Amy Povah – CAN-DO

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 involvement in her former husband’s international ecstasy manufacturing and distribution business.  As is unfortunately the situation in far too many drug cases, Amy was charged with and convicted of “conspiracy,” even though in her appeal other co-defendants swore she wasn’t even involved.  Even her ex-husband claimed she wasn’t involved until after he was arrested.  Amy admittedly took money from the drug enterprise in an unsuccessful effort to get her then husband bailed out of prison.

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.”

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…

Drug War Stories was fortunate and pleased to conduct the following email interview with Amy in April, 2017:

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.  This became obvious when Deborah Leff replaced Ronald Rogers – a former prosecutor who engaged in malfeasance per the Inspector General’s office.  Ms. Leff was a good choice because she was not a former prosecutor, but it didn’t take long for DOJ to drive her out.  Her resignation letter clearly indicated she left due to frustration that petitions she had approved were not making it to the White House and her ability to communicate with the White House was severed by DOJ; a massive red flag that must be taken seriously by any president who has an interest in transparency and receiving intel from what should be an unbiased agency.

I got such satisfaction knowing that someone had SEEN me and heard about my story.  I had penetrated the prison walls and escaped via a poster, which was proof I was not altogether severed from society.

DWS: What do you consider to be CAN-DOs greatest success and why?

Giving prisoners a voice and visibility online.  I will never forget when I was in prison, feeling as if everyone had gone on with their lives.  One time, I heard that someone from Dallas (who was unaware I had gone to prison) had seen my image on a poster that some activists (Human Rights 95) were holding up at a rally in San Francisco, where they were visiting.  They went back to Dallas and told everyone they had seen me in San Francisco and were shocked about my incarceration.  I got such satisfaction knowing that someone had SEEN me and heard about my story.  I had penetrated the prison walls and escaped via a poster, which was proof I was not altogether severed from society.  I actually felt as if I had been to San Francisco that day.  That’s why I have performed 5 vigils in front of the White House holding up posters of the prisoners that CAN-DO advocates for.  Also, I work with other organizations, such as The National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and they have copies of the CAN-DO posters that they take to the Universities where we speak, such as Columbia, Yale, Vanderbilt, University of Washington, NYU, etc.  Students and the public come over and look at these posters and read their stories and that is rewarding to me.

Starting the Guardian Angel program has been rewarding because I simply can’t write to everyone on a one on one basis and fulfill all the other obligations at CAN-DO.   So it dawned on me that there were a lot of wonderful people on Facebook who kept asking how they could help.  I paired people with prisoners and in doing so, created some strong friendships between the prisoners and their Angels.  So many prisoners expressed immense gratitude – these simple acts aren’t difficult but end up meaning the world to someone in prison.

We assisted 44 of the 105 women who received clemency and 34 men by communicating with them, profiling their cases, providing a Guardian Angel and/or arranging for their family members to go to D.C. for several events focused on clemency. 

Also, the media has contacted CAN-DO on numerous occasions seeking an interview with someone on the CAN-DO website and/or asked us for suggestions as to who they should write about.  That gives me immense satisfaction because when I was in prison, David France found my story on a couple of websites and wanted an exclusive for Glamour magazine  If I had not had my case on a website, I never would have been featured in Glamour, which was an absolute game-changer for me.  I never would have gotten the support I needed to overcome the impenetrable wall that had been erected at OPA if Glamour had not explained how I got a 24-year sentence.   Previously, no politician would touch my case because even they didn’t know how the conspiracy law was being perverted.  After Glamour explained that the kingpin cut a deal and was free, while I was serving 24 years based on all the MDMA he had manufactured and sold due to the conspiracy law, I received an outpouring of support in the form of letters from politicians.  I now know that a staff attorney at OPA did not want me to get clemency because the more media exposure I got, the angrier she (a former prosecutor) became, because my case made her profession look bad.  Ultimately, my case was brought to President Clinton’s attention by two Senators and Jack Anderson at 60 Minutes, so the White House demanded my case from OPA, and the result was that five of us got out on July 7, 2000.  From that day forward, I have tried to honor my promise to help the women I bonded with during my 9 year sentence.

