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Date: 10 Sep 1998 22:35:10 GMT
From: "John V. Wilmerding" firstname.lastname@example.org
Organization: Prison Activist Resource Center
This article appeared on the front page of the Brattleboro Reformer newspaper on Saturday, Sept. 5, 1998. Permission has been obtained from the Reformer's Publisher to reproduce the article anywhere so long as it is not re-published for profit. Please address any inquiries about the story itself, or re-publication rights, to the Brattleboro Reformer.
I have substantiated (no pun intended) the facts of this story, including the outrageous Oklahoma statute under which charges were brought. George Singleton, the victim of an obscene system run amok, is a gentle man of great talents and abilities who runs a national effort to promote open-air organic gardening in the inner cities and elsewhere. If you have any questions for him about his organization (HOPE LA-USA) or about this case, you may forward them to George at email@example.com.
-- John Wilmerding, General Secretary, CERJ
FORWARDED MATERIAL BEGINS HERE:
[PHOTOGRAPH - 4"x6" - Caption: SUBSTANTIAL IMITATION -- George Singleton, 49, inspects the herb garden at his Putney office Thursday evening. Singleton faces more than a year in an Oklahoma prison on charges of possessing an "imitation" controlled substance.]
"Local Man Faces Jail for Legal Weed"
By Les Kozaczek, Brattleboro Reformer staff writer
PUTNEY, VT - George Singleton is African-American and he has dredlocks down to his waist, so he says he's used to being "hassled" by authorities. In fact, he said he's been stopped by police officers -- for no apparent reason -- and searched for marijuana in states such as Texas, Ohio, Virginia, and California.
Those stops turned up nothing and he was allowed to go on his way.
That was the scenario he envisioned when, on Feb. 27, on a business trip from California to Indiana, he was stopped by a police officer in Craig County, Okla.
He admits that, though he was going 10 miles an hour below the posted 75 mph speed limit, his slowing car was above the legal speed limit for the construction zone he was approaching.
He also thought that the person at the toll booth he had just passed through might have "pointed me out" to the police officer. If that were the case, then the officer might have seen in a background check a marijuana arrest and two-week imprisonment Singleton incurred 17 years ago, Singleton said. He said he has not used marijuana in years.
Still, Singleton said, he knew the routine. So, when the officer asked to search his car, Singleton, having nothing in the car except for the herbs he was carrying as part of his job, assumed he would be on his way in no time.
Twenty-five days later, Singleton, 49, was still in an Oklahoma prison.
"The officer found some mullein and rosemary in my car. I take them for my tuberculosis," Singleton said Thursday evening. "I told him it wasn't marijuana." Despite the fact that mullein, a green-leafed, yellow-flowered plant that grows wild, looks and smells nothing like marijuana, Singleton said the officer put him in the police cruiser and drove him 10 miles, with his hands cuffed behind his back, to the hospital for a blood test.
Singleton said he was arraigned on the day he was arrested and bail was posted at the unusually high $650. Three days later, test results of the blood samples taken at the time of his arrest showed that Singleton, according to the official state transcript, had "negative blood alcohol," and had "no basic drugs detected" in his blood.
In most states, that would have elicited an apology and a ride to Singleton's car, so that he could go about his business as executive director of Hope LA/USA Project.
But, Singleton said, Oklahoma has an unusual law under which it is illegal to possess any substance that a reasonable person might think was an illegal substance. He was not going to be freed. "When I found that out, all I could think was "isn't this America?" Singleton said.
The Oklahoma prosecutor could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
Singleton, who said he holds a doctorate in herbology, makes many cross country drives carrying herbs and other organic matter, as part of his job. He said that both the "substances" that he was carrying and using are widely used and freely available over the counter and have never been shown to have any effect remotely similar to any illegal drug.
Ironically, Singleton said, part of his Hope LA/USA program is to get youth off drugs. He also said he uses organic farming techniques that do away with animal products and pesticides because of their toxicity.
"We transform inner city neighborhoods with agricultural methods rooted in the old ways of gardening," Singleton said. Singleton's program, which has been lauded by Los Angeles law enforcement and other institutions, brings together members of enemy gangs and other disaffected youth.
Singleton said it took his mother 25 days and $800 to work with a lawyer to get his bail reduced to the more usual $125 and get him out of jail. Since then, Singleon has had to return from his Putney, Vermont office to Oklahoma twice to deal with the case. Singleton estimates the case has cost him more than $2,000 in legal, travel, and other expenses.
He is scheduled to return for trial on charges of possessing imitation illegal drugs on Oct. 8. He said he faces the prospect of going to prison for a year or more and isn't too hopeful that he'll be coming back any time soon.
"The prosecutor is up for election this year and I can't see him going ahead with a prosecution (possession of an imitation substance) that he thinks he isn't going to win easily. He isn't going to risk embarrassing himself publicly in an election year by by being seen losing (a case) to a black person without a (law) degree," Singleton said.
Oddly, Singleton said, he has yet to receive a ticket for any traffic violation as a result of the Oklahoma incident.
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The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That is the essence of inhumanity.
--George Bernard Shaw
"If you assume that there's no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, there's a chance you may contribute to making a better world. That's your choice"
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