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Nonviolent drug offenders consigned to prison for decades

This month I visited Boston for the first time to attend a conference on addiction. I stayed an extra day to see the Freedom Trail. As I strolled with a colleague, I described my own journey to freedom that began in January 2001, when President Clinton commuted my 24½-year prison sentence for growing marijuana. After serving 10 years, I was able to rebuild my life and become the addiction counselor, father, and taxpayer that I am today.

In his excellent call for more commutations (“What pardons could do,” Ideas, March 17), Leon Neyfakh cites the political risk to a president if a released prisoner commits another crime. But I don’t think that’s what we should be worried about. When commutation requests are handled properly, cases are carefully vetted. Even the federal judge who sentenced me, appointed to the bench by President Ford, supported my request.

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The bigger concern, for politicians and citizens alike, should be the sentencing laws that consign tens of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders to prison for decades. I deserved to be held accountable for my crime, but what I really needed was an intervention. I saw too many fellow addicts come to prison, only to leave in worse shape years later. Most had lost their connections to family and community. Their prospects for a decent job were grim. Yes, we need more presidential pardons, but we can’t rely on those minor miracles as a substitute for a responsible national drug policy.

Peter Ninemire

Wichita, Kan.

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