Should Gov. Nixon Set Free This Man Serving Life in Prison for Pot?

Aaron Malin recently wrote an article for Reason highlighting the unimaginable plight of Jeff Mizanskey, a grandfather in Missouri who is currently serving a life sentence without parole for marijuana-related charges. Missouri’s harsh three-strikes law is to blame for Mizanskey’s unusually disproportionate punishment, as he has never been accused of committing an act of violence yet remains in prison for life due to the technicality of having committed three marijuana offences. Mizanskey told Malin that, during the almost 21 years he has spent in the Jefferson City Correctional Center so far, he has personally seen over 200 murderers and rapists walk free after finishing their much-shorter prison terms.

Jeff Mizanskey was hardly a drug kingpin. He was originally busted on charges consistent with a small-time marijuana dealer who paid for his own habit by selling to friends and acquaintances. He was not selling hard drugs or pushing marijuana on children. In the above-embedded video, he can be seen asking Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to grant clemency and set him free.

Malin pointed out the fact that guards at Mizanskey’s maximum security prison do not treat him as a threat. Malin described an experience he had with a prison guard when he went to Jefferson City Correctional Center to interview Mizanskey, “On the way there, the guard made small talk and asked whom I was interviewing. When I told him about Jeff he didn’t mince words about the failures of our judicial system.” Malin continued, “During the interview, the guard stayed on the other side of the room from the table where the interview was taking place. There were no restraints on Jeff—he was free to walk into the visiting room freely and shake my hand. Near the end of the interview, the guard briefly left us alone in the visiting room. It was clear that despite being assigned to live with rapists and murderers, Jeff did not fit in with violent offenders.”

The imprisoned grandfather’s three strikes sunk him for life primarily because he could not afford a high-powered attorney. He caught his first offense when a family member, who had been caught with marijuana provided by Mizanskey, turned him in to police in exchange for a lighter sentence. He was busted a second time with a little under three ounces of pot. His third conviction happened when he gave a ride to a friend who was the subject of a drug sting. That friend, who was the focus of the sting operation, has since served his time and is now free.

Mizanskey, now 61 years old, became a grandfather while behind bars and has yet to have a proper opportunity to spend time with his grandchildren. His son, who was thirteen when Mizanskey’s prison term began, is circulating a petition calling for Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to grant clemency to his father. Meanwhile, a growing number of states and municipalities are reducing penalties for marijuana-related crimes and, in some cases, outright legalizing recreational use.

The aging Mizanskey has exhausted all of his appeals and may die behind bars. He has spent his time in prison completing every offender rehabilitation program available to him. He has already served over 20 years for small-scale pot dealings. Supporters of Jeff Mizanskey are calling for those who sympathize with his plight to contact Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and request clemency.