For the past 20 years, Chris Mizanskey, now 33, has had to go to prison to see his father. But his dad, Jeff, is not a murderer or a rapist. He was, however, busted for possession of about five pounds of pot, his third marijuana-related felony. And in Missouri, if you get three drug felonies, even if it's just marijuana, you can get life without parole. Read our in-depth profile of Jeff Mizanskey.
Meanwhile, during the past two decades, Chris has seen a sea change in marijuana laws, as several states have legal pot for medicine and two states have it for recreational use. So lately he has been wondering why his dad is sentenced to die in prison for something that most of America considers harmless -- and he wants Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to address his concerns by granting his father clemency.
"I think twenty years is more than enough," Chris tells Daily RFT. "My dad never hurt anybody. He never killed anybody. He made some mistakes, but he's paid more than enough."
Jeff's troubles began on December 18, 1993, when he drove his friend, Atilano Quintana, to a Super 8 motel in Sedalia to meet two men. Jeff says he thought they were going to meet two men to discuss moving furniture to New Mexico for Quintana's sister, who had recently moved there. To this day, he claims he had no clue Quintana was going there to buy a few pounds of marijuana.
See also: Marijuana Report: St. Louis Arrests Blacks For Possession 18 Times More Often Than Whites
And Quintana didn't know that the two friends who were in the motel with the brick of weed had just been busted the day before -- with thirteen bricks of marijuana -- and were coerced to participate in a sting operation to nab more buyers, which is why there were cops and surveillance equipment in the adjoining room. You can guess what happened next.
Although Quintana was in possession of the package when he and Jeff were arrested and the surveillance video clearly suggests he was the one making the purchase, he was given a ten-year sentence for possession with intent to distribute, a Class B felony.
For the same charge, Jeff, who was busted in 1984 for selling an ounce of pot to an undercover cop and again in 1991 for possession of more than 35 grams of marijuana, got life without parole. He had never before done prison time, never had a violent offense, and his pot convictions did not have aggravating factors, such as involving minors or an illegal firearm. But none of that mattered because of an archaic Missouri law.
See also: Rep. Jeremy LaFaver Will Not Resign Seat Over Marijuana Arrest
Jeff was convicted under Missouri's "prior and persistent drug offender" statute, a Three Strikes-like statute that permits a court to hand out a life-without-parole sentence to somebody with three nonviolent drug offenses. But Missouri's law is unique in that it doesn't require at least one violent offense to lock up a person for life, whereas most states' habitual-offender laws do. California requires at least one violent offense. So does Georgia. And even Alabama, which doesn't require a distinction between violent and nonviolent felonies, paroled a man who had initially received a life without parole sentence for three nonviolent felonies -- the third of which happened to be a selling-marijuana conviction.
But when it comes to pot, Missouri can be stricter than Georgia or Alabama -- and Jeff Mizanskey might never get out of prison.