Possibly my greatest success was that I wrote my roommates (Lau Ching Chin) clemency petition and then advocated for her after I got out – in fact Glamour did a follow up article about my release and spotlighted Chin’s case.  She was released on President Clinton’s last day.  I even got to deliver the news to her – she couldn’t believe it.

DWS: What are your thoughts about President Obamas clemency efforts and actions?

Possibly the most rewarding aspect of the clemency initiative was meeting the heroes that emerged and put in an exhaustive amount of time, energy and resources, such as Mark Osler and Rachel Barkow, who oversaw several clemency clinics and were successful is filing the petitions of a long list of clemency recipients who probably would not have received clemency without their assistance.  Most the Op Eds that tackled the slow pace and lack of clemencies were penned by Mark Osler.  Jonathan Perri of paired their clemency campaign with CAN-DO so that all clemency petitions were on the CAN-DO movement page.  Jon was instrumental in getting those petitions the exposure they needed to hit big numbers and creating energy around clemency, which became the #2 most populate category of petitions on Change.  Brittany Byrd – my God talk about a super-hero, she devoted herself to helping Sharanda Jones even before the clemency push, then, as she became successful, she took on a long list of others and walked them out of prison due to her pro bono efforts, plus she started a clemency clinic as SMU in Dallas.  She also teamed up with Van Jones’ organization CUT50 and we collaborated to spotlight as many candidates as possible, plus she organized a candlelight vigil in DC that got a lot of press.  Jason Hernandez, who was one of the original “Obama eight” started Crack Open the Door and helped spotlight the lack of Latina women getting clemency. He asked if I had any Latina women and without hesitation I pointed him to Josephine Ledezma, a lifer who was #2 on the CAN-DO Top 25 women who deserved clemency and without his help I doubt that Josephine would have received clemency because her attorney never filed her clemency petition! Andrea James and Topeka Sam who co-founded the Council and spotlighted all the women on the CAN-DO top 25 list ~ geez there are so many I can’t list them all.

Possibly the greatest hero was Nkechi Taifa of the Justice Round TableNkechi Taifa was responsible for orchestrating an event that brought clemency recipients to the White House and resulted in some of them having lunch with President Obama.  That never would have happened if not for Nkechi.  She’s a selfless freedom fighter that does a lot of behind the scenes work and deserve more credit and exposure.  Mark Osler and Nkechi Taifa actually went to the White House to stress the need to remove OPA from DOJ due to the conflict of interest and their concerns were not only spot on-it’s precisely what was necessary in order to secure clemency for many of the most deserving candidates.  

Everyone should have stopped when Deborah Leff resigned, because that was a defining, “ah-ha” moment.   Clemency Project 2014; everyone on the steering committee, everyone working in this space should have been vocal and demanded a review of why she was resigning to avoid what ultimately happened.

Sadly, the old former prosecutor mindset re-captured OPA after Leff resigned and those old patterns of obstructionism that she complained about were allowed to flourish.  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.  I’m trying to help Michelle West, a woman who is serving double life based on the testimony of an admitted murderer who got full immunity.  She’s a first offender, has served 25 years, impeccable record and no tangible evidence – just the word of a murderer who went scot-free.  Her daughter was 10 years old when she went to prison – they need to be reunited, but Obama let DOJ have last and final say; he ignored Leff’s complaints about petitions being subverted by DOJ, so good people, like Michelle suffered.  Only 105 women out of 1715 clemency recipients received clemency which is a travesty and inexcusable.

All our fears materialized wherein, once again, the prisoners were victimized by an unrelenting DOJ that is determined to thwart even the White House – if need be, to protect the egos and policies of an agency that no longer respects our civil rights or even operates from a position of seeking any pretense of justice.

