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.

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Weldon Project Pens Letter Calling for Release Of Cannabis Prisoners

A recent letter from the advocacy group The Weldon Project was also signed by more than 150 artists, athletes, producers, lawmakers, policy experts, reform advocates and leaders in business, law enforcement and academia. The letter urges the president to use his authority “to grant  a  full, complete, and unconditional  pardon to all  persons  subject  to federal  criminal  or civil  enforcement  on the basis  of non-violent  marijuana  offenses.”

The Weldon Project is named after its president and co-founder, Weldon Angelos, who was building a promising music career when he was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison in 2003 for selling less than $1,000 worth of marijuana. Angelos was eventually released in 2016 after spending 13 years behind bars, going on to found the Weldon Project to advocate for change and provide support and financial aid to those serving prison sentences for cannabis-related offenses. 

In a press release about the letter, Angelos called on the president to fulfill campaign promises to support cannabis reform efforts.

“Candidate Biden promised to take action and use the pardon power of the presidency to release those serving prison time for marijuana and pardon their felony convictions,” said Angelos. “At a time when dispensaries are as prevalent as liquor stores in some states, it is time for President Biden to now make good on that promise.”

Angelos was joined by celebrities including Drake, Killer Mike, Deion Sanders, Al Harrington and Kevin Garnett, who signed the letter calling for an end to the harm caused by federal cannabis prohibition.

“The harms of incarceration are obvious, but the pains of federal marijuana convictions transcend prison walls, making it more difficult for someone to get a job, access affordable housing and receive an education,” the letter reads. “A conviction can forever limit an individual’s constitutional rights and can put the American dream further out of reach for an entire family. Enough is enough. No one should be locked up in federal prison for marijuana. No one should continue to bear the scarlet letter of a federal conviction for marijuana offenses.”

Cannabis Industry Supports Clemency

The letter went on to note that three-quarters of American states have replaced cannabis prohibition with safe, regulated access to legal marijuana for either medical or recreational use, or both. Kyle Kazan, the CEO of California vertically integrated cannabis producer Glass House Brands, said that his company “fully supports The Weldon Project’s efforts to redress the harm done by the misguided War on Drugs” and urged others in the industry to do the same.

“Legal companies can no longer stand idly by and profit off of cannabis while individuals like Weldon Angelos suffer from the financial and social repercussions of a prison sentence for selling or using the same substance,” Kazan said.

Angelos’ letter urges Biden to exercise his authority under the U.S. Constitution to grant clemency for federal criminal convictions. The letter also notes that a full pardon for those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses is consistent with the actions of previous presidents from both political parties.

“In 1974, President Ford established a program of conditional clemency for Selective Service Act violators. In 1977, President Carter issued a categorical pardon to all Selective Service Act violators, closing the book on a costly and painful war,” the letter reads. 

“President Biden has the power to do the same for the federal war on marijuana. Through his act of constitutional grace, a general clemency will send a clear and powerful message that our country is truly taking a new course on criminal justice policy and practice.”

Hip-Hop Artists Join the Cause

Among those signing the letter were music industry leaders including Drake, Meek Mill, Lil Baby, Killer Mike and dozens of hip-hop artists who joined the effort in support of rapper and friend Ralo, who is currently facing up to eight years in prison for a nonviolent cannabis offense. In a statement, Ralo highlighted the inconsistency in enforcement of federal cannabis prohibition and echoed the letter’s call for clemency.

“I appreciate my friends and peers in the hip-hop community, especially Drake, supporting my clemency because it’s just not right that corporations are allowed to violate federal law and become millionaires while people like myself go to prison for years,” Ralo said. “This is hypocrisy. I hope that Joe Biden honors his campaign promise and grants us clemency without delay, so I can return to my family and community.”

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