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Grandmother waits in prison { June 10 2003 }

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Grandmother Waits in Prison For Drug Law Reform

By Dave Evans
(New York-WABC, June 10, 2003) A mighty weapon in the war on drugs; or a penalty that is too severe and racist? Opinions differ sharply on New York's controversial Rockefeller drug laws.
Time is running out in Albany if we're going see any reform on the Rockefeller drug laws. Everyone agrees they need to be changed -- but there's a question over how much.

And in the meantime, a very sick and elderly convict waits and hopes.

This morning Martha Weatherspoon, a 74-year-old grandmother, talked to us about her life behind bars. For 14 years she has lived at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, with 850 other women.

Her crime? Selling eight ounces of cocaine in an apartment complex in Syracuse.

Her sentence? Twenty to life.

Martha Weatherspoon, Inmate: "Well, I am sad. You know, maybe I don't feel it, but I'm very sad."

Weatherspoon was convicted under a get-tough drug law, approved 30 years ago by Governor Rockefeller at the height of America's drug epidemic. It mandates harsh punishment, sometimes harsher than even rape or manslaughter.

So, Weatherspoon won't even be eligible for parole until the year 2008.

Martha Weatherspoon: "I'm going to be 80-years-old when I go home, and you know I wasn't promised 80 years, you know what I'm saying? So I just figure I'll probably die in prison. But I always prayed and hoped that I wouldn't."

She does have some hope now that the laws are up for review.

Martha Weatherspoon: "Yes I do. I have some hope that maybe I will get out."

A rally last week was part of a growing push to do away with the Rockefeller drug law. Governor Pataki says he wants to. The State Assembly has already approved a bill.

So why the delay? Because no one in Albany can agree if the sentencing in the future should be up to a judge, or a prosecutor.

Robert Johnson, Bronx County D.A.: "My concern is that if we go too far, we may jeopardize public safety. And I think people have couched that in a way that says the D.A. is looking for power. It's not power we're looking for, are I think a better vehicle by which to express the needs and concerns of our communities."

Even though Albany will only be in session for another nine days, Weatherspoon isn't giving up. And she dreams of what she'll do on the day of her release.

Martha Weatherspoon: "We're being honest now. We're gonna stop at a store, a sporting goods store. And they're gonna buy me a fishing pole, and some worms, and we're gonna stop at the first water I see. And go fishing."

She is still hoping. Three weeks ago Martha Weatherspoon had a pacemaker installed. She has asked for clemency three times, and each time the governor has turned her down.

Her only hope now is a reform of the Rockefeller drug laws, and there are only nine days left in the legislative session.

Grandmother waits in prison { June 10 2003 }
Leaders fell short new drug law { June 20 2003 }
New york considers drug law reform
Rally against harsh drug law

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