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?   Give me one reason why Sally Yates would not send Craig Cesal, Michael Pelletier, or Andy Cox’s clemency petitions to the White House?  Sally Yates was Andy Cox’s prosecutor and he was denied, as were most pot prisoners!

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? 

Most prosecutors resent defendants they could not force to plead guilty. If a defendant goes to trial or refuses to testify against others, that prosecutor will not have mercy on you and although there were a few exceptions, the prosecutors were given final say as to who got clemency and who didn’t.  Geez, what could go wrong?

Even worse, DOJ released some questionable characters who had bad conduct while in prison, so Obama placed his faith in the hands of an agency that did not care about his reputation or who the most deserving applicants were.  I don’t think any president should allow themselves to be played like that.

Amy Povah and CAN DO holding a vigil in front of the White House

Those of us who were working in the clemency capsule were witnessing, in real time, a horrible train wreck that turned out to be a colossal clusterf#%k;  the denials of first time offenders who had served 20-30 years, such as Antonio Bascaro, a first offender who has served 36 years for pot or Lori Kavitz, who’s sentencing judge wrote a letter begging the pardon attorney to give Lori and immediate release!  Imagine a battle field during war time and we were the medics.  Now imagine being a medic with no supplies – no ability to give mouth to mouth resuscitation, no pain killers, or antibiotics, no oxygen, sutures, not even an aspirin, while I witnessed Lavonne Roach being shot down after she was approved by CP14.   Her mother is currently in a hospital dying, or Crystal Munoz – a mother who gave birth to her second daughter while in custody and is serving her 10th year of a 20 year sentence for pot!   One woman after another shot down during a historic clemency push that was extremely merciful to some bad-ass re-peat offenders – but not first offenders like Melissa Trigg, or Alice Johnson, who had the support of three congress members, her Warden, the National Association of African American Mayors and extensive media exposure?  Rita Becerra, Clarissa Burgoon, Tynice Hall, Karen Davis, Nicole Walker, Shanita McKnight, Nancy Ferneau, Mary Ziman, Angela Wright, Diana Marquez, Tensha Bannister, Rose Summers, Elisa Castillo; the list of names are endless of women who were perfect candidates that Obama left behind.  It was cruel because they were led to believe they were going home.  And then there were the ones who got clemency, but they still have to serve another 10 years, like David Barren!  His parents will be dead by then!  Another 10 years will not make David a better man.

It was cruel because they were led to believe they were going home.  And then there were the ones who got clemency, but they still have to serve another 10 years, like David Barren!  His parents will be dead by then!  Another 10 years will not make David a better man.

Amy Povah with Jodi Loretta – a “Guardian Angel”

So many want to compare Obama’s clemency numbers to past presidents and give him accolades but what did we expect from the first African American president that campaigned on promises to address the broken criminal justice system – and wrote a paper published in Harvard Law review assailing the inequities that he had unfettered ability to solve with the stroke of a pen, but would not. We can’t compare him to Reagan or Bush Sr. because they resurrected Nixon’s drug war and put it on steroids.  President Clinton passed more horrible legislation and Bush Jr was an extension of his father, so of course Obama granted more clemencies then all of them combined!  They came up with the 100 to 1 ratio for crack vs power cocaine.  They kickstarted the era of mass incarceration by putting mandatory minimums in place, creating the Sentencing Commission, abolishing the parole board, passing the bail reform act, incentivized every little hamlet across the nation to seize property for the Attorney General’s Asset forfeiture trust fund so they too could benefit from the plunder. 

If Obama sincerely wanted to do something righteous, if he genuinely cared about injustice, he would have listened to all of his supporters who were begging him to switch to an amnesty or categorical approach to clemency.  No one can ever say we didn’t try because there was an army of us reaching out to the White House; there were a lot of big name people who were tapping their contacts at the White House to save the poor souls in prison who were fed hope.   I could go on and on with this diatribe.  Sorry, but I’m still upset about this… I realize some people were given the miracle of freedom but he failed all the people who were given false hope!

