A new Indiegogo campaign is trying to raise money for a “media blitz” urging Missouri’s governor to release the state’s only inmate serving life without parole for nonviolent marijuana offenses, the Riverfront Times reports.
The fundraiser could make 61-year-old Jeff Mizanskey the poster child of harsh three-strikes marijuana laws on the books in some states. The goal is to raise $US21,000, or $US1,000 for every year Mizanskey has already spent in prison for his nonviolent crime.
Mizanskey’s family views him not as a hardened criminal but as a loving dad who wants to see his grandkids grow up. Here’s what his son Chris had to say about him on Change.org, where over 377,000 people have signed a petition asking Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to grant him clemency:
My dad is, and always has been, a good man. He taught my brother and I all about construction and a good work ethic. He has never been violent and he is a model prisoner. And over the 20 years he has been in that little cell, he has watched as violent criminals, rapists, and murderers have ‘paid their debts’ and left — sometimes just to return a few months later. … [A]ll my dad wants to do is be a productive part of society, work and pay taxes, be with his family.
The crime that landed Mizanskey behind bars for life occurred in December 1993, after Missouri police found large amounts of marijuana stashed in a car from New Mexico. The car’s occupants admitted they were transporting the pot to a buyer named Atilano Quintana, according to the Riverfront Times. The police offered them leniency in exchange for following through with the illegal transaction so police could set up a sting.
But Quintana arrived at the scheduled meeting place with Mizanskey, who appeared to police as a helper. After their arrests, Mizanskey claimed he thought the meeting was about moving furniture for Quintana’s sister and didn’t learn otherwise until after he drove Quintana to the location. It also appeared to police that Quintana conducted the deal while Mizanskey simply provided backup. And it was Quintana who was carrying the seven pounds of marijuana when they were arrested after the meeting, reported the Riverfront Times.
In the end, one of the men who cooperated with police was released without charges, the other served a year in jail, and Quintana got a 10-year sentence.
But Mizanskey was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Regardless of his place on the sidelines of the transaction, Mizanskey’s earlier run-ins with the law led to his harsh sentence.
But those were also relatively minor crimes, consisting of selling an ounce of marijuana and possessing over 35 grams of marijuana on two occasions, according to a 2013 clemency application written by his lawyer Tony Nenninger and sent to Governor Nixon.
Mizanskey’s sentence was a result of a harsh Missouri statute that requires courts to mete out harsh punishments for “prior and persistent drug offenders.”
“I am not aware of any other person in Missouri who is serving a life sentence for non-violent cannabis-only offenses,” Nenninger wrote in the clemency application. He also mentioned that society’s views of marijuana have changed since the 1990s:
Liberalization of marijuana laws has become a popular goal among mainstream Democrats and Republicans alike who are demanding that government stay out of adults’ private lives. It is our hope that our Governor will be among the emerging political leaders who are reconsidering the excesses of our past regarding appropriate punishment for marijuana law offenders.
Mizanskey reports he has never been in any significant trouble with authorities during his incarceration and has participated in Department of Corrections programs that will help him avoid the drug problems of his past, according to Nenninger’s letter.
But since the clemency application hasn’t succeeded, the Indiegogo online fundraiser is an effort to garner popular support that puts more pressure on Governor Nixon to grant clemency.
Organised by marijuana reform researcher Aaron Malin and Mizanskey’s family members, the campaign is spreading awareness of Mizanskey’s situation. Mizanskey hopes the campaign can help persuade Governor Nixon to grant his release so he can “be there for my great grandchild,” especially since the governor signed a bill this month permitting marijuana to be grown legally in the state to help treat epilepsy patients.
As of this April, 19 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. Two more, Washington and Colorado, have legalized it for both medical and recreational use, according to this map from Governing magazine, which doesn’t include Missouri.
“What’s happened to him isn’t right,” Mizanskey’s son Chris told the Riverfront Times in 2013. “And I just think people should know that this happens. My dad wasn’t a violent man. People always tell me what a good guy he was. He worked hard. He doesn’t deserve this. Who does?”
Governor Nixon’s office did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment Wednesday.