The following is the first chapter from The War on Drugs: An Old Wives’ Tale…
A Beginning and an End
I met my husband Dave in 1984-in our sophomore year of high school. We both attended a small, private high school in San Francisco. The first year of school we spent together, we were lost in our own shy little worlds. He barely spoke to anyone and chewed nervously on his jacket strings. I had been there a year, but I too was painfully shy. I would remain this way into my early 20s. When I dared to speak, it was to other outcasts like him who were safe and friendly. By the end of that first year together, we had begun sitting at the same table and a quiet friendship had developed.
We were friends, just friends. However, as we headed into our junior year and we both began to grow out of our shells; I realized quite painfully that I was head over heels for this friendly, kind, and good-looking boy. I became one of a group of girls who spent an inordinate amount of time watching the boys play hacky sack in front of the large picture window during recess and lunch. Many of them were the ‘popular’ kids, and Dave stood on the outskirts of this group, still merging with my friends, but now spending his weekends with the other group at parties.
Much to my regret, our friendship during that time never progressed past the friend stage. After high school, I moved south to San Jose and got married, and soon after had a baby. A few years later that marriage ended disastrously. I connected with Dave once in 1995, invited him to dinner, but he was engaged to be married and made the appropriate excuses. Again, we lost touch. In 1997, I moved to Missouri, met and married another disaster and we divorced in early 2002. I was still licking my wounds from that experience when Dave discovered me on Classmates.com.
A few days before Christmas in 2002, he sent me an email wishing me a Merry Christmas and asking me how my life was. Sixteen years after high school and I felt like a teenager all over again, with butterflies in my stomach and love-struck eyes. My teenage daughter was very amused at my transformation.
After all, he was ‘the one that got away.’ I had never had the guts in high school to say to his face, “I like you, a lot. Now would you please go out with me?” Over the years, whenever I would connect with old classmates I would always ask, “Have you heard from Dave Shuck? How is he?” Even then, I knew my voice gave me away. I was too interested, too desperate for news. The memory of him stayed with me, haunting me. He had been the first boy I had ever fallen for, hard, and I looked for him in other men’s faces and in their smiles.
A thousand times I had regretted never telling him how I felt. It felt like an unfinished story. Yet here I was, 1,500 miles away, half a lifetime later, and it felt like high school all over again. We exchanged emails. We shared hours of long, soulful, amusing, reminiscent phone calls. He had been divorced for four years, no children, and I was rebounding from a traumatizing divorce and struggling to make ends meet as a single mom to my now-teenage daughter. Finally, after two weeks of nearly daily phone calls he admitted that he had been terribly disappointed to learn I was no longer in California. “I was going to ask you out on a date,” he said.
“What’s 1,500 miles between friends?” I said, sounding far more confident than I felt. “I’d love to go to dinner with you. Come and see me, Dave.” He laughed at first, but I repeated the offer and then repeated it again. To my delight and terror, that is just what he did.
In late January 2003, he flew out for a week. It was unseasonably cold; the temperatures plunged to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough that my bathroom pipes froze and burst. I fell on the ice one morning and hurt my back. I spent the day on the couch in a haze of pain while he located the busted pipe in an unheated crawl space off of the main basement and helped the plumber repair it.
Before he left at the end of the week I said, “We’re good people who have had plenty of awful things happen to us. We deserve some good. I’d like you to stay with me.” Dropping him off at the airport and watching him fly away was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I sobbed as I drove home. I knew I loved him still, that I had never really stopped loving him, not after all those years.
Some part of him must have felt the same way because two months later he packed up and drove to Missouri. He left behind all of his family and friends in San Francisco, the only place he had ever lived, to be with me. That was March of 2003.
It was tough finding a job at first. He did a couple of stints with bottom-of-the-barrel call center positions before landing a job in the computer field as a repairs technician working with industrial computers. Here he stayed while I quit my job, started my own business, and went back to school part-time. Six weeks into my first semester at UMKC, we learned I was pregnant. We married July 2, 2006, and our daughter P.E. was born October 4, 2006.
