For Second Year, John W. Perry Fund Helps Students with Drug Convictions Afford College 9/24/04

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One of the uglier manifestations of drug prohibition is a measure authored by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) which bars students from being able to receive federal financial aid for specified periods of time if they have a drug conviction, no matter how minor. Known as the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision, the measure became law in 1998. According to the US Department of Education, since the law went into effect more than 153,000 persons have lost eligibility to receive student loans, grants, even work-study jobs to further their education.

According to Souder and other supporters of the HEA anti-drug provision, the measure is designed to deter drug use among college students. The provision's deterrent effect is unquantifiable, but what is beyond doubt is its deleterious impact on people who have had drug convictions and are trying to advance their education and thus, their life prospects.

In response to Souder's law, DRCNet Foundation, the publisher of this newsletter, formed the John W. Perry Fund (http://www.raiseyourvoice.com/perryfund/) in 2002 to provide limited scholarships to students whose academic careers are threatened by the HEA anti-drug provision. The Fund has so far awarded 14 scholarships to 10 students around the country, and continues to do so as funds become available for it.

John Perry was a New York City policeman who lost his life participating in the rescue effort at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. He was also an ardent civil libertarian who worked with the ACLU and the Libertarian Party as well as with New York City drug reformers. "My son encouraged everyone to continue studying and opposed the provision that denied aid to potential students," said Patricia Perry, John Perry's mother, an active member of the New York Civil Liberties Union and supporter of the Perry Fund. "I believe he would be pleased that a fund bearing his name is being used to encourage support for others to increase their learning," she told DRCNet.

Now in its second year of disbursing scholarships to needy students, the fund recently announced new scholarships for four students and renewed a scholarship for one other. Some are typical college students, some are non-traditional older students, and one is an extremely untraditional student, a former long-time homeless crack user who reports acing all his classes last semester.

This semester's scholarship recipients are:

  • Michael Mayer, 19, Middle Tennessee State University. A native Tennesseean, Mayer dreamt of attending a liberal arts college far from home and began taking classes at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. But after being charged as a peripheral player in dormitory drug sales and being convicted of a marijuana misdemeanor, that dream came to an end. With the help of a $475 scholarship from the Perry Fund (and a full-time job at Outback Steakhouse), Mayer can now continue his college education.
  • Nicholas Haderlie, 21, University of Wyoming. Convicted of possession of less than three ounces of marijuana, Haderlie served four months in jail and is currently on probation as he attends school and works full-time at the Howard Johnson Inn. A $475 Perry Fund scholarship will help him stay in school until his financial aid eligibility is restored in January.
  • Sandra Krizka, 29, Northwestern Oklahoma State history major. The freshman mother of three lost financial aid eligibility after being convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession. She received a $475 Perry Fund scholarship to help her get through this semester, after which she will once again be eligible for financial aid.
  • Stephan Hansen, 36, Brunswick Community College (North Carolina) political science major. The married father of six lost financial aid eligibility after being arrested for misdemeanor possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Hansen's wife is a school teacher, but with six kids, he has had to take a full-time job at Pizza Hut to make ends meet. A $475 Perry Fund scholarship will help make it possible for him to stay in school until his financial aid eligibility is restored in April 2005.
  • Donald Miller, 48, York College (Queens, New York City) environmental science major. After spending two decades on the streets of New York, homeless, suffering from schizophrenia with a consequent addiction to crack cocaine, Miller is barred for life from receiving federal financial aid because a string of crack convictions he racked up while living on the street. Now in his third semester at York, Miller has been supported by the Perry Fund all the way, receiving two $2,000 scholarships during the 2003-2004 school year and another installment of $842 (state financial aid kicked in to cover part of the cost) in time for the fall semester.

"I can never get financial aid for the rest of my life. I wouldn't be in school at all if it weren't for the Perry Fund," said a grateful Miller, adding that he had achieved a 4.0 grade point average last semester. With a course load this semester consisting of chemistry, sociology, music, and cultural diversity, Miller expects to maintain that average, he told DRCNet.

