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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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 change.org 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 change.org 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.

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Most Affected: Seven Years After Leaving The Game, Community Leader Anthony Alegrete Gets Snagged

Authorities will get you, even if you’ve been out of the game for years. That was the case of Anthony Alegrete, who served 24 months in federal prison and an additional 24 months of house arrest for his involvement in a cannabis operation. The bust ensnared scores of other individuals, including Evelyn LaChappelle and Anthony’s good friend Corvain Cooper. The latter would be sentenced to life on a third-strike drug charge.

Old charges coming back hurt that much more for Alegrete and his wife, Loriel. Anthony was in college. The two had built a successful local charitable endeavor in the Las Vegas area. Making matters worse, their third child, and first daughter, was on the way. 

Once out, Alegrete was determined to not only rebuild his own life but get Corvain home so that the two could further give back to the community.

Years Removed With A New Life, The Feds Come Calling

Alegrete and Cooper have been friends for nearly 30 years. Meeting at Hollywood High School in Los Angeles in 1994, the two had a tight bond. But by 2005, they began amicably heading in different directions as their careers blossomed post-cannabis sales. By 2008, the two hadn’t interacted much for years, with Cooper owning a fashion store, while Alegrete moved to Las Vegas and enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Photo Credit: Emily Eizen

Like Cooper, the Alegretes also focused on community efforts. They created a charitable program for the city aimed at combating childhood obesity, Jump For Joy.

“After getting in trouble so much in my younger years and moving to Vegas, I gave myself a life sentence to community service,” he stated.

Within months, the program boasted hundreds of campers. Two years later, it boasted three to 4,000 attendees. The program would work with schools and organizations like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club of America. With school and the program thriving, Alegrete found his path, dedicating his skills to community service.

Then, his past came back in the form of federal agents.

Charges Emerge Seven Years Later

Seven years removed from any illicit cannabis activity, Alegrete was stunned to see he was in the crosshairs of the law once again. In previous experiences, he had been convicted on operation-related charges. In one instance, he was sentenced for giving an ID to someone caught selling cannabis. Another charge stemmed from handling cannabis funds. He thought he had paid for his crimes. 

Alegrete wasn’t facing a mandatory life sentence for a third-strike offense like Cooper, whose three charges stemmed directly from drug charges. Not facing a mandatory life sentence, coupled with his ongoing schooling and community service, allowed Alegrete to earn a softer punishment than what he might have been given. He credits the outpouring of support he received from the community.

He recalled a procedural hearing, typically taking 15 minutes, became a “four-hour miniature trial about my character and the man I’d become post-crime.” He added, “I had people fly out. I had doctors and Ph.D. professors… fly out to speak about my character because I had been such a changed individual.” In the end, he said prosecutors portrayed him as a villain.

The courts would delay his sentencing for two years so he could finish college. Instead of taking the next steps in his career after graduating, the Outstanding Student Graduate award winner would serve two years in prison.

Anthony Alegrete
Photo Credit: Emily Eizen

Prison certainly tested both Anthony and Loriel. He would do his best to continue educating himself, reading frequently. Some favorites included Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and all of Malcolm Gladwell’s works. The book to make the most impact was Gregory David Robert’s 2003 novel Shantaram, the story of an escaped Australian convict who lives in the slums of India where he provides free healthcare to the community while also continuing in illicit operations like the mafia.

While Anthony waited for freedom, Loriel served as the sole provider for herself and their three children. She was experienced in such a predicament. At 13, she provided a similar role to her family when her brother was arrested and tried.

While challenging, the two remained together. “She really stayed down, man,” Anthony said of Loriel, calling her a beautiful woman. “It’s my duty, no matter what, even if we broke up, to always make sure that she’s taken care of,” he said.

On May 14, 2015, Anthony received his release from prison.

A Return To Giving Back To The Community

Alegrete spent the next two years rebuilding what he lost. That included reestablishing his reputation, career and finances. Post-prison, he didn’t want to become a grunt. He wanted to thrive once again. He first landed a position with a logistics company, where he received equity while handling 1,500 deliveries every day. “I learned the logistics business, then I was slowly getting back into the entrepreneurial spirits,” he recalled.

The shared legal experience with Cooper reinvigorated their friendship. Once released, Alegrete would have regular calls with Cooper while he served his life sentence. The two talked like old friends while also thinking about how Cooper could earn his release. Those conversations eventually led to forming a social impact brand aimed at advocating for people like them in the system. The endeavor would also strive to ensure that kids don’t follow their path. They eventually settled on 40 Tons as a name, recognizing the amount of cannabis authorities allege Cooper had trafficked.

“We learned our lesson,” said Alegrete. “We wanna stop the next Corvain Cooper from going down that path,” he said. While educating kids, the endeavor also aims to provide support for prisoners through financial donations, scholarships, career fairs and other means of support.

Cooper had begun to garner significant support from various advocates and cannabis prisoner rights groups by this time. After he connected the groups to Alegrete, a unified effort began to take shape.

The Alegretes would launch 40 Tons to ensure Cooper would not harm his current standing by associating with a cannabis operation. Part of the company’s commitment to criminal justice is its line of shirts featuring past and current prisoners, including Cooper. All of the proceeds from the sales of prisoner-centric shirts go directly towards the featured prisoner.

On January 20, 2021, Cooper received clemency from then-President Trump. Upon his return, Cooper joined 40 Tons as an advocate and brand ambassador. Cooper does not have any involvement in the company’s cannabis or accessories line, per his sentencing conditions. He focuses on advocacy and the company’s clothing options.

40 Tons is now starting to become profitable. At the same time, the Alegretes continue to advocate for the release of nonviolent cannabis offenders. A primary focus is stopping recidivism, prisoners reoffending post-release. An upcoming career fair aims to help with resumes, obtain a career in the field, while also assisting offenders obtain their record expungement. The Alegretes hope their efforts are just one of many that help provides more resources to prisoners and families affected by the prison system.

Today, Alegrete considers himself “The type of citizen that our government would want.” He calls himself a contributor, noting his investments in the community while abiding by the laws as a tax-paying citizen.

“I had to go through the fire to come out the other side,” he said.

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Most Affected: Jonathan Wall Will Serve Nearly Two Years Before His First Day in Court For Cannabis

Jonathan Wall is a living reminder that the War on Drugs continues to snare new individuals in the system with its severe mandatory minimum sentences.

The 26-year-old Maryland native faces a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence over a federal distribution conspiracy charge, with the Feds alleging that Wall was part of an operation running cannabis from Humboldt County, where he lived at the time, to his native Maryland. If he goes to trial and loses, he could face up to life with his conspiracy charge of distributing over 1,000 kilograms of cannabis.

Wall, a first-time offender, is alleged to be the mastermind of the operation between Northern California, including Humboldt County, to his native Maryland. The Fed’s crackdown occurred in April 2019, with Wall in custody since July 2020. His first trial date is nearly a year away in May 2022.

While he waits, the aspiring mainstream cannabis operator attempts to maintain his composure while interned in Baltimore’s Chesapeake Detention Facility, a facility with a penchant for violence and corruption involving inmates and guards. The matters were only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Courtesy Mitzi Wall

An Unconventional Route Leads To Early Cannabis Realizations for Jonathan Wall

Wall was born in Maryland and raised by his parents. He said they got along fine after adolescence, but had been contentious previously. Wall claimed to have had a bit of an issue with authority, stating that he “saw through the bullshit of society early on.” Happiness for Wall didn’t involve material goods like much of the world around him. Stating that he wanted to push his boundaries to find a sense of wholeness, he pursued an unconventional route.

That route included running away several times as a youth. He recalled the first time he smoked pot while on the run from home, joining a group of migrant crabbing industry workers in the back of their work van. He said everything changed from there. “Cannabis being introduced into my life allowed me to elevate my sense of consciousness and kind of see things in a different light.” Claiming to now see things differently, he said he “saw through the veil of the mundane, everyday reality, and witnessed the human experience as it truly is from a new and fresh perspective.”

Running away from home eventually led to Wall becoming homeless in his teens, turning to friends, and on occasions, public parks and restrooms. The lack of a stable home led to him dropping out of school, taking his GED instead to obtain his degree. Wall said the decision allowed him to pursue an alternate route in life.

He’d spend the next few years working in local restaurants, with cannabis supplementing his income. At 20, he saw an opportunity to enter the emerging California cannabis market in Humboldt County. At the time, California was operating as a medical-only marketplace, adhering to the Proposition 215 regulations and its subsequent reforms. Wall said he wanted to help provide cost-efficient cannabis to medical patients. Income would always be welcomed, but he stated several times throughout the interview with High Times that his prime intention was to give customers medical cannabis access.

Wall saw the lifestyle as a way to gain freedom from a society he felt disenfranchised with. He saw the 2008 economic collapse and subsequent lack of prosecution as a sign that society and the system was broken, with the working class left to serve to the rich. Through cannabis and Northern California, he shared that he “saw this as an opportunity to be entirely autonomous from a system that I saw as broken.”

Jonathan Wall
Courtesy Mitzi Wall

Wall found that autonomy and a community he lacked back at home, save for his skateboarding friends. Wall felt he was contributing to a sustainable and victimless livelihood that helped others while providing him a modest living.

The Northern California community was well aware it still faced potential dangers with violating state and federal laws. However, the Obama years and the Cole Memo gave some a slight sense that the Feds were finally coming around on federal decriminalization and eventual legalization.

Wall said operators in the area remained “naturally paranoid” during the period, still in fear of just one person tipping off the Feds. Still, he said the general consensus was that cannabis prosecution was “a 20th century invention finally existing solely in the past,” which wouldn’t cause the unfortunate damages it had for decades before.

He said sentiments began to change when President Donald Trump appointed two anti-cannabis Attorneys Generals during his term, first Jeff Sessions and then William Barr.

Federal intervention became a reality in 2019. Wall was made aware that he was the subject of a crackdown while on vacation with family in Portugal. It was during this time that he said he became aware of the severity of cannabis charges. “Everybody knows it’s federally illegal, but certainly not to that extent until the find themselves affected first-hand,” he stated.

Wall was worried he wouldn’t be allowed back into America without facing apprehension. After those fears were dashed, he first tried to get his affairs in order, but he found many in his trying opting to “cash-out” rather than support him.

Eventually, around autumn 2019, Wall left the U.S. for Central America. He would stay on the run until July 2020 before turning himself over to Feds at Los Angeles’ LAX airport. He would be shipped across the U.S. via bus and “Con-Air” flights, stopping at various prisons along the way, before reaching his current destination in Maryland. He said the journey is known as “diesel therapy.”

Jonathan wall
Courtesy Mitzi Wall

Wall, A First-Time Offender, Fights The Effects Of Prison, COVID-19

While Wall awaits his hearing on nonviolent federal cannabis charges, he is housed at the Chesapeake Detention Facility in Baltimore. The facility, known for its high level of violence, also endured significant exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

“This is no place you want to be,” said Wall, as he reported that stabbings occur regularly. He noted that one prisoner went so far as to have weaponized milk cartons with bodily waste against guards in an assault.

The experience has certainly created an impact on Wall, like it would almost anyone. He doesn’t consider himself institutionalized, but shared that “staying in a groove is essential to healthy adaptation.” To do so, he exercises regularly, reads often and tries to meditate for at least 20 minutes a day. A profound read has been Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty. The book  had a significance in developing his enthusiasm for Libertarianism social and economic structures. He also credited former cannabis convict turned author Richard Stratton for helping with his adjustment. 

Life in the facility worsened when COVID-19 reached the prison, with Wall saying he didn’t know an inmate who didn’t contract the virus. He stated that his symptoms were minimal but remains slightly concerned about possible long-term effects. He alleges that the guards brought in the virus, saying, “It’s the only way it comes in here.” He added that instead of separating infected cellmates from other individuals, the guards would lock the door, not allowing either to leave for days at a time. He called the scenario a nightmare.

Preparing To Fight The Case

Wall waits for his May 2022 first appearance in court. “I will have been incarcerated for 23 months as a legally innocent individual by the time I have my first appearance in court,” said Wall, asking if that timeline adhered to a citizen’s right to a speedy trial.

It is oft-reported that prisoners face harsher sentences if they forgo a plea deal and fight their charges—often forcing many to take a plea regardless or guilt or innocence. Despite the risk, Wall is ready to have his day in court. Whether guilty or innocent, Wall abhors the idea of “surrendering by copping out,” to a plea. He considers doing so accepting defeat. “I’ve known from childhood that these people were wrong,” he said of regulators. He doesn’t believe in fate, but said the case almost feels like something he’s been preparing for some time.

He calls the drug war “the most historically flagrant violation of personal property rights by the state.” Asking who is the government to regulate what a citizen can consume, he added, “especially a natural plant, widely regarded as a holistic medicine.” Wall would later explain that alcohol, pharmaceuticals and shotguns as far more dangerous, readily available legal options.

Wall’s lawyer, Jason Flores-Williams, is a noted activist and is prepared to fight the case.

Flores-Williams isn’t shying away from grand language to drive home his point. “I don’t understand this country’s commitment to ideological necrophilia, the insistence on continuing to have sex with dead ideas,” he said of the ongoing drug war and its effects.

The lawyer added, “I do not intend to live with the distinction of being the last attorney to have his client go to prison for pot.”

Despite the attention being on Wall, he hopes readers understand that he is just one of many continuing to be arrested and forced to serve years, decades for nonviolent cannabis charges. Like himself, many continue to face lengthy prison sentences despite the so-called “Green Rush” of legalization sweeping America.

He believes that without change, others like him will continue to get snared in the system while the powerful continue to escape punishment for the various allegations and crimes. “Are we tired of being lied to, tired of all the lies and the War on Drugs?” Wall asked.

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Most Affected: Alvi Ghaznavi Helped the Community, New Jersey Objected

Alvi Ghaznavi’s cannabis journey began in his early 20s as a patient looking to treat his Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms that had once made work impossible and life unbearable. He’d pivot from the underground to the New Jersey medical market when the state legalized its use.

Living what he called “a very wholesome, blessed life,” Ghaznavi experienced a wave of personal milestones. By 2018, he’d gotten married to Juli, having their first child, Aniq, later that year. Their home and family, including their three dogs, were taking shape. The couple often hiked and enjoyed hosting dinner parties. They also took part in the Brown Paper Bag Movement, an organization focused on supporting the homeless with food and other essentials. 

In addition to helping others, business was frequently on his mind. “He’s always been an entrepreneur,” recalled Juli Ghaznavi, noting her husband operated diverse ventures, from EMF blockers to rare minerals and crystals. 

Ghaznavi also brought his entrepreneurial spirit into the cannabis space. He moved further into the medical arena, launching a CBD company, Miracle Seed, with Juli and friend Eric. All the while, Ghaznavi continued to dabble in the illicit marketplace, receiving cannabis and selling to community members seeking medical cannabis. His love and knowledge for the plant grew; so did his desire to provide others with similar medical results. 

“I became a connoisseur, and I also wanted others to have safe, affordable access to cannabis,” he told High Times

On September 21, 2018, life would change when the police and a narc team from the postal office arrested Ghaznavi at home while his wife and three-week-old-son slept in the family bed. He was charged with first-degree maintaining and operating a CDS facility. Today, Ghaznavi is confined to the South Woods State Prison in New Jersey, serving a minimum three-year sentence that could reach 12. All the while, Juli and their son await his return. 

Juli told High Times that every day feels like a marathon without an end in sight. “Everyone is beyond exhausted, depleted, and on some days, overcome with feelings of helplessness,” she said, adding that Aniq’s “sadness is really the most tragic part of it all.” 

Fearing Decades in Prison, a Plea Deal is Taken

The arrest shocked the Ghaznavis. Alvi went from preparing for his 3 p.m. realtor appointment to scout store locations to being in the back of a squad car. Juli, naked and in bed with their son, was soon pulled away from her child. She reported most officers wanting to take her outside without any clothes on, except one officer who allowed her to put on a shirt. 

Once outside, Juli went from confusion and anger to empathy for her husband. There he was, sitting in the back of a cop car in just his bathrobe. “He gave me one glance from the corner of his eye,” she recalled, noting the sadness in Alvi. “He couldn’t even lift his head,” she added.

He remembered thinking, “I couldn’t believe so many heavily armed cops were sent to arrest a harmless, unarmed family.”

The two were released after posting bail, only to come home to a life ransacked. “Aside from the cannabis, the police took most of our life savings, both of our vehicles, my cellphone with pictures that were priceless and our inventory for our CBD business,” he stated. 

Child Protective Services also became a regular fixture in their lives over the next three months until they were deemed fit to keep their son. 

He was initially wanting to fight the charges, contending that prosecutors opened the case unconstitutionally. Ghaznavi said he changed his mind when Juli was charged with taking part in the operation. He believes prosecutors used his wife as leverage. Like many others profiled in the series, Ghaznavi said he felt pressured to admit guilt despite wanting to go to court. In the end, the risk was not worth trying to prove his innocence.

“If we lost the trial, my wife would have 10 to 20 years, and I would face 20 to life,” said Ghaznavi, emphasizing they had only been arrested for cannabis and cash, not guns or harder drugs. 

Ghaznavi stated that pleading guilty and turning himself in was difficult. However, it was an easy decision to make as a husband and a father. In the end, Juli received probation. 

Courtesy of Juli Ghaznavi

Prison Impacts The Ghaznavis, Leading To Alvi’s Epiphany

In October 2019, with their child a year old, Ghaznavi began serving his sentence. The initial transition to prison was trying. He noted initial struggles adjusting to 18 hours of daily cell confinement, prison food and limited time to speak with family and friends. Access only became worse during the pandemic, with in-person visitations suspended. Once reopened, the Ghaznavis say Juli was denied visitation access due to her probation. 

Adjusting to the prison population was another concern. Ghaznavi was housed in maximum security for much of his stay, living with serious offenders and lifers. At the end of August, he told High Times he was being transferred to a new facility. 

Still, he said the most complicated adjustments were the lack of freedom to walk around and spend time with his now nearly three-year-old son. Juli remembers her son losing a significant amount of weight once Alvi went to prison, noting his drop from the 80th percentile of infants to 30th percentile. 

“It was devastating as a mom,” she said. While he has regained much of his weight, Juli reports the pain of not having his father persists. She recalls choking up anytime their son comes across a dandelion or when someone asks what he wants for his birthday. 

“He always says for dad not to be stuck,” she said. 

Despite the pains of being away and the constant threat prison presents, Ghaznavi says prison helped build his mental fortitude. “After a while, I came to realize that they can imprison my body but not my mind.” He noted he is an avid reader that enjoys meditating and working daily. 

Ghaznavi elaborated, “Prison helped me realize that happiness is a choice no matter the circumstances, and I learned how to be grateful even for the little things.”

Ali Ghaznavi
Courtesy of Juli Ghaznavi

As Dispensaries Profit, Alvi Ghaznavi Awaits His First Parole Hearing

An October 2022 parole hearing will be Ghaznavi’s first chance at freedom. If he does not receive parole, Ghaznavi’s sentence could keep him in prison until February 2028. Meanwhile, the family and groups like the Last Prisoner Project advocate for his release. 

He hopes that readers understand that his story represents a contrast in the emerging world of legal cannabis. As prisoners and families suffer, operators are opening up across the country. 

“At the time of my arrest, there were dispensaries in New Jersey that were running much larger and more lucrative cannabis operations than myself,” Ghaznavi said. He added that while the state profits off cannabis, it continues to impose harsh sentences on non-violent offenders like himself. 

Ghaznavi hopes he can gain support for his release. He established a Change.org petition calling for his release and hopes that garners the attention of Governor Phil Murphy. He said he needs help securing his release so that he can get back to supporting his family. 

“My family is going through it, and every day counts for us,” Ghaznavi said. 

The post Most Affected: Alvi Ghaznavi Helped the Community, New Jersey Objected appeared first on High Times.

Most Affected: Ismael Lira’s Family Torn Apart as a Cannabis Lifer

Ismael Lira grew up in the border town of Del Rio, Texas. He’d live there until getting caught up in the system for the first and only time. By his late 20s, Lira had settled into a life most Americans lived. He worked hard, enjoyed going to local restaurants with friends and loved spending time with his wife, Tina. 

The Feds believe Lira to be part of an ongoing criminal enterprise, alleging he was part of an operation that saw hundreds of thousands of dollars exchanged. They allege he was paid significantly for his work. Feds used witness testimony to infer that Lira’s expensive vehicles came from drug money in court.

Never offered a plea deal, Lira fought the charges and paid for it immensely. His decision saw his charges swell from a few pounds to hundreds. Ultimately, a pre-sentence report attributed roughly 33,000 kilograms of illegal cannabis to the Liras and the distribution ring. The alleged weight trafficked and earnings would be enough to trigger a mandatory life sentence for Lira.

Lira said that, “When you go to trial for conspiracy as I did, and lose, you are held accountable for conduct that other defendants committed, it is referred to as relevant conduct.”

For over 17 years, Lira has been torn from his family, home and life over his first non-violent cannabis offense. Several states away from his loved ones, he spends much of his time alone in a violent Indiana federal prison. All the while, advocates in and out of prison highlight his ongoing commitment to personal wellness and development, hoping he can be released sometime soon. 

Courtesy of Ismael Lira

Six Pounds Of Cannabis Becomes Hundreds

In 2004, the Liras were detained 50 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border near San Antonio. Ismael claims the couple were held from around 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. At that time, Tina was released, and her husband was arrested despite not having any cannabis, plant or otherwise, on him. From there, the case amplified in allegations and severity, when they were linked to another person caught that day at the checkpoint carrying roughly six pounds of cannabis in their car. 

Feds accused Lira of providing cannabis to that person. Between the arrest and trial, the six pounds and a single charge increased to a multi-person operation handling thousands of kilograms of cannabis. For his part, Lira cited various court statements that he believes misrepresent the facts, tying him to a cannabis operation in name only, without any hard evidence.

Lira said Feds eventually began looping in other witnesses to tie him to the case after his two co-defendants said they did not testify against him. He cited additional court transcripts alleging that Feds drug out the proceedings to build a case against him and his wife. 

Like most found in this predicament, whether guilty or not, Lira said Feds attempted to get him to plead out to avoid a trial. Eventually, Tina was also charged with alleged conspiracy. Lira swears that his wife was innocent. At that point, he said he knew he had to fight the charges and clear their names. The decision would prove costly.

Eighteen months after his arrest, the trial would begin. By day three, Lira knew he was in trouble. He recalled hearing prosecutors telling his defense attorney that they’d be paid regardless of the trial’s outcome. 

“It happens all the time,” he claimed.  

Lira said he ended up like many do, short on courtroom education with representation that didn’t help fill the gaps. Lira would better understand his case and conspiracy charges in the years since his conviction, stating that conspiracy must prove intent, knowledge and an agreement to further the operation. He said that two of three others charged in the operation didn’t know the Liras, and a deal had never been in place. 

“There were no seizures; there’s no weighing of the evidence,” Lira said. 

His fight wouldn’t sway the jury, with the Liras found guilty for their involvement in the operation. Tina would receive 11 years for her first offense; Ismael received life. 

Ismael Lira: 17 Years In Some of America’s Most Violent Destinations

The past 17 years have seen Lira shipped to several different prisons, witnessing frequent instances of violence and living far from any of his loved ones. 

His first stop was USP Beaumont, also known as Bloody Beaumont for its high level of violence and extended lockdowns. Lira only came in with 15 points as part of his assessment, which should have kept him from the more violent units. However, his crimes put him in the higher risk cell blocks. He called the experience an eye-opener, with murders a frequent occurrence. “I got to see more violence than I ever saw on TV growing up as a kid,” he recalled of the Texas prison he lived in until March 2008. 

Future stops would not reduce the brutality. Lira continued to see murder and other forms of violence along the way. The circumstances have not changed much since arriving in Indiana. In 2020, the prison gained national press when the Washington Post reported a beating death. 

Lira had to cancel his first phone call with High Times in late July due to a lockdown in which a prisoner was stabbed. He did not have any involvement in the incident. 

Little family interaction has occurred during his sentence. Over Lira’s 17 years of incarceration, he recalls only six or seven visits, citing the extended distance from his family in south Texas. During Tina’s 11 years in prison, Ismael would tell family and friends to visit her instead. 

“I wanted her to have somebody to see,” he stated. He added, “I wanted my family to be there for her.” 

The Liras would remain together through Tina’s sentence. Four years ago, however, they decided to separate. “It’s hard to have a relationship in prison,” he said. 

Rising Above And Hoping For A Second Chance

The end of their marriage had not changed Lira’s commitment to his wife before he was sentenced. They agreed not to let the system change them as it does for countless individuals. 

The now 44-year-old Lira’s dedication to that commitment is exemplified through a commitment to education and self-improvement. To date, he’s completed over 70 programs focused on personal and professional development. He’s completed two apprenticeship programs and studied urban and industrial pest management through Purdue University during the spring 2020 semester. 

Lira has earned glowing praise from unit counselors and advocates like Amy Povah, a former non-violent drug war prisoner turned advocate. She now runs the organization CAN-DO Foundation, which seeks clemency for people like Lira. 

Povah recently started a Change.org petition for Lira’s clemency, hoping that he can receive clemency after failing to do so with Presidents Obama and Trump. 

“Ismael is one of the most deserving pot prisoners I know who should be home,” Povah told High Times

Povah said she prays that the Biden administration “lives up to its promise to free all cannabis prisoners.” She added, “It’s a rather small category of individuals who are rotting in prison while others, including former speaker of the house John Boehner, rake in big bucks.”

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