DWS: What do you think will happen to clemency efforts, as well as the War on Drugs generally, under the Trump Administration?

Clemency under Trump?  It depends on whether someone can get Trump to listen to the truth.  Sadly, I think a lot of good people are missing a marvelous opportunity to sit down with him and “negotiate.”  That’s who he is – he’s a negotiator and a deal maker.  He’s an easy target for the left to throw rotten eggs at but that only makes the egg tossers look like bullies, childish and immature people, which ironically is how they depict him.  Anyone in their right mind who believes in diplomacy should be asking for a meeting with Trump to seek common ground and a resolution to the many problems we all face as Americans.  If any number of A-list celebs would ask for a meeting, I’m pretty sure Trump would sit down with them and wow – what I would give to be able to pick up the phone and call the White House and get an in-person meeting with the president – and how shallow of the individuals who not only will not do that – but they shun and attack people like Steve Harvey for doing so.  There are lives at stake, there are major issues that need to be addressed – can we not at least make an effort to communicate?  Our biggest hurdle to get Trump to grant clemencies in Sessions.  He was without a doubt, the worst possible choice for Attorney General because he’s the only person in DC who is still clinging to the medieval 90s intellect and even stated, recently, that he was shocked that everyone doesn’t agree with him about his desire to return to the ole glory days – as he sees it.   Some Republicans embrace that ideology, but I think they are biased due to the private prison lobbyists, whereas I think Sessions really believes “good people don’t smoke pot.”

Insofar as the drug war – we 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.   There is only a kernel of hope and that’s due to my Quixotic nature that believes in the improbable.  I’m hoping that some prosecutors have learned that you can do whatever you want with the full weight of the DOJ to back you up – but it doesn’t mean you will go down in history as a good man or woman, a hero or revered by anyone.  Much the opposite is likely to happen if you abuse your power.  Whatever you do to the least of us will eventually be tomorrow’s news and those of us who were mistreated – we are sharing our stories, we are speaking to Universities, the media is finally reporting about all the atrocities that went on during the medieval 90s, so everyone should think twice before they seal their place in history as a war criminal.  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.  That’s why I produced, directed and edited 420-The Documentary.  It’s my gift to society and could not be more relevant than it is today!  How many Galileo’s are in prison today because they simply wanted to expand their consciousness by taking LSD or MDMA or enjoyed pot because it unlocked creativity?  Sessions will never understand us, because he sees all of us as a threat to his Utopia and his Utopia is to live in a world where everyone has a 9 to 5 job, works in a cubicle, goes home and is in bed by 10 pm.  BUT – what’s the first thing you do after you get off work?  You get in your car and you turn on the radio and listen to MUSIC.  What do you do on the weekend?  You go see a movie that was written by someone who is probably nocturnal, smokes weed and is creative – an artist.  I met an endless number of artists in prison.  Creative people don’t fit into Session’s 9 to 5 Utopia.

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.  It was also the same night I met the man I would marry and send me to prison.  So all in one night – I embarked on a spiritual journey that was both positive and negative.  One reason why I was able to survive the tests that later materialized in the form of a task force of federal agents demanding that I either cooperate with them or be indicted for conspiracy is due to that first night when I took Ecstasy.  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.   So, whether you believe in Jesus or not, I find it remarkable that people swear by the bible and yet that paradigm in lost on them the minute they are put in a position and told to cooperate.   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?  I also don’t judge those who did cooperate because every situation is different.

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…

I’ve digressed – back to Ecstasy.  The night I took that first hit of Ecstasy was a spiritual awakening so I was pretty certain that God had a plan for me.   I was willing to ride it out and see where it was going to take me.  That said, there were a few times when I went to my knees in prison and wondered whether I had sold myself some kind of fairy-tale story, because I didn’t think it would take God over 9 years to bring me out of prison.  I can’t even imagine how people have served over 20 years – it breaks my heart.

