Obama’s Not-So-Amazing Grace

Barack Obama needs to spend some hard time with a bag whore.

She – it’s usually a she but not always – could tell him about the violence that “nonviolent” drug offenders do to people.

One bag whore in particular, if she’s still alive and lucid, could tell the president about the time she had sex with a dog in the squalid home of a meth dealer in Fontana, Calif. There in the living room, surrounded by the kind of people we don’t want to admit exist or might be related to, she did what she had to do to get her slam on.

A man who turned up at the house to buy his own bag of meth told me he only glanced at the scene.

“I’d been with her once so it got me to thinking.”

This man’s drug habits (he used everything) had fueled one felony after another. By the time I met him, he was 40 years old and awaiting trial for still another felony. His first major arrest came at age 19 when he strangled his former baby sitter. He tied her nude body face down to a station wagon and dragged her through Fontana, finally depositing her in the early morning hours in the middle of Sierra Way, a major thoroughfare. He thought if he could grind down her face, the cops wouldn’t be able to identify her, and he wouldn’t get caught.

“I was young and stuck on stupid.”

That extreme act of violence is something Obama would deplore. The bag whore’s debasement is a different matter. A drug dealer who has engaged in that kind of cruelty can get away with claiming to be a nonviolent drug offender.

So can any drug dealer who has enticed someone to try this drug or that drug for whatever depression or pain or loneliness or boredom they feel. Under Obama’s idea of a criminal justice system, spreading drug addiction is not an act of violence. It’s a way to make a living for some people.

Based on his own words during his recent visit to a federal penitentiary in Oklahoma, President Obama thinks the real crime is locking up nonviolent drug offenders. When he looked inside a cell, he said there but for the grace of God is where he could’ve ended up, because he once smoked marijuana and used cocaine.

Here’s another scenario, Mr. President: But for the grace of God you could’ve been a bag whore.

If Obama is going to dismantle the criminal justice system, he needs to learn the difference between his personal use of an illegal drug and someone who sells illegal drugs – many of them dangerous and addictive – to other people.

The president hasn’t noticed that it isn’t just religion and guns that Americans cling to – they also love their drugs.

Making drug abuse more respectable isn’t going to help America. Our problem is not that we are a prison state. America is a big-box candy store, and our nation’s generous freedoms and American dream obsessions make it easy to lust after all the goodies we think we have a right to. Nobody has more rights than Americans.

We need prison reform, but Obama’s rhetoric reveals no fresh ideas. He has gotten off to the wrong start by ceremoniously commuting prison terms for 46 drug offenders. The media turned the commutations into a celebration with barely a mention of victims, and with no attempt to confirm exactly what these former inmates did to land in prison.

NPR’s “Here and Now” featured former Portlander, Barbra Scrivner, whose 30-year sentence for conspiracy to sell crystal meth was commuted. The president sent her a letter wishing her luck.

That’s fine. It’s easy to look at the photo of her with her family and be happy for them. It’s also hard not to notice that Scrivner is an attractive white woman, a harmless-looking representative for prison reform. (Compare her appearance with the “Faces of Meth” people who bought and used the drug Scrivner made money from.)

On NPR, Scrivner alternately accepted responsibility for marrying an ex-felon who got her involved in drug distribution and blamed the system that sent her away. As often happens when media coverage is euphoric, some pertinent details were left out of Scrivner’s story (including her personal ad on Jailhouse Babes. Under true prison reform, personal ads like that wouldn’t be allowed. We don’t need to glorify the prison lifestyle).

There’s some confusion as to whether Scrivner contributed to her unusually long sentence by declining to cooperate with prosecutors and provide information about the leaders of a drug ring. In one story she said she didn’t want to cooperate; in another she said she didn’t have any information. At any rate, the judge and prosecutor in her case did not object to the commutation.

“It would be fair to say that this is an unusual case,” said Kent Robinson, then-First Assistant U.S. Attorney.

As an unusual case, it also shouldn’t be held up as an example of what Obama wants to see more of. Not only will the commutations keep coming, so will the fish-out-of-water stories about how long-time inmates are adjusting to freedom, which can involve hard work (as those of us on the outside already know).

Throughout the 1990’s when I covered crime in San Bernardino County, I didn’t see a war on drugs. I saw what drugs did to people. During the same period, America was in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. We rallied to fight AIDS. Drugs have had a longer and more ruinous reach than AIDS, but we remain indecisive about drug abuse. We prescribe treatment programs while at the same time we promote more drugs.

Ken Bellamy of Hillsboro, Ore., recently wrote a letter to the editor of The Oregonian stating that he could not understand the media’s heavy, celebratory coverage of the first day of legal marijuana (July 1) in Oregon. Instead of simply letting the law take effect, The Oregonian reveled in photographs of people lighting up in public – something the law prohibits.

“I don’t know why people are so infatuated with fogging their minds out of reality,” Bellamy wrote.

He received more than 200 replies, many of them chastising him for failing to be the life of the party. Some called him “Grandpa.” Some wished that he was forced to get high. Others looked forward to “his ilk” dying off.

They reacted like screaming babies who’d lost their pacifiers. It would have been amusing except that the state is now pushing marijuana as a moneymaker, and there’s more money to be made off of marijuana with a higher THC content.

Scrivner, the woman whose prison sentence was commuted by Obama, said she was 8 years old when she started using marijuana, provided by her mother’s boyfriend. By today’s diminishing standards, that might not even merit a police report.

If Obama insists on saying “no” to prisons while the country keeps saying “yes” to drugs, by God’s grace he won’t pay, but other Americans will.

– Pamela Fitzsimmons


Freedom is the New Prison

Breaking Weak on Drugs


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