Pubdate: Tue, 01 Sep 2015
Source: Sedalia Democrat (MO)
Copyright: 2015 The Sedalia Democrat
Author: Nicole Cooke


JEFFERSON CITY - After 21 years behind bars for marijuana-related 
offenses, Jeff Mizanskey is now a free man.

Mizanskey, 62, of Sedalia, was released from the Jefferson City 
Correctional Center early Tuesday morning with a crowd of family, 
friends and members of the media ready to greet him. His supporters 
wore black shirts with the Show-Me Cannabis logo and white lettering 
that said #WeFreedJeffMizanskey 09-01-2015. Mizanskey wore a similar 
shirt that said "I'm Jeff and I'm Free."

"It's been kind of like a dream. Everybody in there's been asking me, 
my family, if I'm excited, and I said I'm trying to keep my feet on 
the ground," Mizanskey said of the days leading up to his release. 
"I've been through courts and thought things would change that 
should've changed, some of the issues I've brought up, and nothing 
ever happened. I had a lot of high hopes so I've taught myself not to 
keep those high hopes up so I keep them all the way down. Really 
everything's hit me right now. I'm trying to keep everything in check."

He had been sentenced to serve life without parole under Missouri's 
"prior and persistent drug offender" law, although he had not been 
previously convicted of a felony other than marijuana law violations.

"It was cruel and unusual. It's a shame," Mizanskey said of his 
sentence. "There's people in here that are in here for molesting 
children, and I've seen them come, go and come again. That's what 
hurt me more than anything 'cause here I was stuck here forever for marijuana."

Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence May 22, making Mizanskey 
immediately eligible for parole, and a parole hearing took place Aug. 
6 at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

According to an Associated Press report, Mizanskey had two previous 
felony convictions for marijuana-related offenses when he was 
sentenced in 1996 to life without parole for a third felony offense. 
At the time, the law allowed a sentence of life without parole for 
people with three felony drug convictions and has since been changed, 
but it was not made retroactively effective. The repeal will become 
effective in January 2017.

Police said Mizanskey conspired to sell six pounds of pot to a dealer 
connected to Mexican drug cartels.

Mizanskey's previous felonies were for possession and sale of 
marijuana in 1984 and possession in 1991.

When asked what he plans to do now that he is no longer in prison, 
Mizanskey said he plans to find work in Sedalia, and help advocate 
for marijuana legalization.

"Three weeks ago you said the first thing you wanted to do was get 
some new shoes," one reporter remarked to Mizanskey.

"And I got 'em!" Mizanskey said laughing as he showed off the bright 
white tennis shoes to the crowd. "It's like walking on air."

Mizanskey has missed many technological developments during his more 
than two decades in prison. He said it'll take some time to get ahead 
of the learning curve.

"I've never been on the Internet. I've messed around on the computer 
here doing some legal work so I know a little bit about it but that's 
about it," he said. "As far as a telephone, I used to walk into a 
telephone booth and drop a dime in there; it's probably not even a 
dime anymore. I've got a lot to learn. I've got a lot of family 
members and people here that are going to help me learn. It's going 
to take me some time."

Support for Mizanskey's release through petitions and social media 
have surged in recent years from family members, lawmakers and 
advocates for marijuana legalization. He was the only person in 
Missouri serving a life sentence without any possibility for parole 
for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses.

"I think Jeff Mizanskey's story embodies how the drug war has failed. 
It's a moral failure," said Travis Mauer, co-founder of Show-Me 
Cannabis. "The war on drugs ruins lives, fails to keep people safe 
and enriches cartels and costs taxpayers money. We need to redirect 
law enforcement resources to get violent criminals and start by 
legalizing cannabis in Missouri."

Republican state Rep. Shamed Dogan, of the St. Louis area, agreed. He 
was one of several lawmakers who helped Mizanskey.

"Who in their right mind would start a drug war that costs as much as 
it does  building new prisons, putting people in prison, putting 
people in jail, spending law enforcement resources on non-violent 
crimes when in my city of St. Louis we have a crime epidemic," Dogan 
said. "... Any reforms we can do to get us to that place  I'm not for 
full legalization like my friends here at Show-Me Cannabis, but I 
think there's got to be some place that we as a society can come to 
between the policies we have now and full legalization that will be 
more rational, that will actually help us reduce drug use."

After taking photos with those in attendance, Mizanskey and friends 
made their way to their vehicles to get Mizanskey's first meal.

"Thank you everybody for coming. Thank you for your support. Now if 
everybody is done with questions, I'd like to go get some steak and 
eggs," Mizanskey told the crowd with a big smile.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom