“I have come to believe that experience can truly be a great teacher. Even when it is painful. If we look for and use the lessons.” Pinkney Clowers
The story of Pinkney Clowers is the story of everything that’s wrong with the drug war. It is the story of how a sweet happy black child who did well in school and went to church ended up, a few short later years later, locked up for the rest of his life with no possibility of parole. It is a story of conspiracy and mandatory minimum sentencing. It is a story of co-conspirator deal-making and lies. It is a story of a “criminal justice system” that favors drug prosecutions and gives almost all the power to prosecutors. It is also a story of bias, prejudice, and racism.
At Pinkney’s drug conspiracy trial one of the prosecutors told the mostly white jury during closing arguments that they were at war and referred to Pinkney and the two other black defendants on trial with him as “the enemy.”
“We, right here in this community, in this land, are involved in the most pernicious war that we will ever be involved in and it is not Desert Storm and it is not Bosnia and it is the second war that has ever been fought on our land and it is fought on our streets, it is fought in our schools and it has been fought in this Courtroom for the past week, and that is the war on drugs. And make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, it is a war. If you doubt that, you look at these guns … and you look at the blood of Reginald Bembry, who was a victim of that war. And unless we win the war, we will all be doomed. These people, as well as everyone listed in that indictment, are the enemy and they are the enemy of every man, woman, and child in this country because they don’t care what they do. They don’t care [sic] the pain and the misery and the hurt and the death that they cause because they only want one thing, and that’s money for themselves.” Trial Transcript, p. 1215.
“We, right here in this community, in this land, are involved in the most pernicious war that we will ever be involved in … that is the war on drugs … And unless we win the war, we will all be doomed. These people … are the enemy and they are the enemy of every man, woman, and child in this country…” Federal Prosecutor to the jury during closing argument in Pinkney’s trial.
Before the trial that sent him to prison for life, Pinkney had only a few minor convictions on his record: loitering, reckless driving, and two minor marijuana charges, for which he was either fined or received probation. He’d never had to serve time behind bars.
Some of the other co-defendants in Pinkney’s drug conspiracy case had also been accused of other violent crimes, including rape and murder. Those men have all served prison time and have long since been released. Pinkney wasn’t charged with rape. Pinkney wasn’t charged with murder. Yet Pinkney was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and remains incarcerated, having been convicted of conspiracy and running a Continuing Criminal Enterprise – all for acts alleged to have occurred when he was between the ages of 15 and 19. Pinkney received his life sentence based primarily on the testimony of his co-conspirators who were facing or already serving long prison sentences. Based on their “cooperating” with the prosecution, they all ended up having their sentences reduced and are out free. But not Pinkney, a 15 to 19 year old boy who was testified against by accused robbers, murderers, rapists, and drug dealers.
What impresses me the most about Pinkney’s story, and indeed about Pinkney himself, are Pinkney’s resiliency and spiritual wisdom and aspirations:
“[C]onsider this statement by Master Teacher Mahatma Gandhi: “…The outward freedom that we shall attain, will be only in exact proportion to the inward freedom to which we may have grown at a given moment.” Although on one level he was speaking on colonized India at the time, I cannot help but think that this wisdom applies to individuals as well. Specifically me. So I continue to seek and strive for the Master Key that will fully unlock inner and outer freedom … understanding and living in the powerful vibrations of compassion, justice and universal kinship are essential in the Great Quest.
Perhaps in sharing my viewpoint and perspective I can help someone and further the efforts of the powerful mission and work you all are doing. I have grown to understand that ‘each one teach one and each one help one’ is the natural state of human beings on planet earth. Regardless of cultural conditioning or the artificial boundaries that seem to separate us.” Pinkney Clowers, via email.
“Perhaps in sharing my viewpoint and perspective I can help someone” Pinkney Clowers
That same quest for spiritual growth and understanding is reflected throughout Pinkney’s pending clemency petition:
“Over the past twenty-three years I have been fortunate enough to be taught to think deeply about how all of my actions, negative and positive have a ripple effect. And I regret deeply the pain that any of my actions may have caused others…
Luckily we are in a great Country that allows one to acknowledge, accept responsibility for their actions and in some form or fashion commit to living a productive life in accordance with the principles that have governed all successful individuals and societies from ancient times…
I have demonstrated good conduct in prison. In looking back and having time to think, during the last twenty three years I have come to the liberating conclusion that some of my actions during that time period (15 to 19 years of age) were inappropriate. Regrettably some of my actions were not in accord with the uplift[ing] of humanity. They were selfish and self-serving. I am striving daily to make amends.
