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Don't believe the hype


False Rockefeller Drug Law Victory in New York


by Anthony Papa



On December 8, 2004 I woke up at 5am to put some finishing touches on a painting project that I had started a while ago. I hate to leave things undone. As I walked to my studio across the path from my converted live-in barn, something told me to check my email instead. I got into my car and drove to an Internet café about 10 minutes from the farm my wife and I own in the beautiful countryside outside Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I opened my mail and then Googled the Rockefeller Drug Law news in New York. My eyes lit up when I saw the many headlines out lining a tentative agreement had been reached on Rockefeller reform. At first, I was apprehensive: I didn't want this to be another false hope. Since my release in 1997 after serving a 12-year sentence under these laws, I've fought tooth and nail for repeal.

Was change really about to occur after 31 years? Was this another "selling of a dream" by the governor and the state legislature? For three years in a row they had dangled reform in front of us enough to have our mouths watering from anticipation. It was because of this I left the city I love to pursue my career as an artist in another country. I had to let go of the rope that was connected to meaningful reform because of the hurt connected to the false political promises.

As I continued to check the news I was appalled by what I saw. Politicians were issuing press releases disguised as congratulatory statement, claiming credit for the victory. The politios patted themselves on the back as they thanked the governor and the legislature for the watered-down reform that was to be passed as law. "This is just a start," they claimed. But it was former Federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo who had it right had it right when he issued a statement to Newsday, saying that it is too late for legislators in Albany to use a "half-a-loaf" reform bill as political cover.

"This is their attempt to alleviate the pressure. It's not going to work," Cuomo said. "The pressure is for Rockefeller reform and that's not what this is. This is not judicial [sentencing] discretion. This is not significantly reducing the burdensome length of punishment... This is simply not what we've been working for all these years."

This was no victory. It was a sell-out to quiet the rage that activists have felt for many years about this issue. I urge those who have been in the trenches many years fighting for true reform to keep up the pressure and fight to change the power structure behind the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Let's push harder now to give back judges discretion and seek freedom for the 19,000 individuals and their families that were left behind in this false victory. Lets not leave things undone and put the finishing touch on this project before we all pat ourselves on our backs.



Anthony Papa is the author of 15 to Life (Feral House)

Posted December 26, 2004 3:21 AM






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