sondra

We have all paid for the choices made by the adults around us back then

I am the oldest out of five. I started using meth when I was 13. My parents were deep into it, and it was just part of our life. All of the adults in our family used, and in the ’80s they didn’t realize what an awful thing meth was. It was a hard childhood, and I grew up way too fast. So did my siblings; they endured so much after I left home. Some of it I am just now learning about 35 years later. We have all paid for the choices made by the adults around us back then.

The one who has paid the most is my brother James. He was my father’s son, all the way. That meant he fell into the family business at a young age. He started using as well at a young age, probably before he was a teenager. He was running the streets and running dope deals before he was legal to drive a car. He became a target for the local cops, who had it out for my dad. He caught his first major felony before he was 21 and went to state prison. When he got out, it was too easy to fall back in with the same old crowd; most of my family was still using at this time, myself included. After a short prison term, I have now been clean and sober for 18 years.

The laws changed a lot during this time. In 1994, led by then-Senator Joe Biden, the Crime Bill passed and dramatically increased the penalties for federal drug crimes. Drastic mandatory minimums were put into place in the federal system, and they started in earnest locking people up. So many of these people, though, were addicts. Small players get caught up in the game and if they dare take their case to trial, they are given outrageous sentences, while the big-time dealers are still dealing and just move on to another small player to do their dirty work for them. It is a vicious cycle with no winners, except for the government prosecutors. They have the highest conviction rate of any prosecutors. They are the only winners in this War on Drugs.

By 2008, my brother had beaten his addiction, built a real life. He found a great girl, they got married and had two of the most beautiful little girls to add to the boys each of them had. He had a great job and was intent on breaking the cycle of all the bad in our family. A beautiful family is what he had, but unfortunately it did not last. In 2016, his doctor put him on pain pills for an on-the-job injury, and down that road he went again.

He fell back into everything just as hard and worse. They say when you stop using, if you start again, you pick up right where you left off. I believe this to be true, because in a matter of months he was using more than any of us could have imagined. His whole world fell apart and he went hard with all of it. He lost his job, his family and our mother all in a matter of months. It took only about a year for him to get busted and caught up in a 54-person federal drug conspiracy case.

This is how the government wins the War on Drugs they are waging against people. They took the guys my brother got his drugs from, used them to set my brother up and for that they got less time. They calculated drugs and attributed them to my brother, on the statement of the drug dealers. Not the drugs they actually caught him with, but drugs that major players said he had. It’s called “ghost” dope. It doesn’t really exist, but if someone signs a statement, for example, that for three months they supplied you with a pound of meth a week, they charge you with that amount. And if you have any kind of felonies in your criminal history, that is enough to get you a life sentence. 

Oh, and another crazy thing they do: They take the amount of meth you are charged with and convert it to marijuana weight, which of course makes the amount considerably larger. So with the ghost dope they put on him and the way they calculated it, my brother was charged with being accountable for more than 100,000 kilos of methamphetamines. He was physically caught with only 13. 

That is how they win; they manipulate and distort the truth. They threaten people with life sentences if they go to trial to try to fight them. Or they threaten to bring so many additional charges that a person just caves and pleads guilty. 

This is how our government treats people who are sick with addiction, people who need help. Is this really winning the war, or just creating so many additional casualties?

My brother received a 30-year sentence for his charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines. The other guys got 13 and eight, thanks to cooperating with the government. My brother declined to blame anyone else for what he got in trouble for, and because he was accountable for his own wrongdoing and took responsibility for what he did, he received a sentence that really is mind boggling. At his sentencing, when we all begged for him to receive a reasonable punishment, the judge told him if he worked on himself while he was locked up that when he got out, he had no doubt he could be a good grandfather. He dismissed most of his life, the lives of his children and all of us who love him. His girls were three and seven when he was sentenced. They will be in their 20s or 30s when he gets out. How is that appropriate and just punishment? It seems more like cruel and unusual punishment.

The prosecutors were the winners by putting my brother behind bars for the larger part of his children’s lives; they probably got a bonus for another “win.” I am here to tell them no one is a winner in this situation. Instead of this war they are waging on people, they would be better served by showing empathy, compassion and giving people treatment for what is ailing them. Addiction is a sickness and should be treated as such. The way they have been doing things the last 50 years is not creating anything that is close to winning. It is a disaster. It’s not working, and people like my family and so many others are the casualties.

I'm Sondra Green -- an advocate for my brother James Andersen. He's currently serving a 30-year federal sentence for a non-violent drug crime. To follow our journey, connect with me on Twitter @lou_lou_64592. You can also follow along on Facebook where James has a page I'm keeping active.

I'm Sondra Green -- an advocate for my brother James Andersen. He's currently serving a 30-year federal sentence for a non-violent drug crime. To follow our journey, connect with me on Twitter @lou_lou_64592. You can also follow along on Facebook where James has a page I'm keeping active.

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