Amy Povah is the Founder of CAN-DO, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit foundation that advocates Clemency for All Non-violent Drug Offenders.
Amy Povah experienced the injustices of the Drug War first hand when she was sentenced to serve 24 years in prison for her alleged conspiracy in her former husband’s international ecstasy manufacturing and distribution business. As is also all too often the case, Amy’s refusal to cooperate with prosecutors resulted in her unwarranted charges and unnecessary incarceration. Meanwhile, her ex-husband only served a four-year sentence in Germany and was given three years of probation in the United States as the result of a plea bargained reward for his cooperation.
Fortunately, Amy never gave up and became well acquainted with the promise of clemency. In prison she worked tirelessly to bring awareness to her case, culminating in a featured article in Glamour Magazine in 1999, a TV documentary, and a national campaign for her freedom. These efforts resulted in her being granted clemency by President Clinton in 2000, after serving over 9 years of her original sentence.
Amy has advocated and worked tirelessly in the years since regaining her freedom by helping others facing the injustices of the Drug War, primarily through her CAN-DO Foundation.
As Amy describes the prisoners and family members she features on CAN-DO’s website,
“These are the faces of the drug war. Behind every face is a human with a story. Overly punitive drug laws create negative consequences that trigger a chain reaction upon innocent family members, friends and our society. Most of these people have been locked up for decades. Until our drug laws change, the only relief these people have for mercy, is a presidential pardon in the form of executive clemency.”
Drug War Stories was fortunate and pleased to conduct an email interview with Amy in April, 2017. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:
DWS: What have you learned from your work with CAN-DO?
First: That the prisoners we work with are exceptional individuals who are victims of a “zero tolerance” intellect in which our congressional leaders failed this country and the citizens they were elected to serve. Sadly, most of them now know this, but do not have the moral fortitude to abolish the laws that have us in this current crisis of mass incarceration. Second: That the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) is not a neutral or impartial agency – it’s an extension of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and therefore cannot function properly as long as DOJ holds sway.
DWS: What are your thoughts about President Obama’s clemency efforts and actions?
Some of the very best candidates for clemency were denied and there is no other explanation for it, other than DOJ did not want certain people out who would be bad PR for that office, especially the women’s cases because DOJ did some brutal things during the 90s, especially to women. I met a lot of women who were completely innocent, such as Tonya Drake, who got 10 years for merely mailing a Fed Ex package. One woman rented a house to a guy who was caught with drugs and they seized her home plus the rental home and put her in prison, but the drug dealer cut a deal and went free. DOJ doesn’t want the public to hear about the cases where they release bad guys back onto the streets and instructed them to go out and set up people…
We are living in bizarre times, where tens of thousands of people gather to openly celebrate 420 events, smoking pot; people can now legally profit from growing and distributing it, and yet for the most part, pot prisoners serving life sentences were denied clemency! How is that possible?
DWS: What do you think will happen to clemency efforts, as well as the War on Drugs generally, under the Trump Administration?
[W]e already know what’s gonna happen to the drug war because Sessions has made it clear. First of all – it never went away – but what little the Obama administration did in his second term (when it should have happened on day one) will be reversed and Sessions is going to go full throttle if left to his own devices… The war on drugs is a war on American citizens and we’ve only scratched the surface regarding the horrible things that led to mass incarceration and the motive behind it. The history books of this era have not been written yet, but I’m certain the true villains will find their names and faces prominently depicted, just like Harry Anslinger is currently depicted today as racist and a bigot that incited public hysteria to grow his Federal Bureau of Narcotics back in the 30s with reefer madness propaganda. We would not be in this opioid crisis if marijuana had been legal from day one. So they can keep telling lies, they can seal their fate as war profiteers, but maybe, just maybe the collective consciousness of our youth who will become future prosecutors will stop this madness…
DWS: Describe your own experiences with Ecstasy and your views on personal drug use – should personal, private, non-violent behavior, such as drug use, be criminalized or do you see it as a matter of personal freedom?
It’s a matter of personal freedom, period. I get frustrated by people who want to argue old paradigms about whether a certain drug is harmful, and therefore should be illegal. If a pharmaceutical drug is additive or harmful, our government could care less, as long as there is a patent and a company willing to sell it – legally. The only drugs that are illegal are ones that cannot be patented. All sorts of things are harmful, gambling, guns, alcohol, cigarettes… I don’t have a lot of tolerance for cave dwellers who are still clinging to a failed policy that prohibition will some day magically work if we just stay the course…
The first time I tried Ecstasy I had a full-on spiritual awakening… A connection to the universe imprinted on my soul and I knew that I could never intentionally bring injury to another person, even if it meant that I might suffer. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you find yourself at a cross roads. I’m proud of myself for standing up to the feds and refusing to become a working informant even knowing that I would lose all my worldly possessions and end up in prison. They harassed me for almost two years before they indicted me and then one year in the Waco county jail. They kept offering me a deal if I would testify against this one person, Larry, but I saw what they were doing to me, so why would I turn around and do it to someone else and expect God to ever have mercy on my soul.
The drug war is the latest incarnation of evil on earth – it re-surfaces time and time again but wears a new disguise or title. The mission is always the same and is very basic to recognize if you peel the layers of the disguise away from the nucleus. It’s always about “cooperation,” naming names, pointing fingers, incriminating someone so that the predatory energy can move on to a new host. McCarthyism, witch hunts, the Inquisition, turn in a Jew, Communism, all required compliance – even Jesus was told that he could escape punishment if he would merely say he was the “King of the Jews.” He didn’t even have to point a finger at someone else – and he wouldn’t say it… For me, it was a test and when that chalice was offered to me, I refused to accept it; I was not going to drink that poison and sell my soul. I believe in Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience that we should not obey a law that runs contrary to our conscience. Why do we have one, if we aren’t supposed to use it?
DWS: What are your thoughts on the use and application of conspiracy laws in drug-related cases?
This has been part of CAN-DO mission statement since 2004. The press, for the most part, has not heard about the conspiracy law and how it’s being abused. You can’t get a mandatory minimum if DOJ can’t indict you and most of the true horror stories are people who never would have been indicted if not for conspiracy.
They never sold drugs, they never imported, but maybe they rode in a car or unwittingly mailed a fed ex package, or passed a phone message and if so, the feds say that’s an “overt act” that furthered the conspiracy and therefore can make you responsible for everything an entire network of people has done. We must explain the conspiracy law and how it transfers guilt from one co-conspirator to the next, or the public will never understand how someone is sentenced; how their time is calculated. My sentence was based on 3 million tablets that my ex-husband manufactured and yet, he was free, still a member of the bar, and I got 24 years because he cooperated and I went to trial. Mandatory sentences are only applied to those of us who do not get a deal – it really has nothing to do with drug dealing. My prosecutor told a reporter that they never would have indicted me if I had merely cooperated. Is anyone listening to that statement because that should scare you shitless. I didn’t go to prison for selling drugs – I went to prison because I would not cooperate. HELLO! It’s only a matter of time before it will touch you or someone you know! I’ve been told that we are the only country that uses the conspiracy law in this fashion.
DWS: What do you think Congress should do?
End the drug war. No equivocating – just END IT!