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This week’s front page editor

Clare Sambrook

Clare Sambrook, investigative journalist, co-edits Shine a Light.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

The Exile Nation Project is a documentary archive of interviews and testimonies from criminal offenders, family members, and experts revealing the far-ranging consequences of the War on Drugs to the American Criminal Justice System.

The Land of the Free punishes or imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation. The United States has only 5% of the world's population, yet a full 25% of the world's prisoners. At 2.5 million, the US has more prisoners than even China does with five times the population of the United States. 8 million Americans (1 in every 31) languish under some form of state monitoring known as "correctional supervision." On top of that, the security and livelihood of over 13 million more has been forever altered by a felony conviction.

The American use of punishment is so pervasive, and so disproportionate, that even the conservative magazine The Economist declared in 2010, "never in the civilized world have so many been locked up for so little."

This captivating oral history puts a human face on the Americans subjugated by the US Government's 40 year, one trillion dollar social catastrophe: The War on Drugs, a failed policy underscored by fear, politics, racial prejudice and intolerance steeped in a public atmosphere of "out of sight, out of mind."

The project will unfold over a two-year period, beginning with the release of a feature-length documentary in April 2011 and continuing on throughout 2011 & 2012 with the regular release of short clips and complete interviews from each of the 100 participants in the project, meant to represent the 1 in 100 Americans that are currently sitting behind bars.

When the stories hit home, policies begin to change. 

The Exile Nation Project is made possible by a generous grant from the Tedworth Charitable Trust and openDemocracy, in association with Exile Nation Media. All content is non-commercial and available for free distribution under a Creative Commons license.

The Phoenix Project seeks trauma victims for doc series

A new documentary series that explores the pervasive effect of trauma in our culture has begun development and is seeking prospective participants.

'Secure Communities' still destroying immigrant families

A young activist gets his father released from detention but many more will be deported breaking up families with children born in the US.

"The Plastic People" explores mass-deportation

The recently released trailer for an upcoming documentary set in Tijuana, Mexico by openDemocracy editor Charles Shaw about the mass-deportation of immigrants. 

Mandatory Minimums Forced Me to Send More Than 1,000 Nonviolent Drug Offenders to Federal Prison

If lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug addicts actually worked, one might be able to rationalize them. But there is no evidence that they do. 

"Land of the Free" - The best investigative reporting on U.S. prisons

The U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. Pro Publica has just compiled some of the best investigative journalism on U.S. prisons and the problems that plague them.

The Exile Nation Project - Interview with Mary Barr (Pt. II)

Part II of the Exile Nation Project's interview with former crack cocaine addict and prostitute Mary Barr, who now works as a lecturer at John Jay College of Law.

The Exile Nation Project - Mary Barr (Pt. 1)

Mary Barr is a former crack cocaine addict and prostitute who now works as a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and as an advocate for addicts and sex workers. During Mary's time on the streets, she was arrested 50 times in 5 years, beaten, stabbed, raped, and left for dead. All the while, she was battling a crippling addiction, which eventually resulted in the loss of her children to Child Protective Services. A chance encounter with a social worker at Riker's Island Prison opened the door to her recovery when she was told, simply, "you don't have to live like this anymore."

The Exile Nation Project - Robert Manor

Robert Manor was the Prison & Jail Monitor for the John Howard Association. The John Howard Association is a Chicago-based not-for-profit working for prison reform within a complex social and political environment. In this comprehensive interview Robert talks plainly about the systemic problems of the American correctional system.

The Exile Nation Project - Allison T. Moore

Allison Moore was once labelled a "habitual offender" by the State of Pennsylvania for receiving seven convictions for theft, fraud and forgery. Having reformed her life, she now works as an author and motivational speaker for women in prison. Now further motivated by a son in prison on drug charges, Allison has become a powerful voice for change.

The Exile Nation Project - Ronald "Shaka" Howard

Ronald "Shaka" Howard is a former crack cocaine addict who spent 25 years in the California Department of Corrections. During an altercation with another inmate, Shaka was shot by prison guards and lost his leg. Released after 25 years, Shaka is today trying to rebuild his life and treat the ongoing PTSD he suffers as a result of the shooting. His interview reflects a profound understanding of the penal system, and the wisdom of a man who has learned from his mistakes.

The Exile Nation Project - Dorothy Johnson-Speight

Dorothy Johnson-Speight is the Executive Director of Mother's in Charge, a Philadelphia-based charity made up of Mothers, Grandmothers, Aunts & Sisters who have all lost a loved one to violence. The organization was founded in 2003 after the murder of Dorothy's son, Kalik.  He was shot seven times over a parking spot on a Philadelphia street. In this interview, Dorothy delves into the full impact of violence, and "justice, on the African-American community.

The Exile Nation Project - "Forgiving her son's killer"

In this special preview clip from her upcoming interview, Dorothy Johnson-Speight speaks bravely and poignantly about the need to have compassion and forgiveness for her son's killer as a necessary requirement for spiritual growth and healing.

