We all know that in many states, being caught with varying amounts of marijuana can yield some pretty hefty fines and in many cases, incarceration. So when I read an article published in the New York Times, I wasn’t particularly surprised, but the story is almost unbelievable in its cruelty. Although the article features the story of only one man, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that this story speaks to the experiences of many of the disenfranchised in this country–the poor, the immigrant, the minority.
Jerry Lemaine’s story is remarkable in that he had to face three years of prison for possessing one joint of marijuana. After pleading guilty, because he was not a citizen but rather a legal permanent resident, he was, to atone for his “crimes”, sent to Texas (from New York), and spent years fighting abuse from fellow prisoners at a predominantly Hispanic prison, a problem that had become so grave he was placed in solitary confinement for almost a year. He now faces deportation to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, a country he left when he was three. And, may I add, Lemaine was a responsible, productive citizen who attended the Hunter Business School for nursing, aided his mother in a contentious divorce, and, to top it all off, he’s got a brain disorder. This, to me, is one of the most heinous examples of American drug laws gone absolutely insane.
When Lemaine was much younger he was caught with a negligible amount of marijuana, and, according to immigration law, if caught twice, the crime becomes tantamount to drug trafficking, which is an aggravated felony. Personally, I’ve seen incidents similar to this one on an almost daily basis while growing up. I attended high school in deep south Texas, in the same area where Lemaine was sent to prison. The stories are obviously nothing new, but my high school had a large population of immigrant children, many of whom were involved in gang activity, but just as many who weren’t. However, I noticed that it was always they who were caught for possession-related crimes. While the few wealthy Caucasian students at the school were using their parents’ money to abuse cocaine, it was the Hispanic students, it seemed to me, who were invariably missing on certain days in class, and later we would learn that they were now in alternative school, or in a juvenile detention center.
Perhaps my complaints are naive, and this phenomenon is merely business as usual. Whether or not the draconian marijuana laws in the United States are reconsidered, what must absolutely change is the inconsistency in enforcement. We simply cannot apply laws to some people and not to others. It goes against everything this country stands for.
Nadia Jones online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.