Have you witnessed the effects of mass incarceration or the War on Drugs first-hand? Are you either a safekeeper or a survivor? Tell us your story! Email us a LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO or a PHOTO WITH TEXT briefly summarizing what happened to you and what policy changes you'd like to see. We'll post it here.

Contact us at mystory@beyondbars.org. Videos shouldn't exceed 3 minutes. If you send a photo, you can include the text (no more than 300 words) in the picture itself or type it out separately. We reserve the right not to post submissions that are inappropriate or don't meet these guidelines.

Hardships for the Mentally Ill

half_there-1.jpgSUBMITTED BY MICHAEL

I'm 26. A few years ago my girlfriend at the time was raped by her dealer. This would have never happened if marijuana was legal.

I'm also schizophrenic and attempted suicide over this. I’ve been pushed over the edge by bad police officers before, too. One of the times they busted me for simple possession, I ended up trying to overdose on my anti-psychotics.

The police officers that dealt with me that day actually had the audacity to leave a noose in my car. Not that anyone would believe that.

Marijuana prohibition needs to be struck down for more reasons than we usually hear. Here's hoping that no one else has to go through what I did and that this war on drugs can end.

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A pipe became a life sentence

Image15-1.jpgIn the mid 1980s I was vacationing back home; it was the week my only sister got married. When spending time with family and friends, I liked to visit my old haunts and metal detect (find treasure near the surface of the ground). I found a brass pipe someone could smoke out of.

On my drive home, a simple story became a life sentence. I came to traffic light on a deserted road in eastern NY State, the Catskills, with one car coming at me in a drizzling rain. The car went by, the light changed to yellow, I went. A state police cruiser appeared at the top of a hill that I was turning on, and to him he saw a red light and me speeding through it. So he pulled me over. I was under the influence of nothing, possessing nothing, except that pipe in my front seat. I got busted for the pipe.

I pleaded guilty to a drug possession offense. I got off with a fine but it’s still a record. Drug violations/histories rank the worst on a job application, more than assaults or domestic violence offenses. Lie about it and you can be just as screwed as if you told the truth. You'd think after ten years a simple misdemeanor would be written off, but it's not.

This has haunted me almost 30 years now. I have a BA in English and a certificate in Medical Assisting. Yet both teaching and the field of medicine are pretty much closed to a person with a drug conviction. I was never arrested, read my rights, jailed or had a gun pointed at me. Yet I feel like I'm like a felon.

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Fired for medical marijuana - that was legal


I worked as a deputy for Delta County, Michigan, for 12 years. During that time a family friend was diagnosed with cancer. I also owned a landscaping company and had a small nursery at my home. My friend's doctor recommended that he use medical marijuana during his chemo treatments. My friend asked me if I could grow it for him since he had no means to do it himself. I looked at the law and had him sign me up as his caregiver. Everything that I did was legal under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. But as soon as my department found out, I was called in, questioned, drug tested, and suspended. Soon after, they started a witch hunt on me and began making up stories, saying that I lied about it even though I was up front about the entire situation when they asked. Prior to this I did not have one complaint in my file for 12 years. I was forced to resign. All my actions were legal but they didn't like it so they got rid of me. I purchased another business and continued to grow. I now make Rick Simpson Oil (hemp oil) with the materials and have helped many sick people get better. By the way, my friend has been cancer free since!

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Entrapped at age 17

I am Mark Cooper, now 58 years old. I grew up in Dallas, Texas. In 1972, while 17 years old, still in high school, an undercover nark, who posed as a high school student, asked me to score him an ounce of pot. I said no but over a two-month period, he asked about nine times, and finally I did score for him. Then after I sold it to him, they waited till I was a senior, 18 years old, and busted me for felony sale of marijuana. I was convicted and a week after graduation, I served three and a half years in the Texas Department of Corrections. That was 40 years ago but that conviction has gotten me denied many jobs. I am unemployed now because it continues to come up on FBI records. Employers decline to hire me because of an act 40 years ago.
I was entrapped. They got an underage kid to commit a crime and then busted me for it. My life is ruined because they needed to make a bust. Is that the type of "justice" system we want? Decriminalizing marijuana stops this type of crime against those just smoking or getting an ounce for someone. How many people are in jail for smoking or possession of marijuana? One is too many but thousands of young boys and then young men lose their freedom, for life.
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Job training helped him be a productive citizen

I spent 6.25 years in prison on two convictions—possession and conspiracy to traffic marijuana. I was released in 1998 with no education other than my high school diploma and no marketable job skills. I was broke. I’d be turning 40 soon, which made time a factor for rebuilding my life.
No time to waste. No time to lose. No time like the present.
My search for work as an ex-con took me to the employment office. There I found out about government funding available to me for job training. I chose the computer field and attended a vocational school. I spent eight months in the classroom eight hours a day, five days a week. On weekends I bartended. After finishing the school’s computer networking program they offered me a faculty position.
During the next ten years I put myself through college and grad school, obtaining degrees in Computer Science, CIS/MIS. I taught at a few different colleges and did IT consulting.
In 2007, I started a program teaching computer skills to inmates at a local prison. In March 2008 I took a position working on a project for the Department of Homeland Security. The Feds granted me the security clearance necessary for the job. This felt like a miracle. And in February 2009 I bought a new home.
But then in April, on my way to work, a car from the oncoming lane crossed over and hit me head-on. My life was obliterated. The accident left me permanently disabled. I lost my job and the bank is foreclosing on my home.
But it’s just another obstacle to get over. The most important message I would like to share with all convicts is it is possible to rebuild a life after prison. This is still the land of opportunity.
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They killed my dog over someone else's pot

me_and_madrox-1.jpgSUBMITTED BY ADAM
After I lost a job, a friend offered a place to stay for me and my one-year-old Labrador. This friend was selling small amounts of marijuana, and I probably shouldn’t have been staying with him but I had nowhere else to go without getting rid of my dog. One morning the state police showed up asking where the weed was. The officer left the front door open, allowing my puppy to run into the yard. Moments later we heard two gun shots and my dog was dead. Over an ounce of someone else’s weed.
Two weeks later I was sleeping in my car and was awoken by state police who said, "We know you have drugs. Step out so we can search." I complied but said I do not consent to a search without a warrant. My protests were ignored, and after going through my belongings, they found a shoe box buried at the bottom of the trunk, inside of which was a bong stem I had for years and had forgotten about. (I was homeless and everything I owned was in my car.) The piece had obviously not been used in a very long time.
I heard nothing about the case until I was walking to work over a year later and picked up and taken to jail for drug possession. The arresting officer lied on the stand in ways I could prove were untrue but my public defender never raised them in court. All parties tried to bully me into taking a plea. Finally the DA offered to drop the possession charge if I’d plea to having paraphernalia—something I’d already offered long before to avoid losing my license and in turn my job. No one should have to face such circumstances for marijuana.
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The cop threatened to kill my son


My 17 year-old son and three of his friends went to smoke a joint of marijuana between classes  at the plaza beside the school. No, they shouldn't of done it but they did...they are kids. None of them had previous troubles and all attend high school regularly with decent grades. They were running back to class when a York Regional Police officer pulled up and jumped out of an undercover van. He yelled at them to get up against the wall. He drew his gun on them. The four boys spread eagle against the wall, being held at gun point. The officer said, "Don't move or I will pop a cap in the back of your heads." None of the young boys were in possession of drugs. My son had an empty pipe and an empty bud buster with some empty dime bags (which he kept as they had "cool" pictures on them). All four boys have been charged with possession of marijuana and are on a 20-day suspension with recommendation by the school board for full expulsion from the School Board District.

When I got to school to receive my son he was a mess. His only concern was that a cop had threatened to kill him. The impact of such a forceful approach to four youth who are not violent offenders and have no previous involvement with police is horrendous. My son is now seeing a counselor to deal with the trauma.

This has had an impact at home too. We are a family of hunters. Since the incident, my son will not come out with us to hunt. You can see the fear when he sees us suiting up to go to the back bush. He doesn't want to see the guns.

