2033. You can email Edwin at: firstname.lastname@example.org. https://www.plumfund.com/fundraising/help-edwin-rubis-find-his-freedom
To find out how you can help in the release of 40k cannabis inmates, visit https://www.lastprisonerproject.org/ and learn about the multitude of ways that you can get involved. https://www.lastprisonerproject.org/takeaction