For Michael Mayer, the Perry Fund scholarship represented not a last chance but a chance to slightly improve his lot. "With the scholarship, I was able to move out of my mom's house and try to be like other college students," he told DRCNet. "I was able to move close to campus and not have to commute 40 miles. The scholarship money also removed a lot of stress," he said. "My mom and I don't have a lot of money, and every little bit helps."

"Isn't that crazy," exclaimed Stephan Hansen, remarking on losing financial aid eligibility over a joint. "I never heard of that financial aid thing," he told DRCNet, "it's almost like discrimination." Fortunately for Hansen, he had a financial aid officer who had heard of the Perry Fund. "I didn't even know I had lost my aid until I saw her, but she knew about the Fund. It was the greatest thing I've ever heard of."

At least two of the recipients are active in drug reform. Now, after suffering the consequences of a drug bust, they have all the more reason. "I have been active in drug reform for several years now," Krizak told DRCNet. "I contact my representatives regarding different issues, and I also spread the word to raise awareness, and I sign petitions regularly," she said. "Unfortunately, I don't have any money to contribute, though."

"I was a dues-paying member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.norml.org) when I was arrested," said Haderlie. "After I was convicted and before I went to jail, I was helping to try to charter a Wyoming NORML chapter, but my membership expired while I was in jail, and I don't have the money to renew it," he told DRCNet. In the meantime, Haderlie said, he is getting active with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org) and a campus-based progressive activist group.

"Of course we are only able to help a tiny fraction of the would-be students affected by the drug provision," said DRCNet executive director David Borden, who founded the Perry Fund. "But the Perry Fund is more than a scholarship program," Borden continued, "It's a statement. The Perry Fund is a provocative, attention-grabbing way of drawing attention to the issue and to the drug war as a whole, while helping young people who have been harmed by the drug war and bringing some of them into the issue. Giving out scholarships makes an impression in a way that goes beyond mere advocacy."

The Fund's kickoff forum/fundraiser, held in March 2002, succeeded in drawing such attention. The event, which featured former ACLU executive director as keynote speaker as well as Patricia Perry and others, was covered by Black Entertainment Television's Nightly News program, the Associated Press, Long Island Newsday and other venues. Time will tell what the Perry Fund's new ventures achieve.

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Issue #355, 9/24/04 Editorial: The Moral Choice is Clear | With New Sentencing Legislation Pending in Congress, Church Leaders Urge an End to Mandatory Minimums | Patients, Doctors, Supporters Head to Washington to Demand Rescheduling of Marijuana as a Medicine | For Second Year, John W. Perry Fund Helps Students with Drug Convictions Afford College | DRCNet Interview: Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate | DRCNet Book Review: "Patients in The Crossfire: Casualties in The War On Medical Marijuana," by Americans For Safe Access | Action Alert: Still Time to Contact Judiciary Committee Members About HEA Drug Provision | Newsbrief: Schwarzenegger Signs Syringe Access Bill, Vetoes NEP Bill | Newsbrief: Schwarzenegger Vetoes Bill Barring High School Drug Testing | Newsbrief: New Jersey Needle Exchange Bill on Fast Track, Passes First Hurdle | Newsbrief: Former Child Actor Macauley Culkin Busted for Drugs in All-Too-Typical Cave-In to Police Search Request | Newsbrief: Montel Williams Show Brings Medical Marijuana Issue to the Masses | Newsbrief: Bush Warns of Canada Drug Threat, Whistles Past Afghan Opium Fields | Newsbrief: Guatemala Seeks More Anti-Drug Money from United States | Newsbrief: Decades of Colombian Drug War Brings... New, More Efficient Drug Organizations | Newsbrief: Narc Hates Free Publicity | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: British Drug Policy Think Tank Says Government Abandoned Planned Heroin Maintenance Expansion | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar
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