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He died homeless and bankrupt due to drug war

1003141416002-1.jpgSUBMITTED BY VICTOR

My friend, his dad was dying. Liver failure due to Hep C made him turn bright yellow. Toxic.

He wasn't going to receive a new liver. It was futile.

Medications weren't helping; severe pain, no appetite, insomnia. His skin was hanging off his bones....  

He smoked pot to relax a little bit. It didn't take a lot of pot. He could eat a bit of food, his nausea would subside. He’d sleep for a few minutes. 

He managed to keep his house and tried to grow pot there. His friends set him up with a grow-op. It should have been productive except he was really sick, and terrible at growing pot.   

My best friend (his son) returned from Africa after teaching English to AIDS orphans. The first day home, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were at the door. They had a warrant: his dad was blowing pot smell into the neighbor’s yard.

They raided the house, cut the power line, ripped open the carbon filters so the whole house was knee deep in charcoal. They took a sledge hammer to all the grow equipment inside the house and left it. The city turned off the water and revoked the living permit until it passed inspection and was brought up to code.  

They seized my friend’s passport, which contained proof he’d been out of the country for two years. Charges were dropped after over a year, but he has a hard time at the border now.   

They wanted repairs done to the house unrelated to the grow-op. It cost above 35000$.....My friend’s dad went bankrupt.

He was homeless, in liver failure.

This man spent the final days of his life borrowing water from the neighbor’s house so he could flush his toilet. He didn't live long enough to be convicted. 

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He took a battering ram to the chest

showmugshot.jpgSUBMITTED BY TAMMY

My husband and I had been married 10 days when the drug task force in North Richland Hills, Texas, raided our home. They hit the door once with the battering ram; my husband opened the door and the ram hit him in the chest and knocked him down five steps to the floor. The warrant was based on watching our home for a month and finding marijuana leaves in our trash. Neither of these reasons for probable cause were supported by any evidence gathered during this "investigation.” My husband had almost completed his 10th year of parole with no violations for a 45-year sentence received in 1993 for possession of over 100 pounds of marijuana, which were planted. I have health issues that medicinal marijuana would help but did not want to buy it due to my husband’s parole. So we grew seven plants, one of which had buds. The police report stated there were 5-10 pounds (including legal herbs) and BZP tablets in our house. The lab report came back showing less than 5 pounds and less than ½ gram of BZP (which was planted in with two tablets of Buspar I had in a baggie from a trip). The county held a secret grand jury hearing for his indictment on the evening of my husband’s 90th day in county jail. He was sent back to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with a three-year sentence; he has served almost two. My husband is 58 years old, has health issues, and was injured while working at a TDCJ unit. He is currently in Huntsville.

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Judge says I'll "go to hell" for medical marijuana

Amanda_Gibson_image.jpgSUBMITTED BY AMANDA

I live in Mississippi and just want to live a normal life without pain and constant migraines stemming from a vehicle accident when I was 19. I want to finish my college degree and be able to have the option of flying a helicopter which is my dream job right beside Photojournalism and studying Cultural Anthropology. 

This January 2012, I was charged with possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle. It was for medical purposes. But during court, the judge told me that I would "go to hell" if I didn't "stop smoking the devil's weed." He said I can "find my relaxation in the glory of heaven." Then he sentenced me to three months of probation, $650 of fines plus monthly PO fees, six months suspended license, and drug education classes. Eleven months later, I'm still on papers even though I've paid my dues, fulfilled my time, and still NO driver's license! Now I am subject to random drug tests that I have to pay for on top of having to be chauffeured around to work and school... All for surrendering to the police the three grams I had in my trunk. This is the fourth time I have been charged with possession in the same county. Three of those times I have been arrested. I have no chance of getting financial aid to complete my one year left of college if this one charge is not considered non-adjudicated. 

I wish that people in my state can have access to medical marijuana, as one of our universities manufactures medicinal marijuana for federal patients and yet it is still out of reach for many Mississippians in need.

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