No. 6 Larry Duke (left) and No. 7 Billy Dekle

Harmless old men: No. 6 Larry Duke (left) and No. 7 Billy Dekle

Update: Larry Duke was given “compassionate release” March 4, 2015.
By Beth Curtis


Unjust marijuana sentences have consumed the last 20 years of my life.

When my brother told me that he faced life without parole for a non-violent, first offense for helping smuggle marijuana, I couldn’t believe it. Neither could my 82-year-old mother. Her only solace was the fact that that our father, a Presbyterian minister, was not alive to have his heart broken about what was happening to a smart, gentle, funny son.

Marijuana prohibition is not a victimless crime. This foolish policy has devastated my family and harmed millions of other good families.

I present this list of the 10 Most Outrageous Marijuana Sentences to help you meet some of the people who’ve been harmed most. These marijuana prisoners are good and honorable people. Most are talented, inventive men who loved life and had a sense of daring. All are peaceful. All are honest. All have been seriously wronged by our government.

John Knock

My brother, John

My brother, John Knock, is No. 1 on the list of the 10 Most Outrageous Marijuana Sentences. I ranked John at the top because his injustice is so raw and personal to me. But all the men on this list are equally deserving of freedom.

What do these good men have in common?

  • All are non-violent marijuana prisoners.
  • Nine went to trial and are paying a “trial penalty” for legally defending themselves. The tenth tried to take back a plea agreement, wasn’t allowed to and got whacked with a life sentence.
  • Nine of the 10 are serving life without parole. The other is to be released after 39 years at age 85.
  • The youngest is 55, the oldest is 80.
  • All have been locked up more than 18 years. No. 4 Antonio Bascaró, 80, is the longest serving marijuana prisoner in U.S. history.

Taxpayers will waste well over $10 million imprisoning these harmless old men if their sentences are not shortened.

I am proud to call these men my friends. I am ashamed of my country for condemning harmless old men to die in prison for a plant.

After my brother’s appeals were exhausted in 2008, I decided to start a web site — — to see who else was out there and what misery had been caused by these insane marijuana sentences. Back then, many families were reluctant to come forward. It’s hard for kids to broadcast that they have a parent doing life without parole.

No. 3 Leopoldo

No. 4 Leopoldo

But times have changed. The shame of a loved one receiving a life sentence has given way to anger over the unjust sentence lengths.

The Top 10 Most Outrageous Marijuana Sentences[/button] In an era when states are legalizing pot, public support for these draconian marijuana sentences has gone up in smoke, if it ever existed at all. Today, the challenge is making people realize that life without parole sentences for marijuana is a reality, not an urban myth.

Nobody believes it’s just for pot. They believe there must be a dead body somewhere!

craig cesal

No. 8 Craig

Sadly, unless we act, the dead bodies will be these good men dying in prison. The perp is our own government.

I estimate that about 50 non-violent marijuana prisoners are serving life without parole for pot and de facto LWOP (sentences so extraordinarily long that the prisoner will die in prison). Most life sentences for marijuana are in the federal system but Oklahoma, Missouri and Louisiana also follow this abhorrent practice. An exact count is not possible because, to my surprise, I keep finding new ones that I hadn’t heard about.

Ken, now 67, is serving life without parole for marijuana

No. 5 Kenny

I will expand this list soon to include Top 25 Most Outrageous Marijuana Sentences. This list is designed to help people understand that there are real human beings suffering from the cruel folly of marijuana prohibition.

Even supporters of marijuana prohibition understand that proportion matters, that an “anything goes” drug war is destroying respect for the criminal justice system. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said it well: “Our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long.”

Clemency for these good men is good place to start on our path to redemption.



beth curtis photo dec 2013
Beth Curtis, 73, of Zanesville, Ohio, has a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and is a former employee pension plan manager. She can be reached at    

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