Source: High Times 
Pubdate: April, 1998, No. 272 
Author: Steven Wishnia
Editors note: Nora is also a member of the MAP/DrugSense Board of Directors.
The November Coalition website is at:




COLVILLE, WA--The 500,000-plus prisoners in America's drug gulag inhabit an
isolated, subterranean world, whether literally underground, like the
federal ADX maximum-security prison in Florence, CO, or behind the walls in
remote rural towns. The deeper they are in--serving mandatory minimums like
11 years and three months, 19 years and seven months, 24 years with a
five-year "tag"--the further they are cut off from normal life.

Which is where the November Coalition comes in. Founded in the spring of
1997, it has put our five issues of a bimonthly newspaper, recently renamed
The Razor Wire, intended to educate the public on the consequences of "mass
incarceration due to the Drug War," says coalition director Nora Callahan,
former head of the Washington State chapter of Families Against Mandatory
Minimums. Starting with a mailing list of 14 prisoners last May, she says,
the paper now reaches about 1,000, in nearly all of the 92 federal prisons
and 75 to 85 state prisons, and has a total circulation of over 3,000.

The Razor Wire mixes missives from prisoners--jailed medical-marijuana users
Will Foster and Alan Carter-McLemore might be the best-known--with reprints
of editorials by activists like Kevin Zeese and DRCNet's Adam Smith. It was
initially conceived as a Web site by prisoner Dave Perk, but, explains
Callahan, "We had to do a paper, because prisoners can't see the Internet,
contrary to popular belief."

Callahan, 44, has a strong personal stake in the issue. Her brother Gary is
serving a 27-and-a-half-year sentence on cocaine-conspiracy charges. The
main evidence against him, she says, was a duffel bag with traces of white
powder in it; the two men actually caught with the 80 pounds testified
against him and got no jail time.

Gary Patrick Callahan's case is typical of the prisoners who tell their
stories in The Razor Wire, and on "The Wall" on the group's Web site. Many
claim to have been convicted solely on hearsay, or on informants' testimony
in "no drug" conspiracy cases. Others were peripheral players in the drug
business, trapped by the rules that hold anyone involved in a drug
enterprise responsible for the entire amount handled unless they turm

James Doherty, a 49-year-old father of five, is serving 10 years in a prison
2,000 miles from his home for "a minor role in a marijuana grow." Amy
Ralston Pofahl, 37, is doing 24 years after her Ecstasy-manufacturing
ex-husband testified against her. Tyrone Love Jr., in for 19 and a half
years for conspiracy to distribute 50 grams of crack, was transferred to the
Florence ADX after the October 1996 sentencing-guidelines riots. "My story
is not unique. Young black men an being fed into the justice system by the
thousands every single day," writes John Griffin, sentenced to 30 years for
"a few grams of heroin." Mark Ingraham, whose sister designed the mock jail
cell which the November Coalition takes to demonstrations like the Seattle
Hempfest, died of liver disease in 1997, halfway through a 10-year sentence
for growing herb.

Even when their protestations of innocence seem dubious, the basic issue
remains. "They were not my plants and I don't believe they were marijuana
either," writes a man jailed for 2,200 seedlings, "but even if they were,
would it be worth 135 months of a man's life?" Over and over, they reiterate
that they are serving longer sentences than convicted killers or rapists.

"These are real people with mothers, not the demons that legislators say
they are," explains Callahan, who quit her job as a graphic designer to
concentrate on the organization. More than half of the group's funding comes
from inmate contributions, and 12 volunteers help out. The Drug Policy
Foundation also supports their work.

Family issues are another focus. With increasing numbers of women in prison,
the number of "Drug War orphans" is also rising. One spinoff from the
coalition is a support group for depressed wives, especially needed around
what they call the "hellidays," Callahan says. Last Christmas, the group
asked people to place a light (preferably an electric candle) in a front
window as a symbol of support for Drug War POWs.

The Razor Wire has had few problems with censorship by prison authorities,
except for being banned in the Florence ADX. If the paper is too incendiary,
muses Callahan, it will be censored, but if it's too tame, it would be
pointless to publish. "We sit on the edge," she says. "I get a lot of advice
from the guys in there." A more perplexing problem is trying to reach
prisoners outside the coalition's rural white base, to cross the racial
lines, often violently defined, within prisons.

Callahan cautions that "we're not prodrug, more anti-Drug War." But she
argues that keeping drugs illegal, as opposed to the Dutch coffeeshops or
the old British registered-addict system, only insures that the black market
will be profitable, and is responsible for "the veritable gulaging of

"Sentiment in this country is definitely changing," she notes
optimistically. "I don't think it'll take much to push it over." On the
other hand, she reminds potheads grimly, "Don't forget the Drug War
prisoners. Every night when you're enjoying your smoke, think about the
18-year-old boy in the county jail being raped all night while awaiting
arraignment for a bag of pot."

Since the 1984 Drug War escalation, the number of drug-law violators in
prison in the United States has increased sixfold; they now constitute a
quarter of the nation's state prisoners and 60 percent of federal inmates,
according to the federal Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse. And prisons
continue to proliferate: New federal prisons open at a rate of almost one a
month, and for-profit operators are increasingly getting into the business.

"The new prisons aren't being built for us," Callahan quotes James "Opie"
Roe, an unemployed Montana logger jailed for five years in a federal pot
sting. "They're being built for the people who are still free."

The November Coalition can be reached at PO Box 309, Colville, WA 99114;
phone (509) 684-1550; e-mail  Web site