THESE MEN HAVE BEEN SERVING LIFE IN PRISON FOR NONVIOLENT MARIJUANA ONLY CONVICTIONS
MISSION STATEMENT: The goal of VOWD programs and services is to make released prisoners more impactful in their communities. We are a membership & donation-driven nonprofit corporation with 501(c)(3) status. Our mission is to provide leadership, education, and advocacy to enhance the ability of prisoners and former prisoners to serve their communities. Secondly, VOWD members educate the public regarding the severe sentences, including sentences of life with no parole, men and women are currently serving in American federal prisons despite the fact that Cannabis (marijuana) is legal in most states. This creates a heavy burden upon American taxpayers for no reason and is plainly wrong. VOWD will carry out our mission by accepting membership fees and donations in order to provide educational programs, services, and resources to strengthen the management of former prisoners reentering their communities; By serving as a voice for those who cannot speak on public policy issues regarding marijuana; By leading, through research, education and information sharing, to increase participation in the reentry process. All assets are permanently dedicated to these purposes.
Paul Free, President of VOWD, spent 25 years in federal prison for possession of cannabis. He was released in October of 2019. He has this to say: “I am new to computers and apologize if this website looks amateurish; it is. If anyone can do a better job, and I am sure most 12-year olds could, please feel free to help. We have seen some successes; however, there are still many men and women serving lengthy sentences for cannabis and there is much we can do to help them get out and to help those recently released to rejoin their communities and be productive citizens. The first thing I did when released was to buy an old car and drive it to Washington D.C. I visited the office of every member of Congress, both houses, and urged them to release all pot prisoners and remove cannabis from the list of Controlled Substances. I left them with a flyer. I let them think I was a voter from their district. All I got from most was a phony smile and a “Come on in… Have a piece of Halloween candy.” Oh, they all assured me they were “very interested” in this issue and would do what they could. Many told me I would be surprised how many phone calls they get every day urging the same. Now it appears obvious it was all a bunch of hogwash. No surprise there I guess. So, the wheels of “justice” (what a concept) turn slowly. And now we move on because we cannot give up until all our brothers and sisters are free. Our job is to raise awareness about the harm done through incarceration for possession and use of cannabis and to do all we can to help those recently released become productive citizens. Please see lifeforpot.com; The Last Prisoner Project.org; FreedomGrow.org; The Can-Do Foundation; and stay tuned here for more.” Sincerely, P. Free.
JOHN KNOCK GOT OUT AFTER 25 YEARS
John Knock was released from prison on January 20, 2021, after 25 years for a first-time, nonviolent, marijuana-only offense. His sister, Beth, started lifeforpot.com to raise awareness of the insanity inherent in the U.S. government’s position on cannabis. His circumstances and his story are typical to all nonviolent pot prisoners. About ten years ago (+/- 2011) before his release, when John was still serving life sentences in U.S. Penitentiary Allenwood Beth wrote: “When John was found guilty and sentenced to Life without Parole for marijuana, my sister and I left the courtroom with our 87-year-old mother, Bijou. Bijou would never see her youngest child-free again. She was slumped over, wearing sunglasses so no one would see her cry. She was proud, brave, and bewildered about the harshness of the sentence that her youngest child had received. John grew up in a small Midwestern town the youngest of four children. His father, Calvin was a Presbyterian minister and his mother, Bijou, was a homemaker and later a librarian. When he finished High School he attended a small community college but decided to go to San Francisco to get training to become an industrial diver.
John went to the San Francisco Bay area in the late 60s. In the late 60s, California was the front line of social and cultural change. The lifestyle was changing and becoming more fluid and casual. The universities were vibrant and students were testing the social norms. Observing social evolutions like the Civil Rights and Anti-War movement could not be viewed from a back-row seat in a small mid-western town. San Francisco was the city of love and the center of changing culture.
John was part of the Good Earth Commune which is spotlighted in David Talbot’s book “Season of the Witch” At this time commune members organized schools, child care centers and opened food pantries and soup kitchens. They rehabilitated abandoned property and attempted to save houses from the wrecking ball and make a livable place for the dispossessed. Marijuana was a popular drug but was not considered a serious substance. That came much later. These were the early days before hard drugs and the accompanying violence.
In 1974 John met a girl whose sister was a friend from the Good Earth days and they have been together ever since. They married in 1982. After he was given a life sentence, they divorced, but she is a constant support in his life and his best friend. They have a 23-year-old son. In the 70s and 80s, John was part of a loose group of individuals that imported marijuana into Canada and Europe. For most of this time, John lived out of the country. It was a fluid group and everyone had a niche of expertise. The individuals changed often.
Around 1986-87 John withdrew and spent his time at home with his family doing various home improvement jobs, taking care of the property, and working on his relationships with family. It seems that other members of the group continued to import – even into the US. John and his wife and child were living in Hawaii in 1994 when he was indicted for this complicated conspiracy. His wife was completing her Ph.D. in biology and he was a stay-at-home Dad. He was enjoying his time with family and certainly his young son. This was the last time I spent with my brother while he was free. It is a vivid memory. He met us at the Honolulu Airport, pushing a stroller wearing shorts and a shapeless T-shirt – he had a brilliant smile. It was 1993 and now in his forties, he was a first-time father of a toddler. He loaded our bags in an old Saab with some dents and upholstery rips. It ran silently with precision. Our Father, Calvin had died the year before and this was a time for family memories.
Calvin, our father, was in his 80s and I asked him if he ever smoked or drank. He was quiet for a moment. He was principled and could not lie. When he spoke again he said, “Well, I never smoked tobacco, but perhaps a little rope behind the barn,” A field of Hemp and smoking behind the barn did not ruin a life in the early 1900s, but it does ruin lives now.
While in prison John has kept up with the building trades and has taken and taught classes that cover the conventional and non-conventional home building. He has developed ACE courses to benefit participants after they leave. He was a mentor in the Fathers Behind Bars Discussion Group and has been a mentor in Code-Challenge Programs since 2003. He tries to model non-violent conflict resolution.
John states that he lives his life in prison as a person of integrity and moderation. He is still housed in a high-security institution because of the length of his sentence, but he lives responsibly and over these 18 years of incarceration, he has an incident-free, unblemished record. He says, “My life is organized and I am productive. I teach various exercise classes and construction classes to other inmates as well as fixing radios and headphones. I help other inmates with their appeals and am known as the librarian, and the radioman, depending on the day and the person.”
If John were released he would not become a burden to society and would continue to live his life in a peaceful orderly manner. He is deeply sorry for all the problems his lifestyle caused for his family and society. He should be released.
71498-079 USP Atwater P.O. Box 019001Atwater, CA. 95301
Charge Conspiracy to distribute marijuana
Incarcerated since 1996 Trial or Plea.
Pedro’s profile is from his change.org petition: Grant Clemency to Pedro Moreno Serving a Life Sentence For Marijuana. My father, Pedro Moreno is a 58-year-old father and grandfather. He has been incarcerated for 21 years. He was sentenced to life without parole for a first-time non-violent offense. Four of his brothers received clemency on January 17, 2016. They were all convicted for the same charges and in the same indictment. The only chance my father has of getting out of prison is if President Trump grants him clemency. On November 19, 1996, my life changed forever. My older brother was 10, I was 8, and my younger brother was only 2 years old. My brothers and I were deprived of being raised by our parents or having a normal childhood, through no fault of our own. My mother served 13 years. Sadly she passed away a year later. My father was one of the thousands of first-time, nonviolent offenders who were given long mandatory prison terms. Through the initial stages of this conspiracy case, my father’s lawyer advised him to consider a quick plea. Although he did not want to take it, he was convinced to plead guilty and was advised that he would not receive a sentence over 20 years. Never did he imagine that he would be held responsible for other things or hearsay by other people that were not true. My father has accepted full responsibility for his actions. He has used this experience to prepare himself for his release by participating and completing many courses as well as continuing to educate himself with the Continuing Educational Courses offered by the Bureau of Prisons (long list). He has also maintained a significantly clear prison record and has excellent program reports. He has a degree in welding and has worked in UNICOR and as a unit orderly. My father’s desire upon release is to reunite with his children and grandchildren. Pedro is a father of 3 children and has 5 grandchildren. He comes from a big family of hard-working community leaders that will extend him an opportunity to work and live to give back to his community what is expected of him, an honest, hard-working citizen of the community.
