COMMENTARY | If I didn't know better, I would swear this headline could only be found in one of those countries that cut off hands for burglary -- certainly not in the "free-est nation in the world."
Patricia Spottedcrow, mother of four children ages 1 to 9, and her mother, Delita Starr, were charged with selling first $11 worth of marijuana to an undercover agent who came to their home, then $20 worth of the substance on a second undercover sting. On both occasions children were present in the home, netting the women an additional charge of possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor.
The prosecutor's office of Kingfisher County, Okla., offered the two women a plea deal -- plead guilty and receive two years in prison. The two women decided that since they had no prior convictions, they would take their chances in front of Judge Susie Pritchett. Judge Pritchett admits that first-time offenders are usually granted probation, but the circumstances of the children being present complicated the issue.
Delita Starr was given a suspended sentence of 30 years with five years of drug and alcohol assessments, according to "The Oklahoman." Spottedcrow received 10 years in prison for distribution and 2 years for possession with sentences to run concurrently. Additionally, Spottedcrow received another 2 year sentence for having marijuana in her possession when she was taken to jail. That sentence will also run concurrently.
Judge Pritchett relates that she believes her sentencing was lenient in the given situation, especially because the grandmother will be able to stay at home to take care of Spottedcrow's children. Spottedcrow's common law husband was not involved in the distribution or possession of marijuana.
Spottedcrow is incarcerated at the minimum-security women's prison, Eddie Warrior. The state has two women's prisons, with 48 percent of the inmates there for nonviolent drug offenses.
Judge Pritchett termed the women's marijuana distribution as "an extensive operation." The judge also mentioned that rather than find legitimate employment, Spottedcrow decided to make money illegally.
I don't know the particulars for employment in Kingfisher County, or in Spottedcrow's area of experience--working in nursing homes. But I do know that unemployment is an issue for many people throughout our country. I am not rationalizing that illegal activity is "okay" because you can't find a job, but I do know you have to feed and clothe four children whether you are working or not.
Other rationale for the prison sentence for Spottedcrow was that she didn't seem to think she had a problem or that her actions were wrong. If smoking marijuana is Spottedcrow's only "problem," then she is in good company with a lot of people in a lot of places.
Ten years is a long time to be away from your growing family. Spottedcrow will be eligible for parole in 2014; chances are if she shows no remorse at that time, she will remain imprisoned.
Is putting someone like Spottedcrow and other people like her behind bars the answer to any of society's problems, or does it just create additional problems. Taxpayers will now house and feed her for the term of her sentence. She will have to find another livelihood when she gets out of prison because health care doesn't allow people with felonies to work there. Children who have one or more parent incarcerated have a 25 to 50 percent chance of being incarcerated themselves.
This is a cycle that perpetuates itself. More and more prisons will need to be built to house nonviolent drug offenders. More prisons mean more money will be needed for state budgets. People who went into prison basically ignorant about theft, robbery, mugging and worse will come out with educations in these "fine arts."
If Patricia Spottedcrow's case isn't enough to convince you that the War on Drugs is really a war on people, check out the website of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). These are people who deal with the realities of drugs and drug offenders on a daily basis and they say the time to stop this madness is now.
L.L. Woodard writes about Oklahoma for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
- suspended sentence
- common law husband