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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

From Phyllon to Cannabis Freedom Fighter

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Imagine that you have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a nonviolent cannabis offense to which you had a circumstantial connection. You’ve been separated from your family and friends for the better part of two decades. You watch as state after state legalizes cannabis, but you remain behind bars. It’s a very sad, infuriating and very painful story Not fair for words. This is the true story of Craig Sisal. A former cannabis prisoner turned activist uses his insider knowledge to help others with stories like his own to regain their freedom.

In 2002, Sisal co-owned a towing company near Chicago that restored and repaired trucks for a rental company. At a checkpoint in Laredo, Texas, US Border Patrol agents discovered 1,500 pounds of hashish hidden in secret compartments inside one of the trucks he had repaired. In 2003, Sisal was convicted of renting cars to smugglers and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on drug conspiracy charges — even though he had no prior convictions.

When Sisal was initially imprisoned in a maximum security prison, he said he was angry and depressed. But there was no point in delving into his fate and feeling sorry for himself – this is not his style. “I quickly realized that the passion wasn’t fruitful,” he says.

Sisal says he began using his time to help fellow inmates achieve their freedom, finding value and purpose in helping inmates write their legal appeal. Campaigning for prisoner justice soon became his focus.

“They put me in a county jail in a poor, mountainous area in rural Georgia,” Sisal says. “I was one of the few people out of about 600 inmates who could actually read and write. I became the man who privately read and wrote their letters and explained their legal documents.” Thus began Sisal’s daily battle to “get us all together.” prisoners What we were entitled to in the justice system,” he says. “In the long run, it gave me value for the prisoners and the warden because instead of the inmates burning cell blocks, I could now lead a protest inside the bars. And the guards respected that, as much as they didn’t like it [laughs]. “

And this is how Craig Sisal spent the endless months and years of his unimaginable life sentence.

“I lived better than most people,” he sarcastically admits. “I would walk through the food line and I might have a synchronic omitted sentence from the guy serving the hamburger. Or maybe I was fighting for a lesser sentence for the guy putting the vegetables on the plate. So, my meals were usually heavier than the others.”

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Sisal finally got his first taste of freedom in nearly two decades.

“The Bureau of Prisons can allocate home confinement to prisoners who have less than two years left on their sentences and are also found to be nonviolent while in prison and are vulnerable to COVID,” he says. “I vexed the warden so much—as a believer, I didn’t qualify for home confinement. But Sherry Sicard He led an army of people harassing the warden, harassing the director of the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C. — even the attorney general himself. Then the warden said to me: We are bringing you home. I know it’s not legal, but it only becomes a problem if you commit another offense – and I don’t think you would. It gave me the tools to fight for clemency under the Trump administration.”

Craig Sisall and Sherri Sicard toast his freedom. Photo provided by Cheri Sicard

Second chance

Cecil received clemency from the former president in his last hours in office. The other men were putting the prison experience behind them and forgetting who they left behind. But Cecil is not most men. He teamed up with the lawyers and allies who fought for his freedom to help fellow cannabis inmates who remained behind bars to form the nonprofit organization, Second Chance Foundationwhich deals with the struggle for the freedom of hashish prisoners.

“My full-time job is to seek clemency and relief for cannabis offenders who are primarily in federal prisons as well as state prisons where you know there might be an avenue of relief for them,” he says. “Right now, we are representing 267 federal marijuana inmates hoping to get clemency from President Biden. He has promised to give them clemency and we are doing everything we can to hold him accountable.”

Sisal says he communicates daily with at least 30 prisoners, including their families and legal representatives. He’s exceptionally good at what he does – and he does it on a shoestring budget.

“After nearly two decades as a prison attorney, I know how to game the system — and how to beat it,” he says. “I’ve helped two inmates over the past few months get out of jail who are now home with their families. I wrote and submitted their legal requests, and they were both granted. It’s very rewarding — I always feel the need to get results from the Biden administration.”

Fight for clemency

Ciesll says clemency is one of the few things in the United States Constitution that came from the King of England. “There are two types of compassion,” he says. “The first is a pardon, which overturns a conviction on a person’s record. Another method is commutation, where the chief has the power to reduce (or overturn) my actual prison sentence. My life sentence without the possibility of parole in prison was commuted to time served; however, no I still have five years of supervised release, which is our federal government’s fancy term for “parole. That’s why the president may commute sentences for people in federal prison, but there’s no federal annulment law. So, all those records are still there, which means It’s still obvious when someone applies for work or housing. Ex-prisoners can go in with this paper from the chief and say, ‘I’m pardoned,’ but in most cases, it doesn’t make sense when looking for work or housing.”

Sisal believes the presidential expungement ruling — where all prison records can be erased — is an important part of federal legislation and cannabis justice reform.