Over the years I have discovered that freedom in most spheres of existence is directly tied to self-knowledge, harmonious actions and education. During my first year of incarceration I was encouraged to start and complete the classes that led to the attainment of a G.E.D….
Also, because a lot of the institutions I have been in are equipped with libraries I have been fortunate to be able to study numerous self-help books. In hopes of not only helping myself, but others as well. Each book I have read, and continue to read, has contributed to opening my mind and eyes to the power of correct thinking and actions. And the liberating power to know that we must accept responsibility in all aspects of our life. I once read: “Accepting responsibility is one of the highest forms of human maturity. A willingness to be accountable, to put yourself on the line, is really the defining characteristic of adulthood. (Jim Rohn)”
My experiences in life have taught me that sometimes we must be cleansed and purified by fire in order to discover the truth and our own unique paths. This purification process can also prepare one to know and do better. I have learned that we must be prepared to not only accept responsibility for our own individual actions and lives, but others or the collective as well…
I must say that soul searching, seeking guidance, and the daily prayers of my loved ones have been instrumental in sustaining and guiding me over the last twenty-three years of incarceration.
As I daily strive to align with the positive aspects of my destiny and the positive opportunities within the Universe I am simultaneously praying and working towards my physical freedom.
In closing, I would like to add that a person between the ages of fifteen to nineteen years old and an individual who is forty-three are worlds apart in outlook and actions. And although I am still a work in progress the differences in my spiritual growth, mentality and general view of life are great.
The elders of humanity have taught and I now believe, that there is good that can be taken from every experience. Even adversity. So this is what I daily strive to focus on.” From Pinkney Clowers’ Clemency Petition.
“I have discovered that freedom … is directly tied to self-knowledge, harmonious actions and education.” Pinkney Clowers’ Clemency Petition.
Pinkney continues to frequently email me inspirational thoughts and quotes, for which I am both grateful and humbled. His strength and wisdom encourage and inspire me to continue speaking out against the injustices of the Drug War. Pinkney should and must be freed.
Pinkney’s story is complex. It involves a lot of people and very limited tangible evidence. Indeed, for example, less than three grams of crack were actually offered as evidence at trial, yet Pinkney was sentenced based on testimony that he had sold 150 kilos of crack!
What follows is based on telephone calls and email correspondences with Pinkney, his family, and his friend and co-defendant, Calvin Boyd, as well as trial and sentencing transcripts, appellate cases, and Pinkney’s clemency petition with minor edits for spelling, grammar, and clarity.
Pinkney Background, Arrest and Trial in his words:
“I come from a relatively close knit family. I am my Mother’s only child. My father recently passed on January 9, 2016. He was 79. Currently my mother (80) takes care of my Grandmother. I have a great deal of aunts, uncles and cousins who I am beginning to reunite with. As for education I stopped going to high school in the 10th grade- Central High School in Macon, GA- and begin to work. I begin working at age fifteen or sixteen at a Hardee’s restaurant and left to be employed at a Red Lobster seafood restaurant. I left this position to be employed at a Kroger Grocery store and don’t recall exactly when I stopped working there. At some point I started landscaping and formed a D.J. service. Around this time I also started dealing with user amounts of marijuana. In fact the four prior convictions I have: Loitering (17 years old) 7/23/89; Reckless Driving 2/12/90; Possession of Marijuana 2/14/92 and Possession of Marijuana 4/14/92 kind of proves that I was no good at it (lol). I pleaded guilty [and] received 4 years’ probation for both cases.
Currently my family is very supportive in my efforts to win my freedom. In fact I am in the process of composing a letter to have my mother take to church to support my clemency efforts. As for my son and I, it is difficult for me also to understand fully what this too long incarceration has prevented us from experiencing together. I was arrested on November 3, 1992 he was born February 2, 1993 and [graduated] from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia this year. Admittedly for a great deal of time I thought it would be best for him if we did not communicate often. I am now discarding this particular belief and seeking a closer relationship with him.