The Exile Nation Project - Lynda Adams

Lynda Adams is the wife of Ken Adams (TENP #26), and like him, has battled an addiction to crack cocaine for over 30 years. She has spent her entire life surrounded by drugs and violence. Through a conversation with Director Charles Shaw, Lynda shares her powerful story with The Exile Nation Project.

The Exile Nation Project: Ken Adams

Ken Adams of Oakland, CA has spent the last 30 years battling an addiction to crack cocaine. He has served a total of 12 years for drug related offenses. He has also spent the last 20 years advocating for the homeless as the co-founder of the San Francisco homeless newspaper, "The Street Sheet," and as a spokesperson for Harmonic Humanity. When we caught up with Ken in the Summer of 2010, he had just completed 90 days clean and sober.

The Exile Nation Project - Robert Halstead

Robert Halstead (son of Janet Maddox Goree featured last week) is serving a 30 year sentence for armed robbery at a private prison in Graceville, FL, owned by the Correctional Corporation of America. Laws prohibit media access to Federal facilities, as well as in the California Department of Corrections and many other states, so this interview for The Exile Nation Project is the first conducted inside a prison facility.

oD Drug & Criminal Justice Front Line Report - March 28, 2012

This week negative critique of the War on Drugs and the Prison-Industrial Complex goes mainstream (and, dare we say, lurches rightward) with a scathing indictment by Fareed Zakaria in Time, a man is shot dead by police for smoking marijuana as authorities try to take his son away, Chicago under new mayor Rahm Emmanuel finds itself mired in a never ending "war" against the street trade, and a 15 year old in Mississippi faces life in prison for a miscarriage. Also, we begin a deeper look into the private prison industry with a number of reports as well as a Special Series from The Exile Nation Project. 

The Exile Nation Project - Janet Maddox Goree

‎"The man who murdered my grandchild got probation, and my son, who didn't hurt anyone, got 30 years. How can that be?"

In this special Exile Nation two-part report that examines the nature of "justice," Janet Maddox Goree, a Georgia, activist & lobbyist, reveals the pain and tragedy of having to lose a granddaughter to "Shaken-Baby Syndrome" and a son to drug addiction & incarceration.

The Exile Nation Project - Chris Bava

Chris Bava is a former heroin trafficker who served 8 years in Federal prison following a worldwide sting operation in the late 1980s. Chris also struggled with addiction before and after his stint in prison, which eventually motivated him to move to Tijuana, Mexico, to seek out ibogaine, a variation of the African plant medicine, Iboga, which has shown a remarkable ability to interrupt addiction.

oD Drug & Criminal Justice - Front Line Report: March 21, 2012

This week we take in the "Branson Follies" as The UK's most fun-loving Billionaire goes on the offensive with President Obama, challenging the US to seriously consider decriminalization of drugs. Meanwhile, more reports emerge showing the criminally disproportionate nature of the racial disparities in American criminal justice, including yet another case of police indifference to the murder of an unarmed Black youth. And in Mexico, despite calls by the cartels to curb violence during an upcoming Papal visit, 10 decapitated heads were recently discovered in Acapulco, more victims of Mexico's devastating drug war. ~ CS

Peace in Medicine: Inside California's Medical Cannabis Industry

Go inside the professional operations of Peace in Medicine, a licensed cannabis dispensary in Northern California that finds itself under seige from the Federal government. 

oD Drug & Criminal Justice Policy Forum: Front Line Report - March 15, 2012

It's hard to know these days which way the proverbial worm is turning when it comes to shifts in drug policy. Election years tend to do that. Despite an historical turn of events in Central America which saw Presidents of drug trafficking nations come together to call for world wide decriminalization of drugs, in an effort to end the violence and corruption of the drug trade, the US continues to demur, absurdly claiming that the "War on Drugs" has been a success. Even stranger is Canada's recent announcement that they plan to follow the US model of a "tough on crime" approach to drug policy, which threatens to swell their correctional system in the same ways as in the US. Still, good news abounds with recent studies showing that LSD can cure alcoholism, psychedelics can cure PTSD, and cannabis smoking is not nearly as harmful as the prohibition governments claim. ~ CS 

The Exile Nation Project - Julie Falco & Dan Linn

Julie Falco and Dan Linn are two of the leading drug policy reform activists in the State of Illinois. They have spent the better part of the last 10 years attempting to pass a medical cannabis bill, and have found themselves consistently thwarted.

oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of February 16th 2012

Last Saturday, singer Whitney Houston died at the age of 48. The toxicology reports are yet to be completed, but it's reported her death was caused by a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. Houston struggled for years with her addiction to both legal and illicit substances. Her tragic death brings the spotlight on addiction, and subsequently the war on drugs, into the public conversation in a visceral way. At the same time, the very definition of addiction and how it's perceived by the medical community receives a long overdue revision; addiction is a disease of the brain, not a moral failing or lack of willpower. Hopefully, global drug reform will also be formulated with that understanding in mind, rather than the punishment approach, which simply does not work -- not for those addicted, not for their loved ones, and certainly not for society. ~ jw