Amy Povah (center) with Guardian Angel Jodi Loretta (left) and VP of CAN-DO Anrica Caldwell (right)  and fiancé to David Barren.

DWS: What projects/organizations are you working on/with in addition to CAN-DO (Harm Reduction Productions, “Guardian Angel” program, etc.)? 

CAN-DO is the fiscal sponsor for a documentary that Marc Levin is going to produce about Weldon Angelos.  I’m also working with a remarkable all-volunteer staff and we have some plans.  Karen Morrison is an amazing woman I’m currently working with who is having a lot of success helping more prisoners file and receive a 2-point reduction.  Robin Lucas is another amazing person I served time with and we hope to put together a symposium.  We are trying to help those who received clemency get on their feet – that’s something that Robin is passionate about and very good at.  Malik King is our prison outreach coordinator.  He sends prisoners books and keeps their spirits up; an almost impossible task as this point in time. Oh, and we just created a couple of T-shirts – a FREE HER T-shirt with all the names of the women we are still trying to free and a FREE ALL POT PRISONERS t-shirt. We collaborated with 3 other groups on the Pot t-shirt. AHHS WEHO is the oldest pot dispensary in Los Angeles owned by Jason Beck and Dina Browner, and Freedom Grow is Stephanie Landa and Dina’s non profit that raises funds to put on the commissary books of pot prisoners and Beth Curtis of Life for Pot. [After this story was originally posted, Drug War Stories also participated in this project]. We are ordering the t-shirts from Ricky Munoz because his wife, Crystal Munoz, is serving a 20 year sentence for pot, so every step of this project helps those who have been harmfully impacted by pot prohibition. Plus, the proceeds from the t-shirts will continue to put money directly on the books of pot prisoners. I hope to do something similar for the all prisoners but it’s too cost prohibitive in the moment. Maybe if I get a grant someday!

Plus we have a few things in the pipeline that we hope will launch soon, but my mother has stage 4 lung cancer so I’m trying to balance certain projects with her needs and requirements.  She was my rock when I was in prison – and now it’s her turn.

DWS: What frustrates or discourages you the most?

I will never forget what it was like for my parents to stand in a courtroom and hear their daughter sentenced to 24 years.  Metaphorically, it was akin to flushing a toilet as if we were all waste matter to be gotten rid of.  It’s something you’ll never forget – the feeling that my government considered our family unit was worthless and deserving of a sentence that a violent rapist or some murderers don’t receive? I have never harmed an individual in my life, and there cannot be any scenario where someone could win a debate defending a sentencing scheme that will set a kingpin free and put his wife in prison based on criminal behavior committed by the husband!  This madness will never end as long as good people remain silent.  We need people of influence to use their voices to end the drug war.  To end this horrible chapter in our nations timeline.  To remain silent or even ignorant is akin to condoning it because you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.

I will never forget what it was like for my parents to stand in a courtroom and hear their daughter sentenced to 24 years.  Metaphorically, it was akin to flushing a toilet as if we were all waste matter to be gotten rid of. 

DWS: What gives you the most encouragement or hope?

Faith that there is some divine plan that there will be an end to this.  It certainly won’t come out of DC so it has to come from the will of the people and honestly – I’m getting worn out.  We need help so I can go on a vacation and enjoy what freedom I currently have left.  I’m 57 – time is running out!  We need the media to jump on this issue the way they jumped on the tough of crime rhetoric and made it so easy for law makers to pass horrible legislation – there is a lot of bad behavior that needs repairing from the past.

But, what gives me hope is seeing photographs of women I served time with in street clothes and hugging their loved ones. 

