Most Affected: Daniel Longoria, Joe Cavazos and Travis Longoria Fight for Their Freedom

This Most Affected installment looks at sentences of those incarcerated for cannabis, and this case deserves your special attention. 

Life was difficult for Daniel Longoria and Jose “Joe” Cavazos growing up in the small border town of Brownfield, Texas. The stepbrothers were two of six in a house supported by a mom and stepdad who struggled to make ends meet.

“We grew up very poor,” Daniel told High Times

Courtesy of Daniel Longoria

By 15, Daniel had developed a severe drug habit, including a meth addiction. Four years after being kicked out of home, he continued using until a near-fatal overdose at 19. After the grave scare, Daniel committed to changing his life. He contacted his mother, asking her to help him get clean.

“I went to her and told her that I wanted to change my life,” he recalled. Once on the path to sobriety, she paid for his auto school tuition.

Her investment in Daniel paid off. He earned his mechanic’s degree in Lubbock, about 45 miles north of Brownfield, hitching rides with friends to school for a year and a half until he earned his certification. He then headed to Fort Worth to further separate himself from his past. There, Daniel climbed the ranks, becoming a manager in Fort Worth and Abilene shops for over a decade. In 2001, he opened his own shop, Abilene Automotive and Performance. 

Around the same time, he started doing business with a cannabis dealer through a family connection. Daniel said he’d occasionally do five-pound deals, with orders eventually doubling in size. Despite having a thriving career, Daniel thought of his family back home. He figured the pot sales would help support them as they had helped him in the past. 

“Cannabis was not for me,” he said. “It was to help out my mother who was struggling,” he said. 

In 2008, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of probation the following year. In 2014, Daniel was arrested by federal agents once again. The charge was for one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of cannabis. Feds allege Daniel had overseen an operation that smuggled cannabis inside car stereos. Cavazos, Daniel’s then-20-year-old son Travis and three others were eventually found guilty in the scheme. 

Most Affected
Courtesy of Travis Longoria

“A Cycle that Ain’t Been Broken”

Cavazos was apprehended at his nearby auto shop. The ordeal left him floored. He pushed back against his alleged involvement in drugs or illegal activity. He did the same for Daniel, swearing that his stepbrother had spent the past few years turning his life around. Rather than dealing drugs, he said the two were regular Sunday church-goers who put on occasional fundraisers for the local elderly community. 

In custody at the federal courthouse, Cavazos alleges that Feds said they wanted him to testify against Daniel. Cavazos refused to provide a statement against his stepbrother, swearing that both men were tax-paying business owners and nothing else. 

He said he told Feds, “You’re asking me to testify against somebody that I know for a fact is not doing anything.” 

Daniel and Cavazos claim they had no involvement in the operation. However, Travis was involved for similar reasons as his dad once had. Travis already had a child with his high school sweetheart. By 17, he was working at Daniel’s shop as a mechanic, supporting the family while his girlfriend took care of their daughter and home. Travis, who lived with two different stepmoms and his grandmother while his mom was in and out of prison, didn’t want to see his home fall apart. He turned to illegal drug sales to make more money.

“I guess it’s a cycle that ain’t been broken,” he said. 

Daniel claims that issues at home with his now-ex-wife led to her revealing details to the Feds about his past illicit dealings. With the Feds tracking him and his workers, he said he told his son to cut out any pot activity. 

“You need to stop because if you don’t, they’re gonna use you to put me in prison,” Daniel recalled telling Travis.

But, Travis didn’t listen. “He turned his life over to God, and that’s when I started doing my thing,” Travis said. When he was arrested, Travis’ girlfriend was just a few weeks away from giving birth to their second child. 

The three went to trial and were all ultimately found guilty. Cavazos, a first-time offender, received nine years, while Travis received 10. Daniel, alleged to be the head of the ring, received 30 years. 

Daniel, now 56, is currently jailed at FCI El Reno in Oklahoma with a 2040 scheduled release date. Travis, now 29, is at FCI Beaumont Medium prison in Texas. Cavazos, now 58, spent most of his sentence in a Texas prison. Since May 2020, he has been in home confinement with a monitoring device due to the pandemic and the passage of the CARES Act that released select non-violent offenders. 

“I am on home confinement, but I want to be released from this ankle monitor and given clemency,” Cavazos said via email.

The sentences continue to be a sticking point for the men. Their frustrations center on the legal process, including a lack of transparency and an information gap defendants often encounter. They allege that evidence proves that Feds, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Juanita Fielden, built the case upon paid testimonies and improper practices. Cavazos said he has a CD of evidence he hopes to use to clear their records one day when Longoria is free and they can afford legal representation.  