I was arrested at [my mother’s] house on the morning of Nov. 3, 1992. And there were no guns in [her] house…
I was charged in multiple conspiracies. And in these alleged conspiracy counts all kind of events were said to have occurred. The difficult thing about being charged with or in a conspiracy is the guilt by association hurdle you are faced with. Through experience I have found that it is almost impossible to defend yourself against accusations made from individuals who are using you as a pawn or bargaining chip to gain their freedom or keep from being indicted.
“it is almost impossible to defend yourself against accusations made from individuals who are using you as a pawn or bargaining chip to gain their freedom or keep from being indicted.” Pinkney Clowers
I was charged with: Count 1: Conspiracy (21 U.S.C. 846 i/c/w 21 U.S.C. 841 (a)(1). Count 2- Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. 1951). Count 3- Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. 924 (c)(1). Count 18- C.C.E. (21 U.S.C. 848 (a)). This basically means that it only took a select few individuals to show up at a mock trial to say I did this or that. Or to say that the two other people who went to trial with me did this or that. People talked about drugs, guns, & violence during the trial, but like I said then I say now I had nothing to do with it and I refused to lie on myself or others. I was once stopped in Volusia County, Florida on my way to purchase D.J. equipment with I think about $6,000 and a gun. But the officer simply unloaded the gun and confiscated the money. And let me and the driver continue on our way with the gun!
I will admit that my case is complicated and it all started when I made a decision not to lie, cooperate, testify (I don’t know what to call it) about events I knew nothing about. The fact that I was a young hot head at the time probably didn’t help much either (lol). But you live and learn. Telling my whole story will not be easy because it is truly twisted all up.“
Mrs. Hattie Clowers, Pinkney’s mother:
I spoke with Pinkney’s mother, Hattie Clowers, about Pinkney growing up, what happened to him, and how the family is coping now. Hattie is 80 years old, and cares for her 98-year-old mother, Ethel Maynard. Hattie’s only wish is to have her son home.
Hattie told me that Pinkney was a sweet boy in school, who got caught up with the wrong people and got locked up for drugs.
Pinkney was their only child, their only son. When Pinkney was in grammar school his parents divorced, but he continued to do well in school. But by the time he was 18 or 19 he was locked up for life.
Hattie me that Pinkney was baptized in church and brought to church to be raised right. There was no violence in his life growing up, no fights, and no guns in the house. They lived in a nice neighborhood.
Hattie recalled the night Pinkney was arrested. He was in bed sleeping at her home when the Macon police came in and arrested him. For Hattie, the trial and sentencing are a blur. But even after all these years (she couldn’t recall how long it has been) the sentence still makes no sense to her. “He never killed anyone,” she said. She said, “a mother loves her child like her own heart.”
It’d been more than a year since Hattie last visited Pinkney – she said she “hadn’t visited in a long while.” She said Pinkney calls on Mother’s Day and they talk maybe every other week. She tries to stay positive and continues to trust in God.
Calvin Boyd, Pinkney’s friend and co-defendant
I also communicated with Pinkney’s friend and co-defendant, Calvin Boyd. Pinkney had written me about Boyd, saying:
“As far as my co-defendant and background on him, well from my perspective he is more or less like a brother to me. One of the amendments related to changing the crack cocaine and powder cocaine ratio reduced his time and resulted in his release a few years back. And he does everything he can in supporting my efforts to also gain my freedom. I will say this he’s kind of passionate about how he feels we were basically railroaded and wronged by the Middle District of Georgia system in place before, during and after trial…
In a phone call, Boyd told me that he met Pinkney when Pinkney was 17 years old through a mutual friend. Boyd said that Pinkney was nonviolent and that “Pinkney should have been out first.”
Boyd said, “I ain’t no angel,” admitting he had been in “some trouble.” But he said it was different with Pinkney. He several times referred to Pinkney’s continued incarceration as “bullshit, racist bullshit!” Boyd said bluntly, “the dude shouldn’t have no life sentence. I don’t care, I’m not bitter. But it’s not right! Pinkney’s getting fucked over for bullshit!”