Watching Ramona Brant on video when she went to I-hop and recently hearing that she is engaged to get married!   Screaming over the phone the day I talked to Danielle Metz and she was free.  This may sound corny but I really feel as if I was serving time with Danielle because over the past 16 years, I think even she will tell you, I have stayed in communication with her throughout her time.  I even tried to get her to let me submit her clemency petition because she was waiting for someone to file it for years! Standing in front of the White House with Angie Jenkins and sharing a hotel room with her, when the last time I saw her was in the law library at FCI Dublin!  That gives me hope to keep going for people like Roberta Bell, Barbara Pachecho and Benetta Willis who are just as deserving as Danielle, Angie and Josephine Ledezma. We can’t relax now, just because some got out – in fact, it’s all the more hurtful for those who were left behind, so the struggle continues.

DWS: What do you think is the most important thing for the American people to know about the War on Drugs?

The war on drugs has nothing to do with stopping or even slowing down the drug trade.  It has everything to do with growing the slave labor trade in this country and it was by design – it was not an accident.  When I was in prison in Dublin, someone snuck out a prospectus for the new federal prisons that were going to open and it had a list of all the future UNICOR factories and what they would build in those facilities.  It was always about growing UNICOR and at the state level, bringing private prisons to the US.

Amy Povah with Beth Curtis of Life For Pot, who is holding a poster to free her brother John Knock, serving a life sentence for a marijuana conspiracy conviction.

DWS: What do you think the greatest injustices are of the Drug War?  Forcing people to testify against their own family members.  I have one case where the son was given a deal if he would testify against his mother, even tho he was the one selling pot. He took the deal.  The worst cases of injustice I’ve read about involve the conspiracy law; where someone is sentenced based on the drugs that were sold by someone else who was given a plea agreement for leniency – so you have someone serving another person’s time for them, merely because they didn’t get a deal and the bad guy is home.  Those cases are not the exception – it’s the norm.

Also, there are some asset forfeiture cases that would curl your toenails if you read them. Sometimes, I honestly can’t believe I’m living this reality – these stories sound like something that could only happen in a fascist, third world country – but no – it’s thriving right here in the U.S. of A.

Also, we have yet another corrupt forensic chemist story in a long line over the years – this time in Massachusetts; Annie Dookhan.  They are dismissing 21,587 cases due to her corruption but in her case, for some reason, she didn’t have to testify against all the prosecutors that she lied for.  She didn’t have to take down all the people in law enforcement who were in on this scheme – no they isolated her case and once again, a woman will take the fall for an entire corrupt male-dominated justice system in Massachusetts.  She’s the sacrificial lamb that goes down, but if she were one of us, a prosecutor would be forcing her to testify against a long list of people who were also involved, or she would get NO DEAL!   Always the double standard when law enforcement breaks the law.  I guess what upsets me the most is that when these stories break, you don’t hear a peep out of Congress about passing legislation to strengthen laws to protect citizens against this type of corruption – all we get is radio silence.

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 coconspirator 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! Release everyone who has already served 5 years for drug offenses – across the board.  We also need to [be] realistic and abolish those three strike laws.  Seriously – I’m sick of all this pussy-footing around, begging for bread crumbs that never get passed due to some jerk who’s getting money from a lobbyist for private prisons.  We need intervention in this country, even if it has to come from NATO.   How can we send out an S.O.S. to the rest of the world to save us from ourselves?  (smile?)

DWS: What do you think our readers can/ should do?

Open dialogue.  Talk to your neighbors, church members, family members and get people to open their minds to think rationally about ending mass incarceration.  Can you imagine, during alcohol prohibition if people had simply suggested shorter sentences or relief for three strikers, but lets keep alcohol illegal!  We must take the financial incentive out of criminal justice – once we get rid of that, prison construction will come to a halt and the incarceration will reduce drastically.  I honestly do not see criminal justice reform making any progress anytime soon due to the political climate in DC, but public sentiment is gaining momentum and that gives me hope!

Drug War Stories is extremely grateful to Amy for sharing her story and being a tireless advocate for justice and clemency.  Amy’s warrior spirit is an inspiration and we salute her!

Read the many letters of clemency written by numerous members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi and others, on Amy’s behalf prior to her being granted clemency by President Clinton.

End the drug war.  No equivocating – just END IT!