The following is an article by Craig Cesal, a federal prisoner sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as a first-time offender convicted of conspiring to distribute marijuana.
“I sentence you to a term of natural life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole.”
These were the words I heard in the months after the events of September 11, 2001. You see, at that time, the news was abuzz with theories that drug dealers finance terrorists, and I had just been convicted of my first felony: conspiring to distribute marijuana. This was the newest foray into the War on Drugs.
Guilty Through Association
I was never alleged to have bought, sold, or even used marijuana. Rather, my business repaired semi-trucks for a company that trafficked marijuana. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong as I didn’t do anything with marijuana. I was wrong, according to the federal court in Gainesville, Georgia. My business, nestled near Chicago, was auctioned by lawyers in Georgia to pay for their services to secure the life sentence after my home and savings were spent. Two months ago, recreational marijuana was approved for sale by the Illinois legislature. Some of my business equipment is likely again being used to repair trucks that have hauled marijuana.
For over 17 years, I have watched robbers, rapists, and even murderers come and go at the prison. Last year, a guy in my cell-block who killed two federal marshals was paroled after serving 30 years. I’ve been watching the news, and I’m waiting to see if we prisoners can get the right to vote.