STILL IN PRISON: HECTOR MCGURK
PO Box 23811Tucson, AZ. 85734
Charges: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute conspiracy to money launder
Priors: Incarcerated Since 7/3/2003
Trial or Plea: Trial – 1st 12/2004 hung jury 4/13/2005 convicted
Health Issues: diabetes
Hector Ruben McGurk is a nonviolent marijuana offender who is serving a sentence of life without parole. Ruben will die in federal prison for a nonviolent marijuana offense if he does not receive a commutation from the President. When Hector was tried for this offense the first jury was not able to find him guilty and the trial ended with a hung jury. Federal prosecutors tried him a second time and he was convicted of this marijuana offense and was given a life sentence. At the second trial, the prosecution was able to convince another person to testify against him for a plea agreement. This was a marijuana conspiracy and Ruben does not deny his role in it. Conspiracy charges involve many people and can take place over a period of years. Ruben was tried for conspiracy and therefore was held responsible for everything that was done for the designated period of time. Ruben is very sorry for participating in this offense and accepts responsibility. He has become a mentor and has built a prison resume. He is currently in FCI Tucson. This is the first time in over 8 years that Ruben has been close enough to home for his children and his sister to visit. He prays for mercy and compassion.
A LETTER ISMAEL WROTE PRESIDENT TRUMP: (HE IS STILL IN PRISON) “My name is Ismael Lira. I am 41 years old and I am currently confined in the United States Federal Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, Where I am serving a life sentence for the distribution of marijuana. I am writing to ask you for your consideration in commuting my federal sentence.
Mr. President, I am a first-time offender. My case does not involve any violence and I have now served 14 years in prison thus far. I decided to write to you and respectfully ask for your help because I have no other legal recourse other than to seek to have my sentence commuted.
During the 14 years of my incarceration, I have tried to take advantage of the various programs that the Bureau of Prisons offers in order to try and build character and become a better person. I am currently enrolled in an 18-month program called the Life Connections Program (LCP). This program focuses on preparing us to become pillars of the community as well as productive citizens. Additionally, I also work for the Safety Department here at the Terre Haute prison, where I am gaining a vast amount of experience and valuable skills that I intend to put to use in the community upon my release from prison.
President Trump, despite the fact that I was guilty and was convicted for marijuana, I am not a bad person. I have previously worked and paid taxes and I lived a law-abiding life. It was just that once I got caught up in the situation that I did, it snowballed and the result is that I now sit here with very little hope.
I have strong community ties as well as solid family ties and it is the support of my family which has kept me going this far into my sentence. If I were to be released, my family will be there to support me every step of the way and I have a job waiting for me, as a paralegal in a law firm in San Antonio, Texas. I firmly believe that if I were to be given a second chance at life, I would never again jeopardize it and I know that I now have the tools to help me be a productive and law-abiding member of society again.
A NOTE FROM PAUL FREE, MANAGING DIRECTOR: Every month we will try to profile new prisoners and tell their stories. The other day someone asked me what was the funniest thing I ever saw in my 25 years in federal prison. Well, there were many, almost daily instances of farce. What immediately came to mind though was the time I was in Wayne County Jail in Detroit awaiting trial. I was housed in a “pod” of maybe 6 cells. There was a guard station behind a glass wall and he or she could look into our pod & another which sat 90 degrees from us. Most days we sat outside our cells watching TV or playing card games. Well, the man in the cell next to me came out one day carrying a stack of paperback books. He proceeded to stack them in front of his cell door and when they were he produced a noose made from a bedsheet which he put around his neck climbed upon the stack of books, threw the end of the noose over the door, and slammed it shut. He was then on his tiptoes. Suddenly the books began to shift & slip out so that his feet could not touch the floor. He was choking and it was obvious that was not his intention. His eyes began to bulge. The guard yelled for everyone to go to their cells. I could look out my window and see the man’s face turning red and then blue. His eyes fluttered he struggled to grab the noose around his neck but the lack of oxygen defeated him. Suddenly a lieutenant came in and with his knife, he cut the man down. He hit the floor with a loud thud. He was out. The LT grabbed him by the collar and started slapping him across the face, hard while yelling: “Tell me, did you see the light, did you see the light?” Yes a sad story, a tragic story; but, a true story. And not the funniest thing I saw. pfree