The Exile Nation Project - Lynette Shaw

Lynette Shaw was the owner of the very first legal cannabis dispensary in the State of California, which she opened in Fairfax in the early 1990s. A key figure in the fight to legalize medical cannabis, Shaw's life as an activist began when her home was raided by police, after a dealer turned her in. But that's only one small aspect of her extraordinary life story, recounted here, which at one point saw her living underground while authorities scoured the world for her, after she became a suspect in the 1980 overdose death of actor John Belushi.

oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of February 9th 2012

This week we open with an editorial written by Amanda Fielding, who explains why so many countries who wish to engage in drug policy reform have such a difficult time implementing it: the UN Conventions. It's led to policies in the US that are often criticized for targeting minorities and the poor, and worldwide, governments pursue punitive action against drug users rather than healthcare initiatives and education. Politicians wishing to appear "tough on crime", especially in election years, continue to embrace prohibition and incarceration as solutions to the complex problems of drug use and abuse. ~ jw

The Exile Nation Project - Scott Tracy Imler

Scott Tracy Imler is one of the central figures in the history of medical cannabis legislation. He was a co-author of the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, more commonly known as "Prop 215," which made cannabis legal for medicinal use in the State of California. In 1996 Scott opened the first medical cannabis co-op in the Los Angeles area, which remained open until a DEA raid in October 2001, shortly after 9/11, an incident that began the Federal backlash against medical cannabis.

oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of February 2nd 2012

While activists push for reform of drug laws, various legislative entities continue to tighten restrictions on the use of psychoactive substances, from marijuana to "bath salts". One state in the US moves closer to drug-testing not only its welfare recipients, but its lawmakers as well. Mexico's cartels set new records in 2011 for the number of people murdered, close to 50,000 - which does not factor in those who have "disappeared", and the emotional and often physical suffering their absence exacts on the loved ones left behind, who by and large are women and children. ~ jw

The Exile Nation Project - Jean Marlowe

Jean Marlowe is known as the Godmother of Medical Cannabis in the State of North Carolina.In this wildly entertaining interview, the feisty Marlowe gives her irreverent take on the hypocrisy of cannabis prohibition, and gives moving testimony about the damage done to medical patients caught up in the criminal justice system.

oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of January 12th 2012

This week's stories reveal how the US continues to pursue militarized action in the War on Drugs, while municipal governments in Canada attempt to address the problem with harm reduction outreach. Mexico's once-glamorous resort of Acapulco is now ravaged by drug violence, and Costa Rica sees an emerging crack epidemic tarnish its image as a peaceful oasis in Central America.

The Exile Nation Project - Stephani Conyers and Rebecca Forbes

A pair of videos from a mother and daughter testify to the brutality of the War on Drugs, and the consequences children face when their parents are locked up.

oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of January 5th 2012

2011 was a watershed year in drug policy all over the globe. The American and Canadian governments seemed to embrace status quo prohibition, while the citizens of both nations showed increasing support for reform laws, particularly with medical cannabis. Some countries in Europe moved towards legalization, while the Netherlands surprised everyone by taking steps to forbid access of coffee shops to foreigners. Meanwhile, things continue to spiral out of control in Latin America, leaving no country untouched by drug violence

The Exile Nation Project - Interview with Anthony Papa

In 1985 Anthony Papa was arrested in a New York cocaine sting, and under the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, was given two 15-to-Life sentences for the first-time offense of possessing four and a half ounces of cocaine. This is the amazing story of his arrest and incarceration, and how in 1997, he eventually won clemency from the Governor of New York.

The Exile Nation Project - Interview with Ethan Nadelmann

Ethan Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Described by Rolling Stone as “the point man” for drug policy reform efforts, Ethan Nadelmann is widely regarded as the most prominent proponent of drug policy reform.

oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of December 15th 2011

Switzerland and the autonomous Basque region of Spain decide to shift their marijuana policies in a more liberal, reformist direction. The governor of Arizona suddenly becomes a fan of federal law over states' rights and appeals to the courts to rule on the new voter-approved medical cannabis laws. Mexico, as always, maintains a high profile this week, from its nascent anti-cartel movement to the apparent incursion of trafficking violence across the US border. ~ jw

The Exile Nation Project - Interview with Donna Lambert

In August of 2008 San Diego law enforcement launched "Operation Green Rx," a series of coordinated raids on legal providers of medical cannabis. Overseen by San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis, these raids were funded by a Federal grant meant to arrest violent gangs. The brutally violent raids produced no arrests of gangs or drug dealers, because they were actually targeted at medical patients like Donna Lambert. This is her story.
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