Yet some states and the federal government continue to imprison human beings until death, with no chance of release, for behavior that most Americans believe is not a crime. Oklahoma embarrasses itself with many of the nation’s most barbaric, indefensible marijuana sentences.
Meet Florida resident William Dufries, now in the 11th year of a life without parole sentence in Oklahoma for a nonviolent marijuana offense. The Clemency Report names Dufries as the Oklahoma’s third most deserving inmate worthy of clemency. Oklahoma’s #1 inmate is another marijuana lifer: Leland Dodd, 60, behind bars since 1991 for a nonviolent marijuana offense without any review of the sentence’s justness of his fitness for release.
These cases reflect systemic failures of Oklahoma’s justice system, which — along with an essentially non-functioning clemency system, death penalty problems, administrative incompetence and other issues — will almost certainly require outside intervention to correct problems that are egregious and widespread, rather than incidental and isolated.
Dufries case has been told well elsewhere by The Human Solution and on page 162 of this ACLU report on the nation’s 3,200+ inmates serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses. Dufries was arrested for 67 pounds of marijuana in his RV while driving through Oklahoma.
The Clemency Report asked Dufries several questions and got a thoughtful five-page response. Some highlights:
- “I applied for a commutation and at the time I was denied but the truth is no on ever answered at the parole board.”
- “There’s now 51 of us locked up in Oklahoma (with life without parole sentences) for nonviolent offense and not 1 person has ever gotten clemency or a commutation.”
- Dufries notes being interviewed by a Tulsa Fox23 television reporter who documented how the state releases many violent offenders and drug offenders with multiple convictions while keeping nonviolent marijuana lifers, with far less serious criminal histories, often nothing more than drug offenses, behind bars forever. “I’m happy for the others, but here I sit with no chance of ever going home. It doesn’t make sense.”
- “They call this state part of the Bible Belt. I don’t see it. There’s no forgiveness and (there’s) evil in the laws.”
- Since entering prison, “I’ve lost both my parents. They were my best friends. My biggest regret is not being able to go to their funerals. The sister I’m closest to has Stage 4 cancer and I’m saddened daily for her struggles. (She’s a good person, a retired nurse who helped other people her entire life.) Most of my family is very supportive.”
- “One brother has written me off completely, so he doesn’t have to deal with the sadness of my mistakes.”
- “You asked what I did for a living and fun before my 2003 arrest. I worked. I had 2 jobs at the time before I was hit riding my bicycle (which led to medical expenses, which led to his transporting marijuana, which led to his arrest before he’d made any money). I worked for a car lot in the daytime and for a sign company at night.”
- “For fun, I had a boat and spent weekends with family and friends.”
- “For a while (in prison), I thought I had a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from seeing all the gang fights, killings and stabbings over little or nothing. That was really getting to me. But then I realized I didn’t have PTSD. I just needed a little fun in my life! All kidding aside, this is very stressful being locked up with some of the most violent people in the country.”
- “Last thing you asked is what would I do if I was released. Gosh that’s been such a dream. The answer is ‘Go back to work!’ I never thought I’d miss working like I do. My best friend has offered me a job back in the sign business. He comes to visit me every couple of years and we talk weekly by phone. Back to the question, if I was blessed with a clemency, I’d go back to work and church.”
- “Take care. God Bless”
- “William Dufries.”