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Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

It's Like You're Sold a Dream

30 January 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

blog-lwoplancewhite-500x280 1I lost my drive after my older brother Rufus was sentenced. I didn't care. I didn't trust. That was my attitude.

Rufus was the father figure I looked up to. When he went to jail for the rest of his life, I started looking up to his buddies. A lot of them are dead or in jail now.

This is my family's story, but it didn't have to be this way.

Read more on the national ACLU Blog of Rights >>

Over 2.3 million people are in American prisons. Over half are there for nonviolent crimes. And many, like Rufus, are there for having drugs. Not dealing. Not stealing. But for having drugs. They're there FOR LIFE for a crime that normally carries a 0-5 year sentence and treatment — because of mandatory-minimum laws. 

Rufus fell victim to one of the most egregious laws on the books: the mandatory-minimum three-strikes law. (You can read a comprehensive PDF analysis of it and learn more about Rufus.) The evidence against him was a dime bag with cocaine residue in the backseat of the police car that the police drove him in. It was enough for a local judge to sentence him to LIFE IN PRISON — for having a tiny, basically empty plastic bag near him. That's it.

This crime, if you can call it that, under normal circumstances would carry a 0-5 year sentence, with treatment programs to help. But because he had two previous convictions, he is locked away on the taxpayer's dime for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole.Mandatory minimums are not only unfair to the convicted. They keep judges from doing their job. Not every crime is the same. And the idea of a tiny plastic bag putting you away for life is absurd. We can do better. Here's how you can help fix these dangerous laws that destroy communities: