Source: High Times Pubdate: April, 1998, No. 272 Author: Steven Wishnia Contact: Website: http://www.hightimes.com/ Editors note: Nora is also a member of the MAP/DrugSense Board of Directors. The November Coalition website is at: http://www.november.org FREEDOM FIGHTER OF THE MONTH NORA CALLAHAN AND THE NOVEMBER COALITION A VOICE FOR DRUG WAR POWS 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 snitch. 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 America." "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 www.november.org.