He states that the disc contains conversations Cavazos had with police as well as statements from witnesses in exchange for their immunity. 

“This ain’t over yet,” said Cavazos of the legal fight.

Courtesy of Daniel Longoria, Joe Cavazos and Travis Longoria
Courtesy of Joe Cavazos

Hoping for an Early Return to Their Families

Since inside, each man has done their part to turn their lives around. By 2016, all three had completed drug education courses. Cavazos also took classes on parenting and landscaping. Travis earned his GED in 2014 and has completed several OHSA safety courses. Daniel, too, earned his GED while also working on anger management, spiritual growth and art. He has maintained an outstanding record the past seven years. 

Each hopes that their efforts and nonviolent offenses will earn them their permanent returns home soon. The Longorias both continue to wait out the end of their sentences. Travis reportedly does his best to avoid the lure of gang life that often sucks in inmates. Meanwhile, Daniel continues to be part of his family’s life, but the sentence has affected them all.

“When they put me in prison, they put the family in,” said Daniel. 

The effects have been most noticeable on his two youngest children, with his 15-year-old daughter Lexy attempting to take her own life in 2017. Meanwhile, he and his youngest son have a strained relationship as the nearly teenage boy goes through emotional bouts related to growing up without a father. Hurt but empathetic, Daniel said he does his best to show his son that he didn’t do anything violent and that the plant that put him in jail is now considered medicine to millions. 

At the same time, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the family, leading to the death of his sister and step-father. Daniel also became infected with the virus, reporting that he still experiences shortness of breath. Despite it all, Longoria relies on his faith and tries to remain positive. 

As 2021 came to a close, the three remained uncertain of their next steps. Cavazos hopes to serve the rest of his sentence at home with his family. Meanwhile, the Longorias hope to see their sentences reduced or cleared so they can come home to their families. Daniel is excited to get back to supporting the family and being a thriving member of the community. He said that an uncle is ready to turn the keys to his two-decade-old body repair shop over to Daniel so that he can retire. Until then, the entire family, including Daniel and Cavazos’ mom, works at the shop.

Daniel said his uncle told him, “I need you to hurry up and get out because I need you to take over the shop.” Daniel said he plans to expand the shop to provide his auto mechanic expertise once he’s released. 

Join us in advocating for these three men by signing the following petitions: DanielTravis and Joe.

The post Most Affected: Daniel Longoria, Joe Cavazos and Travis Longoria Fight for Their Freedom appeared first on High Times.

Most Affected: Edwin Rubis Looks for a Second Chance

For more than two decades, Edwin Rubis has done all he can think of to demonstrate that he is a changed man. He tells High Times that drug and alcohol addiction pulled him into the illicit cannabis business, which he only entered to settle debts. Federal agents argue otherwise, convicting the long-time Texas native of leading a drug enterprise. Because he fought the charges, a decision he claims not to have fully understood at the time, Rubis is now just a little over halfway through a 40-year sentence. The now-53-year-old’s release date is set for August 2032. 

However, he and advocates continue to push for an early release, hoping that his exemplary record and prison community service show he has genuinely been rehabilitated. Rubis is pained to see that he and others remain incarcerated for the plant many are financially profiting from. He mentions Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner specifically. 

Addiction Leads to Desperation and then Federal Prison

Rubis’ struggles with alcohol and drug addiction began when he was 21. Several stints in rehab didn’t stick. By 1995, he had a wife and three sons and worked as a mechanic and car salesman in the Houston area. However, addiction continued to burden him. Debts to drug dealers mounted. “They threatened my family; they threatened me,” he claimed. 

“I needed to pay this money back,” he said. 

To settle his debts, he began transporting cannabis from the border to Houston for the dealers. He claims to have ceased all work in 1996 as soon as the debt was settled. A year-and-a-half later, Rubis was arrested by DEA agents in 1998 at the age of 29. 

After his arrest, Rubis asked agents why he was arrested. They reportedly said his name had been given to agents by another person caught in the sting. During the arrest and subsequent search, Rubis said that agents found no drugs, money or guns in his family’s apartment or other possessions. Instead, he claimed a conspiracy was built against him by agents and those in the operation who ultimately received lesser sentences for corroborating the story. 

Unable to afford a lawyer, Rubis had one appointed on his behalf. His counsel advised him to play ball like the others arrested and turn over any information to the Feds. He said he didn’t have any information to give up. 

Ultimately, the Feds offered no plea deal. “I tried to plead guilty because it was the obvious thing to do,” claimed Rubis. However, that feeling changed when he wasn’t allowed to plead out like the others. He felt compelled to now fight the charges in court, believing that he could prove his innocence based on a lack of physical evidence. 

Rubis went to trial. The decision proved costly, resulting in his 40-year sentence. 

“I learned the hard way,” he said, adding, “They gave me 40 years based on the testimony of others.” He said he would never have gone to trial had he known the typical outcome for anyone fighting against federal charges. In 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that just two percent of 2018’s 80,000 federal cases went to trial, with 97 percent of federal convictions made via plea deals. 

Courtesy of Edwin Rubis

Prison’s Dark Days Almost Become Too Much

Prison has been brutal for the Rubis family. Addiction landed Edwin in prison once before for car burglary. This time around, the experience was much more jarring. 

“I had been in state prison, but I had never been in one of the most violent prisons in the United States,” said Rubis. 

That place was USP Beaumont, otherwise known as Bloody Beaumont, one of the most notoriously violent institutions in the system. Those first two-and-a-half years were trying for Rubis in a way he hadn’t experienced before. “I couldn’t fathom the thought of serving 40 years in prison, especially for marijuana,” he stated. 

His mental health deteriorated further when thinking about the financial and personal struggles his family would contend with. “Being in prison, unable to help them, brought me to extreme depression,” said Rubis. Making matters worse, his appeals were all rejected. Despondent, he attempted to take his own life.

“It’s hard for me to remember,” said Rubis, barely holding back tears during a phone call. 

He credits his Christian faith for keeping him in better spirits through the years. With a new perspective, he began to improve himself and others around him. 

Faith and Education Fuel Rubis and Those Around Him

Rubis experienced a “face the music” moment, deciding to accept his fate in prison.

“I felt like my life needed to change,” claimed Rubis. The change relied on religion, education and rehabilitation. Over the years, Rubis would enroll in “any rehabilitation program they had to offer,” including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. He’s taken courses on anger management and completed a two-year dental apprentice program. He also serves as a mentor to other prisoners at his current residence, FCI Talladega in Alabama. Rubis is also heavily involved in the prison’s chapel and programs, including operating his prison ministry. Through the efforts, he hopes to help others turn their lives around as he has. 

Rubis’ 180-degree life change earned him the endorsements of prison staff and administrators who have written letters on his behalf. Despite his efforts and the support of prison officials and advocacy groups like Freedom Grow and The Last Prisoner Project, he remains locked away. 

Support also comes from everyday individuals like Carter Wynn, who remembered seeing a petition for Rubis in 2012. After signing the petition for his release, Wynn noticed Rubis’ contact info on the page. He contacted Rubis, and the two sparked a bond, leading to Wynn advocating for Rubis’ release.

Wynn wrote letters to judges seeking Rubis’ compassionate release, offering to provide him a job when let out. He also provided High Times with a 2020 letter from prison staff, noting Rubis demeanor and disposition made him capable of working with “a very demanding staff member,” as one supervisor described. Others noted Rubis’ near-immediate commitment to education once arriving at Talladega in August 2008. “The amount of positive programs he has completed exceeds that of the average inmate,” wrote Unit Manager J.A. Gilman in September 2020. 

Still, Rubis has not been granted his freedom for a nonviolent cannabis offense. 

With roughly 12 years left, he admits that it can be frustrating seeing inmates like himself denied their release. He believes he’s done everything to prove he’s changed. Today, Rubis continues to contact advocacy groups and the Biden administration, seeking an early end to the sentence. A petition and GoFundMe has been established for him.

While waiting for a possible reprieve, Rubis hopes change can come for more than himself. In the final minutes of our call, he emphasized the need for nonviolent, radical action to address harsh sentencing against nonviolent cannabis offenders. While crediting the efforts of advocacy groups, Rubis hopes to see more people join in the fight so that harsh drug sentencing and policing can one day come to an end. Once free, he hopes to participate in the battle for drug and prison reform. 

On September 16, 2020, Rubis filed a compassionate release motion with Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. The motion was denied within 24 hours. Rubis said it did not address any of the issues asking for his release. Rubis has appealed. A year later, on August 13 2021, the Fifth Circuit Court Appeals sent the case back to Judge Hittner, instructing him to fully explain the reasons for the denial. 

On August 17, 2021, Judge Hittner again denied the compassionate release motion, in the same manner he had done before. The motion is back on appeal again, with Rubis now waiting for a decision from the Fifth Circuit.

The post Most Affected: Edwin Rubis Looks for a Second Chance appeared first on High Times.