“I want President Biden To develop a special program for cannabis offenders depends on engaging with activists like myself who really understand the system. “Some people would argue that removing a prisoner would not be considered by our clemency system as a marijuana prisoner. One obvious example is that sometimes it is easier to prove that a person was spending the proceeds of marijuana sales and, therefore, is technically a ‘money launderer’ than to prove When and where he sold cannabis. That means people are in jail for spending proceeds selling cannabis, not specifically for possession of cannabis. I want those sentences to go away. Several people I know are currently serving 20 years for it.”

Teamwork makes the dream work

Now, Cesal really knows how the prison system works, how things can be improved and how to play the game. He recently began working with elected officials from his home state of Illinois as part of a “study committee looking at recommended changes to a lot of cannabis laws here in Illinois,” he says.

To help fund the Second Chance Foundation and continue the fight for clemency without the help of major donors, Sisal took a second job. Ironically, he says, working with the recently retired Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons W START-OPPInc., a support service that “works with employers and individuals concerned with equity to achieve successful re-entry outcomes,” according to its website.

“We’re from diametrically opposite ends of the arena, yet we work on specialized operations,” he says of the retired VP. We offer prison training programs that inmates can do over the course of their last year in prison. If they complete the program, it will guarantee them a job at one of these big companies the day they leave and get a taste of freedom.”

Cecil became eager to tell a story.

“When I got out of prison, I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing,” he says, enjoying the memory. “I went to Target to buy hosiery, underwear, and other essentials. I walked in and realized I had no idea what size underwear I had on.” [laughs]. In prison, you can’t choose the size. I was indoors for 19 years and my weight had fluctuated around ten pounds. I honestly didn’t know what size to wear. And of course, you can’t try it on, so I had to buy two sizes. This is something no one else would think of.”

There are more serious matters, too. Sisal says his Social Security number was terminated while he was incarcerated and he had to endure months of arguing with the Social Security Administration (SSA), trying to convince them he was, in fact, alive.

“The SSA doesn’t maintain its own database, it relies on the big three credit unions,” he says. “Since I had no credit, I was technically considered ‘dead’. Even walking into the office with my ID wasn’t enough to convince them I was alive by their own procedures.”

After studying the subject, Cesal found a vague warning stating that the SSA would accept a prescription written by a doctor as proof that it was, as he put it, a “breathing alive person.” “Doctors don’t write that anymore, but I finally convinced him to write me a prescription for ibuprofen.”

Craig Sisal at the White House
Craig Sisall continues to campaign for cannabis prisoner justice reform.

The legal cannabis conundrum

in 2019, Illinois It became the 11th state to legalize cannabis use for adults, a year before Sisal went into home confinement during the pandemic. He remembers his first encounter with a legal dispensary.

“I get permission to leave the house for two hours once a week with a GPS tag on my ankle,” he says. “One time, I had to go to a doctor’s appointment in Chicago. So, I’m walking down the street and I stopped in front of a cannabis dispensary. I watched all these people come in and I watched them come out again with bags. I wanted to ask them, Is marijuana truly legal?’ “What is that thing on my ankle?” Because if I go out there and buy weed, I will be in violation of supervised release and I will be sentenced again.”

Adult use of cannabis, Sisal says, is part of a complex system, with many legal traps and pitfalls. “Even in states where they call marijuana legal, it’s not. Illinois puts more people in jail for distributing cannabis now than before it was legalized.” Why? ” Asked.

“You’re only allowed to own up to 30 grams of weed, and you’re only allowed to sell under certain conditions,” Cesal says. Many people think that since it is bought and sold in these dispensaries, they can also grow and sell the plant. So, they grow some marijuana in the backyard. Next thing, they had a pound of marijuana sitting on the bench, and they got pulled over by the police and served five years in jail the next day. Unfortunately, many people fall into this trap. In fact, one of the people I represent was sentenced to life in prison in California for cannabis – and he’s already served ten years. And there are cannabis stores everywhere in California.”

Craig Sisal: The Change Maker

Today, a very busy man will ask. When he’s not working to get prison pardons, help rewrite state laws, help ex-felons reintegrate into society or go speak at the White House, he says he’s trying to unite the still-frattered cannabis industry.

He says he believes existing laws are not conducive to the industry and that the only way to change at the federal level is through cooperation and collaboration. “I hope to unite the cannabis community,” he says. “We need to work together to change these hateful laws.”

Craig Sisal doesn’t do business for glory or fame. He does it simply because he needs to do it. And he’s the guy who does it.

visiting secondchancefoundation.org To learn more about their advocacy work or make a donation to help other cannabis prisoners on their way to freedom. You can also email Craig Cesal directly at [email protected]

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