I could not have asked for a better father or husband. Dave was and still is committed, loving, and attentive. He has loved our little girl since the moment he saw her there on the ultrasound, snoozing inside me, and he was lost from the moment he first held her in his arms. I say this because I want it understood that, mistakes or not, or poor judgment on either of our parts, we are a family. We love each other deeply. When the proverbial crap hits the fan, we gather in, pull the edges away from the world, and center on what is important – our little family.
Computers had lost their allure long ago, but Dave stayed at his job. He stuck it out there for over four years before he found himself laid off at the end of May 2008. The fact that he had stayed in a job that he had come to despise so that we would continue to have a dependable income and health insurance was a price he had been more than willing to pay. However, I had seen how it had pushed him into depression and constant anxiety as he fought to stay focused in a field he no longer loved and in a job where he was degraded daily.
When the ax fell, I was actually relieved. “Take a month, even two or three,” I told him. “You’ll get unemployment and you need a break. Maybe now you can take some time for yourself and figure out what you want to do going forward.” We tightened our belts, reduced our expenditures where we could, and turned our attention to family and home. I began working more hours with my cleaning business and at the professional organizing business I had started in 2007. I finished writing my first book on organizing and published it myself.
Two weeks after he lost his job Dave said, “I want to start a microbrewery and brew craft beer.”
Brew beer? I don’t even like the stuff. I can barely manage a sip or two out of politeness. But if that was what he wanted, then I would do what I could to make it happen. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s open a brewery.”
Small problem … money. Or, more specifically, a serious lack thereof.
It was my bright idea that helped build the walls which would later crash down on top of us. “Let’s finish the basement out, create a secret room in it and grow marijuana,” I suggested. “We can sell it and make enough money in a few years to come up with what we need to start the brewery.”
In writing the paragraph above, I recall a television show, Weeds, which I watched obsessively for several seasons. The main character, Nancy Botwin, found herself a widow with no money and no real work skills, so she turned to selling dime bags of pot to make ends meet. One disaster after another, season after season, this woman’s whole life was a hot mess. By the time Dave entered drug court, Nancy Botwin had set fire to her giant house in the suburbs, set metaphorical fires to most of her relationships, had a baby out of wedlock, and married her Mexican crime lord baby daddy. I just couldn’t stop watching it – it was like a train wreck you can’t tear your eyes away from.
We are not an episode of Weeds. I am not Nancy Botwin. Yet for a moment, looking at those words that I uttered, “Let’s finish the basement out, create a secret room in it and grow marijuana,” it all seems so ridiculous, so completely asinine that now, I cannot believe I suggested we do it.
But I did suggest it, and Dave agreed to do it. We finished out the basement and created the secret room, dubbed ‘Ground Zero’ by the police. We bought the lights, rock wool, bags of Miracle Gro and all kinds of high-end fertilizers. Everything we needed to promote growth, encourage flowering, and eventually grow enormous buds of sticky, stinky, money-making, stupor-inducing splendor. We put in an air conditioner to reduce the high temperatures caused by the bright lights, a carbon filter, and an ionizer to reduce the smell. After a few months, we managed to reduce the smell to the immediate area, where no one but us would have reason to venture. We even entertained guests during this time-non-smoking guests, that is.
Nearly all of our family and friends are non-smokers. Dave, on the other hand, had been smoking since he was a teenager. He had only stopped once he moved to Missouri due to the lack of a good connection or high-quality product. My husband can be a bit of a snob at times. He enjoys microbrewed beer and expensive, high-end weed. As for me, I am a writer, with a strong, type-A personality. I run two businesses of my own, help Dave with his business and typically have a smorgasbord of household, craft, and writing projects underway simultaneously. Smoking weed interfered with all of my commitments. When high I cease to be able to operate simple machinery, such as a microwave, and my productivity comes to a screeching halt. My internal barriers, thin as they already are, come down and I say whatever is on my mind, inevitably embarrassing or harsh. I don’t like how it makes me feel, so my sampling of the product was, and still is, a rare and unusual occurrence.