Boyd described how the other conspirators testified against Pinkney, lying about the amount of drugs involved and lying about Pinkney being involved in violence. Boyd was angry that “drug dealers, armed robbers, and rapists” had testified against Pinkney and yet they were the first ones out of jail. Boyd said that Pinkney “knew nothing about the murders, the rape, or the robberies.” According to Boyd, Pinkney “didn’t do no violence,” and said adamantly that “the ones who should be in prison are the ones they let out already!”
“the dude shouldn’t have no life sentence … the ones who should be in prison are the ones they let out already!” Calvin Boyd, Pinkney’s friend and co-defendant
In email exchanges, Boyd provided his perspective of the drug conspiracy trial:
“Pinkney, Arleigh Carrington, Antonio Chatfield, Richard Glover, Edison Bell, Deastro Baker, and myself was indicted for drug related crimes. Initially, the judicial community (white folks) billed this case as the first federal death penalty case in the Middle District of Georgia. The death penalty was being sought against Chatfield and Carrington. Bell and Baker pled guilty for 5 years, I was offered 5 years and refused to plead guilty for that bull—-. The prosecution strategy to clear the path to easy death penalty convictions was to have force us to [plead] guilty so they could distort the facts in only one trial. However, Pinkney, Glover and myself invoked the right to jury trial. Consequently, the prosecution was compel[led] to put its witnesses (William ‘Junebug‘ Smith, Curtis Francis, and Daryl Wash) under scrutiny of cross-examination. The witnesses’ credibility was so tarnished during our trial that the prosecution realized it would never be able to succeed in the death penalty trial, [and] they withdrew the death penalty request against Chatfield and Carrington.
With respect to Pinkney, Smith testified that Pinkney and others distributed [hundreds of thousands] of dollars [worth of drugs] a week for several years. This result[ed] in the prosecution telling judge Owens, who in my view was a member of the prosecution team and I hope is burning in hell, that Clowers was responsible for over 150 kilo[s] of crack cocaine and manage five or more person[s]. Hence, a mandatory Life sentence under the mandatory crack law sentencing scheme. Smith had already been in federal prison for several years for numerous armed robberies in multiple states. He was dug up by Federal agents Pasquesi and Robert Powell to come in and lie [about] Clowers. [William “Junebug” Smith already] had 25 years … [A]fter he testified Owens reduced his sentence by half. He is home.
It should be noted that none of us could even afford a lawyer but Smith testified that Clowers made over two hundred thousand a week while running a Continuous Criminal Enterprise. It would have been laughable in a different setting when [human lives] would not have been all but ruined or ended … I just wonder why it is so easy for white folks to accept the most unreasonable lies or just plain nonsense said against black folks. I say that because in most all jury trial[s], a minimum of 9 jurors will be white, and they will have had very little interaction with black folks. I mean if you told a me or any other reasonable unbias[ed] person that a another person made over 200,000 dollars a week, I would automatically start asking myself where is the proof of this. Where is all this wealth[?] But when it comes to us, all that has to be done, in most cases, is get us to defense table and all the systematic and personal bias/racism kicks in, and you get a Pinkney Clowers with a life sentence…
The truth is Pinkney was a very young man, nonviolent young man, and was given an unwarranted Life sentence under racist so called crack laws, and the systematic racism [inherent] in the judicial system now say[s] the CCE sentence is unrelated to the crack. Only in [a] racist mind can that be called justice.“
If Boyd sounds bitter, there is ample reason for that. That other, generally older, men charged with far more serious crimes are already out of prison simply because they testified against a far less complicit younger man (really just a boy when most of the alleged crimes took place) should be enough to anger anyone who believes in justice. But the sad reality is that racism played a major role in this case, as it does in so many others, as demonstrated by some very sobering facts and statistics:
- African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
- African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
- Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
- According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
- One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
- 1 in 100 African American women are in prison
- Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).
- About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
- 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
- African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
- African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)
From NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet at: http://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/
“Only in [a] racist mind can that be called justice.” Calvin Boyd, Pinkney’s friend and co-defendant
Pinkney’s Clemency Petition has been pending since he submitted it on July 1, 2016. Drug War Stories will continue to follow Pinkney’s story.
Readers are urged to contact the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Pardon Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer, at:
Office of the Pardon Attorney
145 N Street N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Office of the Pardon Attorney Website: