The marijuana legalization activist describes what life in a U.S. prison has been like for her husband, Marc Emery, sentenced to five years on Sept. 10, 2010.
Cathryn Atkinson: You’re going down to visit Marc tomorrow [The interview took place on Sept. 16], yes?
Jodie Emery: My visits are on Saturday and Monday, but I fly down a day early.
C.A.: How often are you allowed to see him at the moment?
J.E.: It can be every weekend, on even numbered days. Sometimes it’s Friday/Sunday, and sometimes it’s Saturday/Monday. We get a two-hour visit each time, in person, and we get to give each other a hug and kiss hello. Then we have to sit across from each other at these little knee-high plastic tables. You’re allowed to hold hands, but we’re not allowed to kiss or touch during that time. Then you say goodbye, and you get another hug and kiss.
It’s two wonderful hours, twice a weekend. Four hours in total. The best part of our lives right now is being able to see each other.
C.A.: He’s been in their custody since May.
J.E.: Yes. He was ordered extradited on May 10 and he spent 10 days here in B.C. and was extradited on the 20th. So since then, he’s spent all that time in a Federal Detention Centre and three weeks of that was in solitary confinement for having me record a prison podcast over the phone.
C.A.: Heavy punishment.
J.E.: Yes. They said that having me record a message to be delivered to a different audience than myself is violating the third-party phone call rule. First they held him in solitary for three weeks, which is complete deprivation, absolutely horrendous to think of Marc Emery in those conditions, with no human contact. Cut off from fresh air and light.
C.A.: When was that?
J.E.: At the end of June. He got a hearing to be released. They could have taken away visiting privileges or punished him further, but they only revoked his phone access for one month as a penalty for the infraction. Thankfully it wasn’t any worse.
C.A.: And you weren’t in trouble for that?
J.E.: They can’t really punish the families of prisoners. It’s just the inmate who gets the worst of it.
C.A.: What did Marc say to you about the experience of solitary afterwards?
J.E.: He was just so grateful to be out of there. Chucked in a little, tiny cell and you’re allowed out for one hour a day, into another little cell where you do exercise. And the meals are slid through the door, and you don’t get anything except your radio, so he listened to it a lot. And he wrote letters. He had ten pictures he could have, and kept 10 photos of me.
He was still able to get his mail, but it was maddening, he said. People were screaming and it was like an insane asylum. Very, very difficult experience, but there are people who go through longer periods [in solitary] but for him that was enough to ensure that he’s very strict about the rules now. He never would have meant to break a rule. I never realized he was.
For him, it was very scary to realize how badly you can be punished for doing something completely unintentionally wrong.
C.A.: It must have driven home the fact that he’s very much under the power of the prison. They control every aspect of his life.
J.E.: It’s a frightening experience. They can do what they want to you, yeah.
C.A.: How long have you two been married now?
J.E.: We got married on July 23, 2006. So we had our four-year anniversary, and he had four roses delivered to my hotel room when I went to visit him, through a friend, of course. And he sent a very nice anniversary letter. We got to see each other the next day, but it was kind of sad to celebrate your anniversary behind bars.
C.A.: Is this the first time he’s been behind bars since you two have been together?
J.E.: I knew him in 2004, when he was sentenced to three months in prison for passing a joint. And I wrote to him every night at that time, and I transcribed his prison blogs. Hours of recording I did every night and we really got to know each other during that time, so I’ve kind of been through it with him before, but certainly not this sort of sentence.
Now it’s definitely much worse. It’s the U.S. federal prison system, and him being so far away, and us being much closer, it’s painful and difficult to deal with.
C.A.: What kind of support have you been getting since Marc’s been in prison?
J.E.: It’s been excellent, really. That’s why I hardly get too depressed, because there is so much support coming to me, messages on Facebook and emails. Thousands of emails to my account and Marc’s account. And people phone in and send cards in the mail. A lot of people are sending money to me, for my travel fees to go see him, because that’s all dependent on supporters. So I get donations in the mail from as small as five dollars from North Carolina, or $25 from a someone in Florida or Illinois.
People write to Marc, too. It’s difficult for him not to be able to see everything that I see. I am able to reassure him that people are doing a lot. They do care. On Saturday [Sept. 18] we have over 80 cities around the world taking part in rallies on his behalf, and that is thousands of people [who] are taking to the streets.
And that is just the people who are organized. So we know the support is enormous, and we hear that for every letter we receive there are at least 100 others. I meet people all day long who wish us well.
That gets us through it.
C.A.: Was the length of the sentence a surprise?
J.E.: We had expected a five-year sentence because he pled guilty after he agreed to serve. The alternative was to go to trial, and the charges he was indicted on were conspiracy charges and they carry mandatory sentences of five to 10 years. It could have been 30 years to life in prison if he had gone to trial, because they could certainly prove that he did what he did; whether he should be punished for it is the question. To go to trial would be certainly worse than a plea deal, so we’re grateful it’s just the five years and we’re hopeful that he gets to serve most of his time here in Canada, if we can get him transferred back.
C.A.: His response to the sentencing on Sept. 10, I recall, he seemed very humbled by everything he had gone through. He had spoken about acknowledging that a wrong had been done in the eyes of the law.
J.E.: He had to admit that he did break the law, and he knew he was breaking the law, but his whole career has been about civil disobedience, and winning with civil disobedience, from Sunday shopping laws in Ontario that got overturned after he fought back, to the drug literature laws and music bans in Canada that he fought against by selling books and magazines illegally. Even the tolerance towards marijuana use has been a big part in breaking the law, but not hurting anybody, demonstrating that he’s not hurting anyone.
Even the seed selling, he knew he was breaking the law and he expected that if they really wanted to shut him down in Canada they could have and should have, but they handed it off to the United States to deal with it, to guarantee much harsher punishment. It is really unjust, especially seeing seed sellers in Canada selling to the Americans the exact same way were arrested after Marc here in Canada, charged with exporting seeds, and sentenced to one month in prison or two years in the community, respectively. That’s two different cases.
C.A.: They really wanted to make him an example.
J.E.: Yeah, the D.E.A. admitted in their press release that it was a significant blow to the marijuana legalization movement because he had funded it… the hyperbole was ridiculous. It wasn’t about seeds, seeds weren’t even mentioned in the press release that the D.E.A. put out. It was all about his legalization activities.
But five years after this all began, you’ve got California about to legalize it for all adults this November, you’ve got over a quarter of U.S. states with legal medical marijuana laws. It’s like Marc always says, overgrow the government. He has seen that happen in the United States… it’s interesting how things have changed in the last five years. If he can serve as an example of how outrageous and unjust this war on drugs is, then maybe it’s worthwhile.
C.A.: Speaking of hyperbole, I’m looking at a headline from the Vancouver Sun from the story that came out when Marc was sentenced. It says “Five-year jail term ends Marc Emery’s 30-year political career.” Do you believe that?
J.E.: No, not at all. In fact, Marc will be much more important and influential when he comes back home. He’s an eloquent speaker, he’s getting better at writing and speaking skills in prison, his ideas are becoming even more concrete, and what he believes is becoming very popular right now.
Alongside me, I am running for office in all three levels of government, he’s going to be helping my political career.
So his career of civil disobedience is certainly over because he can’t break the law, he can’t advise others to break the law, but his example of civil disobedience is there, it’s for people to learn from if they choose to take that path. But he doesn’t have to engage in that anymore, he’s already served his time, quite literally.
C.A.: And it looks like he will be brought back to Canada to serve.
J.E.: We hope so and the judge did recommend it, but we need approval from the U.S. government and from the Canadian government, with Vic Toews as the public safety minister.
The U.S. government recently criticized the Canadian government, or condemned them, for violating the Charter Rights of Canadians and the treaty agreement with the U.S. because Canadian prisoners are supposed to be brought back to Canada. The U.S. takes back their prisoners, but the Canadian government have been delaying the approval of applications and outright rejecting them.
But that’s led to other Canadian prisoners suing the Conservative government for violating their Charter Rights, because under section six, the mobility rights, all Canadians are allowed to enter Canada, remain in Canada and leave Canada. Prisoner have the Charter Rights to be brought back to Canada, and the treaty agreement with the U.S. says that has to be done. So this government doesn’t do a very good job of following the law, doing what they’re supposed to do. Typically, they’re eroding democracy.
I don’t know if they’ll be kind to my husband, but I certainly hope they will bring him home.
C.A.: Do you think you might have to wait for a change of government to do this?
J.E.: It would certainly be easier if we had a Liberal government, or a coalition government, so Marc and I are both pushing for one. We think this country is changing so quickly into a theocratic…. There’s a lot of words I could use [laughs]. We would like an election right away, not just for Marc to get home but just for the sake of our country, which is changing so quickly into an Americanized, 51st state.
C.A.: Has Marc thought ahead to the day he is finally out and what his next move is?
J.E.: We definitely have plans. We want to travel and visit supporters all over the world. We have people inviting us to their home countries; we going to start in Ireland and travel through Europe and India, we have supporters there. Marc is just going to meet our supporters, our cannabis culture that exists all over the world.
He’s going to be speaking a lot. And he wants to write his life story right now. He’s writing out the chapters of his life. I’ll be editing and compiling that. He’s also working on a Canadian voters guide.
You can’t stop someone from being in politics. His education and activism will continue.
C.A.: How about his activism for the legalization of marijuana?
J.E.: He’ll be pushing for that constantly. He’s allowed to speak out about that and he truly believes in it. It’s his main purpose, his first and foremost goal. The only thing that’s changing is that he’s not allowed to break the law. He can’t be brought back to Canada unless he promises not to break the law.
It’s just one more phase in the career of his life and it doesn’t mean it’s all over.
Jodie Emery is an editor with Cannabis Culture magazine and a marijuana legalization activist, along with her husband Marc Emery. She is also the B.C. Green Party critic for crime and policing.
Cathryn Atkinson is rabble.ca’s news and features editor.