We made a very nice, high-end weed come out of our basement. Kush and White Widow; both strains were mild tasting yet strong. They easily sold at a price of $4,000 per pound, no haggling, and no problems.
Before I get too far, I also want to dispel the notion that we actually made money at this enterprise, because in the end, we lost thousands of dollars. When it all shook out, we probably made one dollar for every ten dollars we lost. Thousands of dollars in equipment were lost on the day of the raid, and we paid at least $30,000 more in raised utility bills, lawyer fees, and court costs before it all shook out.
This is also not some kind of a treatise on how the system ‘done us wrong,’ nor is it intended as a forum to brag about our law-breaking ways. It is an account of how we, Dave and I, became involved in the production of marijuana, how we were caught, and what happened afterward. If it causes you to question the ‘system’ or wag your finger at your kids as a warning of what happens to ‘those kind of people,’ that is your decision. Think what you want, believe what you care to believe; learn what you will from our lessons … if there even is one.
I also need to make clear how long growing marijuana takes when you are first starting out. Some of the seeds took forever to sprout, the germination rate was horrendous, and I began to wonder how old the seeds we used were. We were hit with a host of other problems … overheating, smell issues, male plants (very bad) and finally, these small flies that ate our delicate plants from the root up. Our harvests, when they occurred, were sad, pitiful affairs and the electric bill quickly doubled. By November 2008 we had managed one and a half good harvests, with maybe two to two and a half pounds of dried product. We had finally figured out a cycle of cloning, learned to control our pest problem, and were about to clone a new batch when disaster struck.
It was less than a week before Thanksgiving 2008 and we had just moved out our first real harvest of product to the buyer. We had paid some bills and had cash stashed away. Not a lot of cash, but enough to get by for a while. Dave had just returned with a brand new set of lights that promised to conserve energy while making those money-making plants grow like mad. A friend was visiting; he was going to help us with painting in return for Dave’s help re-wiring parts of his house the week before. We walked outside to unload the lights when three black SUVs screeched to a halt in front of our house. One pulled in behind our friend’s truck, the other behind our van, and the third blocked the entire exit to the driveway.
A tall bald guy came striding up to my husband and said, “Dave Shuck? Still running a cleaning business out of your home?” He said it with a sneer as if he was sure the answer was “no.” We later learned that people use things like cleaning businesses as a front for laundering drug money. I actually did own and run a housecleaning business at that time. For that matter, I still do.
My husband must have nodded or said something in the affirmative in response to the officer’s question, but mainly he was staring in horror at the badge the guy was flashing. “Well, I’ve got bad news for you, Dave. We’ve come for your plants.”
Dave turned to me and said, “Honey, I’m going to prison.” I love my husband, I really do, but I had forgotten how he was wired – tell the truth and obey police at all times. In this situation, it was suboptimal. His response was a dead giveaway that we were up to exactly what they were hoping we were.
The bald man stepped closer, as did the other men, ringing my husband and cutting me off from him. They focused on him as their main target, honing in on him as the weaker link in this situation. The head guy made a broad gesture, pointing toward the other middle-class houses and manicured lawns that surrounded us on all sides, “Let us in and your neighbors don’t have to know that anything is wrong. We are not going to call DFS and we are not going to arrest you. We just want your plants.” He smiled, “We’ll be in and out of here in less than an hour.”
I would like to think that I would have handled it differently. I know that the ‘coulda woulda, shoulda’ scenarios haunted me as they ran through my mind for weeks and months afterward. I kept imagining how I would have stood my ground and acted confused. Maybe backed up fast, gone inside, and locked the door behind me. I could have asked for their warrant, or even told them to get off my property. Something, anything but what Dave had said. I would have tried to buy us enough time to clear everything out. It would not have been that hard. If they had come by a few days earlier, they would have caught us with at least one pound of marijuana dried and ready for sale. If they had come by a few days later, they would have caught us with 48 new clones.
That day in November was the start of a surreal world we would find ourselves in over the next two years. My husband, terrified beyond measure at the thought of losing our child to DFS, had signed a form allowing them to enter our house and showed them the grow room. He did this without reading what he was signing or asking if they had a warrant. By the time I thought to ask if they had a warrant, they had already been inside the house and seen the grow room. The man in charge, Jay Flight, said, “No, we don’t. If we need to get that, we can. We will return with a DFS worker and I can’t promise you won’t be arrested.”
I nodded, “I understand your threat; go ahead with what you are doing.”
He smiled, “It’s not a threat.”
In my world, when you say that you will bring in the Department of Family Services and imply that there could be arrests, you are threatening me. However, the point was irrelevant; it was far too late for me to do anything but cooperate.
We learned quickly, albeit too late, that it had been a simple fishing expedition. What the police refer to as a “knock and talk.” They had been staking out a hydroponics store in Kansas City for nearly a year. They followed Dave from the hydroponics store that day after they observed him purchasing the high-intensity grow lights. We were just another pair of fish hooked by the Clandestine Lab Task Force. After entering the drug court program, Dave would meet others who were snared in the exact the same way.
They took pictures and video, then photographed and fingerprinted both of us. They bagged up the plants to send to the lab. As we watched the process, the head guy, Jay Flight, smiled at us, “I know, I know, it’s kind of like getting your kids taken away from you.” We both just looked at him and shook our heads.
“No, it isn’t. Our daughter is upstairs and she is our child. These plants mean nothing to us compared to her.” I said, wondering for the first, but not the last, time just what kind of people he was used to dealing with. Dave made noises of agreement behind me.
They did not arrest us that day, a fact for which I am very grateful. I would learn later that cops can and will actually lie to you and say whatever it takes to get your cooperation. They can make grandiose promises, pledging to not call Child Protective Services, the media, or arrest you, and then later do exactly that. We were lucky; they kept their promises that day and left with only the plants and the thousands of dollars in equipment and lights. We sat there, contemplated running like hell for the border, hugged our daughter, and tried to figure out what to do next.
The task force had removed 13 plants, ten of which were scraggly and sad, on the point of death, and less than 1/8 of an ounce of weed. They missed our stash of cash, but then again, they had not looked too hard for that. Mainly they were interested in the high-end equipment, the lights still in their boxes, and anything they could confiscate and immediately sell.
Long before the results were back from the lab and the warrant issued for Dave’s arrest, Flight’s group had sold our confiscated property at a police auction. I learned later that every penny of that money went back to fund the task force and that, in the case of this particular task force, there is little oversight or restrictions on how they spent that money. This is probably why they all drive sleek black SUVs and look so well dressed. No matter how the charges had played out against us, they would never have to return or even pay for the property they had confiscated.
Yes, I will admit it. It galls me. Essentially, it is legal thievery hidden behind that nondescript legal term – ‘asset forfeiture.’ Even if they never charged us, even if the lab tests had come back negative, they would not have had to return the equipment or reimburse us in any way. If they had found cash on the premises, it would have been up to us to prove that the money was ours legitimately (i.e., not drug money). The potential for abuse through asset forfeiture is extraordinary and I will discuss this in more detail later.
It is an incontrovertible fact that the War on Drugs is wrapped tightly around the issue of money. This task force, as well as other law enforcement, uses Asset Foreclosure as an excuse to confiscate belongings and cash from hundreds of thousands of people each year. Many of these people have not broken the law, but they still lose. If I hadn’t already been convinced of this fact, I certainly was months after the raid as we were cleaning up the house in anticipation of visits by trackers-a type of police officer whose job it is to search drug court participants’ homes and cars for illicit substances. We rented a storage unit to house the banned items, such as Dave’s beer brewing system, our beer glass collection, beer T-shirts, memorabilia, and books on beer making. If these items had remained in our immediate home, they would have been subject to confiscation and eventual sale.
As we cleared out the basement, I noticed that the task force had left behind part of the hydroponics system. I pointed it out to Dave, remarking that it was strange they had not taken it. “They said it wasn’t worth any money, so they weren’t going to bother taking it.” My husband explained. I did not believe him and said so. “Seriously,” he insisted, “they said they wouldn’t be able to get anything for it when they sold it so they left it.”
This is what I mean when I say that the War on Drugs is more about making money and less about protecting people from the dangers of drugs. If the issue is to discourage people from producing drugs by confiscating the production equipment used, then that crappy little piece of plastic that a row of plants sat in should have been confiscated along with the other items. The fact that it, along with other items that had no ‘resale value,’ were left behind speaks very loudly to drug task force priorities – get it, grab what you can make money off of, and move on. It is not about stopping crime, it is about making money.
In the week following the bust, we had found a lawyer and set an appointment. Our defense attorney was an ex-prosecutor, and his partner was an ex-drug cop. During our meeting, the ex-drug cop was playing with his new wireless camera. He would wink at me and tell me to “smile for the camera.” It seems that old habits die hard with cops; I was far from amused.
They advised us to have our cars detailed. When we looked confused they explained, “Pot smokers smoke in their cars.” We shook our heads and told them we never did. “Well, you might transport pot in your car then.” Again, we shook our heads no, that we never had. The two of them looked at each other, eyebrows raised, and I could tell they were not sure whether to believe us or not. If I could have seen inside their heads then I am sure there would have been a vision of two stoned idiots driving down the road, smoking a joint with our young child looking on from the backseat. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
They told us it would be $7,500 to represent both of us. We scrounged up $3,000 and agreed to begin making regular payments of $100 per month. Then we went home and, after P.E. was asleep, smoked the pot missed by the task force. By that point, my stress levels were so high that I indulged as well.
One week later, we began taking regular pee tests. Our lawyer advised us to do this. He hoped to be able to prove that the marijuana was for personal use only and indicated that we were both clean or getting that way. I had smoked recently, several times shortly after the raid, and Dave had been smoking heavily for months. All of this was outside or in the garage, away from our daughter and usually after she was in bed for the night. We kept it away from her always, and to this day, she has no idea what marijuana is or what a marijuana pipe looks like, as she has never seen it in use.
I say this because I want you to have a clear picture of our life. Ours is a middle-class home in a middle-class neighborhood where the biggest excitement had been a recent rash of break-ins when people were away at work. We have extensive flower gardens and raise fresh herbs and okra, squash and asparagus each summer. We are the people next door who always have a spare cup of sugar or an extra egg. I am in the habit of bringing fresh-baked cookies to new neighbors, and we swap recipes and gardening advice. For us, the worst thing you will see is a few days of rather long grass (that would be our lawn, not marijuana) when we are caught up in other projects. In other words, we are normal people, with decent cars; a well-cared-for child, and great neighbors in a quiet suburb south of Kansas City.
The marijuana cleared out of my system quickly. In less than a month, I was as clean as a whistle. Dave took longer, nearly three months to be exact. This was exactly what the lawyer had hoped for. Although the number of plants was enough to put us in the ‘production’ category instead of just ‘personal consumption,’ the party line had to be that we were growing it for personal use. “Look, see here, big time pot smoker, used to smoking a lot. He’s from California, for Christ sake!” Which is not to say that everyone in California is a pothead, but let’s face it: things are a little different out there and it was a good defense.
The lawyer advised us to enroll in a drug-counseling program. We went to Pathways and enrolled. We each had different counselors. After the initial assessment, my counselor advised that my program would entail ten individual therapy sessions and ten group therapy sessions. This meant I had to drive down to Harrisonville each week to see her, but I could go to the closer town of Raymore to attend the group sessions.
My one-on-one counselor was serious and rather dour at first as I struggled with the material she presented to me. In particular, I struggled with the idea that any repeated use, over any length of time, is considered addiction. I simply could not agree with this premise. At one point, early on in our meetings I stopped in the middle of the exercise and asked, “After this many weeks I hope you will believe me when I say that I smoke pot rarely, if ever. Now here I am in this position – waiting to hear when we will face charges and whether there will be the possibility of prison. Surely you have met someone in my position before this.”
She shook her head, “Never. Not once. And I’ve been doing this for 30 years.” It blew me away. It also did set a new, altered tone for our meetings. As my story remained the same, I think she came to realize that I was telling the truth. Subsequent visits were less tense and at times, even friendly, as I shared with her my impressions of the group sessions and the other attendees. She laughed when I compared attending group counseling to an interesting social experiment. Months later, when Dave began the drug court program, he would relay that the individuals in the Pathways group sessions were “college professors” in comparison with the drug court participants.
One particular encounter with this counselor stayed with me, however. It was our third or fourth scheduled meeting and I had been participating in a class online and then had to race down to Harrisonville. I was running late, just five minutes or so, but I called and let the secretary know I was on my way. When I arrived my counselor met me at the door with a sour look and said in a very confrontational manner, “If you are ever late for one of our meetings again I will discontinue your treatment. The state requires you to meet with me for the full 45 minutes and not a minute less. Do you understand?”
I was tempted to walk out right then, but I was quite aware that these meetings might eventually help our case, so I apologized and then waited for her to escort me to her office. No ‘regular’ counselor would have ever spoken to me like that. She did it in as rude and confrontational manner as she possibly could. Combine that with the fact that she regularly started our sessions five minutes late and ended our sessions at precisely one half hour (15 minutes short of the “mandated meeting length”) at nearly every visit, I saw her behavior as superior, smug, and controlling. She was telling me quite clearly that she was in charge and I had better toe the line. This type of behavior is endemic in the law enforcement and drug treatment world. I made note of each departure time from there on out – we never once met for a full 45 minutes. The way I see it, when you won’t follow your own rules, you forfeit all respect for your authority. Her behavior was nothing more than posturing and a play for power.
The waiting stretched out interminably. Our lawyer told us that the laboratory that had received our plants was very behind in processing. So much so that it was late May before the tests came back positive for marijuana and a warrant issued. On May 26, 2009, they issued a warrant for Dave’s arrest. Until that point, we had assumed they would charge us both. Instead, they pursued charges against only Dave.
Despite this, I would not breathe easy until a full year had elapsed. In our county, the authorities have 12 months to charge an individual after discovering that a crime has been committed. I would later learn that Dave had begged the task force not to pursue charges against me. He told them that, while I had known about it, I had not participated in any part of the marijuana growing operation. This was partially true. He was in charge of cultivation and harvests, but I had been in charge of the finances.
His assuming the blame would enable us to survive the two years that would follow. If we had both been in drug court, we would have lost all possible income, our house, and any chance of maintaining a stable home and family life for our daughter during that time.
Although the court issued the warrant on May 26th, our lawyer did not learn of it until June 12th. He called us that Friday afternoon and advised Dave to keep his head down for the weekend. He also arranged for Dave to turn himself in on the Monday after Father’s Day, post bond, and be released pending trial that same day.
Father’s Day weekend was a mess; we were both terrified. The hammer had come down. I talked Dave into going out to a Father’s Day lunch at Flying Saucer, a beer bar in the newly revitalized Kansas City Power & Light district. Neither of us knew what might happen the next day and we were worried and scared. All we knew was that the charges were for a Class B felony, intent to manufacture and distribute a controlled substance. It carried with it a possible sentence of five to 15 years. As frightened as we both were, I knew that I needed to give him some semblance of normalcy. We went to lunch, enjoyed the day as best we could, and cuddled up close in bed that evening.
One note of interest to the reader: of the 13 plants that the team had seized, only ten of them were reported. Keep in mind, ten of these plants had already been harvested and were scraggly and dying. We had kept them on hand to see if we could manage to wring a few clones out of the worn-out leaves while other three plants (the ones not listed in the team’s report) were the healthy ones all set to be cloned into new plants. What ever happened to the other three plants? You can bet that neither of us decided to mention that discrepancy. I will leave it to you, the reader, to make up your own mind on how or why that discrepancy might have occurred or where those three plants ended up.
Our lawyer was still talking about drug court being an option, but was careful not to make grandiose promises – there was still the very real possibility that Dave could go to prison. On Monday morning, I drove him down to the county seat, dropped him off, and went to pull money out of the bank to cover bail. The bail had been set at $7,500 and the lawyer was able to negotiate with the court to allow us to post 10% of it directly to the courts. Five hours and $750 later, Dave was free on bond. Our next court date was set for July 20, 2009.
His brief few hours in jail were stressful for him and frightening when he related them to me. It took nearly two hours to process him in, with one of the officers, Good Ole Boy, taunting, “Oh, I surrender! I surrender!” in a falsetto before putting him into a holding cell with three other men. “Now don’t tell them about those cigarettes I let you keep!” He walked away laughing.
The men inside looked Dave up and down and one asked, “You holding?”
“Cigarettes, asshole. Are you holding?”
Dave gestured at his empty pockets, “I don’t even smoke cigarettes.”
“Yeah, but are you holding?” When Dave continued to look confused the man clarified, “Do you have them up your ass?” When Dave said no, the man winked at the others, “Maybe we should search you anyway.”
Never having been in the system, we both realized later they may have just been giving Dave a hard time, razzing him a bit to keep themselves amused while they waited. However, some of the crimes these men had committed were rather terrifying. The one that stands out, even now, was the man who took a pickax to a man who had, as he told Dave, “disrespected my woman while I was in the joint.” A pickax…good Lord, we had entered a world filled with madmen.
By the end of the waiting, he had been called a cream puff, and the others had grinned as they commented how much they hoped he could have a sleepover with them that night.
The guards were just as bad, barking orders, engaging in little power plays and intimidation tactics that would have shamed their mothers. I still ask myself, who were the worse animals, the ones with the keys or the ones behind bars? One side had no power, and they were being reminded of this fact, repeatedly. As a result, the moment they had a chance, they acted out. The other side had the power, and used it, and abused it, because they could.
More than ever I was determined to keep Dave out of jail. This was not the place for him. Running like hell for the border was even discussed. “Whatever it takes,” I promised him, “we will keep you out of that place.”
Three weeks of agonized waiting. Our lawyer had promised to contact us as soon as he had heard from the prosecutor, but he heard nothing. We entered court on July 20th completely blind. Would they tell us that drug court was out of the question? Would they reduce the charge down to a Class C felony (simple possession)? Would the drug task force object to drug court as our lawyer believed they would?
I told my mother we both had meetings to attend and arranged for her to keep P.E. for a long weekend. We dropped her off on Sunday afternoon and returned home, putting the house in order and distracting ourselves with mundane tasks such as laundry and mowing.
We waited anxiously for our lawyer outside of the courtroom, not realizing he was inside. When he did come out, he had surprising news for us. “The task force has given the thumbs up for you to attend drug court,” he said.
“What?” I said. “I thought you said that never happens.”
Our lawyer, who had extensive experience with other marijuana-growing operations the task force had busted, shook his head and said, “In all of my experience, in all of my years as a prosecutor and now as a defense attorney, they have never agreed to a recommendation for drug court. You are the first I’ve ever heard of.”
Having the drug task force disagree with a recommendation for drug court was the norm, which didn’t carry a huge amount of weight, since plenty of others had been admitted despite the task force’s objections, but it was unusual. It was one of the many indicators we would have that our case was unusual from others in many crucial ways. It also gave me hope, albeit foolish and quickly dashed hope, that Dave’s experience in drug court would somehow be easier as a result. It was not, but we would remain the anomaly in many ways throughout our drug court experience.
Dave went before the judge and the charges were read. The judge’s eyebrows shot up when the prosecutor stated that the drug task force had “no objections to drug court.” It wasn’t just a surprise to our lawyer, but to the judge as well. The result of that day in court meant an opportunity to possibly participate in drug court. Dave was instructed to meet with Sherrie, the coordinator for the program, to discuss his possible participation, as soon as possible. Our lawyer explained the process of qualifying for drug court and advised Dave, “When you meet with Sherrie, simply explain that although you have been drug-free since November, remaining drug-free from your addiction ,” he took care to put special emphasis on those words, “continues to be a struggle for you, something you have to work at one day at a time.”
We went home and Dave made an appointment to meet Sherrie first thing in the morning. The next day he went to his meeting and I dashed off to two cleanings and back home to prepare to teach an organizing class that night. As I got ready, Dave deluged me with details about his meeting. There was a laundry list of prohibited items that would have to be removed from the house and put in storage. Prohibited items included any brewing equipment, any beer glasses, T-shirts, or other beer paraphernalia. No Sudafed, Nyquil, prescription pain medication or alcohol of any kind, including mouthwash, was allowed.
Phase One of the program would be the most difficult. Sherrie explained that he would be required to call into a hotline each day to find out the ‘color of the day.’ His color would be green. How appropriate! Anytime the color of the day was designated green, he would need to report to either the sheriff’s department or to an officer of the drug court and submit to a drug test.
He would be required to attend the drug court diversion program every day of the week except Wednesday and Sunday and he would also be expected to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings three times a week. On his ‘free’ days it was entirely likely he would also be called to perform community service on an as-needed basis. Phase One would last a minimum of eight weeks and during that time the drug court did not want Dave to have any kind of employment at all.
Dave was instructed by Sherrie to clear everything out of our house that was drug or alcohol-related. When it was all out of the house she would do a walk-through. We rented a storage facility and moved it all out. The year before when we were planning on starting a brewery we bought a 20 gallon professional grade brew system for R&D purposes. When we learned prior to starting the drug court program that prohibited equipment was subject to confiscation if not removed from the premises, we immediately moved it to the storage unit. Thirty dollars a month for storage was a small price to pay for almost $10,000 in equipment.
Dave called the phone number Sherrie had given him and let her know we were ready. She was a small, muscular woman with the sharp, no-nonsense attitude I’ve seen in policewomen. Beneath the muted makeup and conservative hairstyle lay the steely resolve that propels them through the police academy and into a profession dominated by men. Dave had mentioned that she had served as a patrolwoman before transferring into the probation department. She gave a cursory onceover of the house, pointed to a bottle of wine from a local winery and Pabst Blue Ribbon metal collector’s tray we had missed, and I took special pains to show her my flower, herb, and vegetable seed collection. I had updated my website where it would clearly show these items for sale. She thanked me for showing her the seeds and giving her some forewarning and said, “If the trackers had seen these, they would have been on the phone in an instant to me.” I assured her that we wanted to cooperate, but that this was a way I was hoping to make a little money to help us get by while Dave was in Phase One. “They may want to take samples to take back to the lab,” Sherrie warned us.
“That’s fine,” I replied, “I will give them whatever seeds they need to test.” It would turn out that the seeds were an issue that required another meeting of all the drug court officials. For some, it still remained unresolved on August 3rd, the day Dave pled guilty to the charges in exchange for being allowed into the drug court program. As he stood before the judge, there was some confusion with some of the other drug court officials regarding my selling seeds.
The judge looked impatient, “We discussed this already.”
“Yes your honor, but we didn’t actually vote on it,” one of the drug court officials in attendance said.
The judge pursed her lips in frustration, “Does your wife put out a catalog, Mr. Shuck?”
Dave dodged the question slightly, “She sells the seeds on her website, your Honor, and the seeds are all listed there.” He put his head back down and stared at his shoes.
“Fine, fine. She understands she must submit any seeds for testing upon request and we’ve discussed this enough and agreed. It’s done.” The judge then took Dave’s guilty plea and directed him to report to the program on Friday, August 7th. It would later be delayed a week due to a scheduling conflict. Dave first official day of drug court was Friday, August 14th, 2009.
We had officially been accepted into one of the most difficult, intensive, and long-term drug diversion programs in the country. If Dave could complete it successfully, the charges against him would be dropped and his records sealed. In 16 months, possibly more, possibly less, Dave would walk away from this with a clean slate and no felony conviction.
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