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Feature: Will Foster Back in Prison in Oklahoma, Supporters Mount Campaign to Free Him

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #600)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Will Foster became a poster boy for drug law reform more than a decade ago, when he was sentenced by an Oklahoma court to a nightmarish 93 years in prison for growing marijuana plants to treat his rheumatoid arthritis. National publicity -- indirectly gained for Foster by, publisher of this newsletter -- helped get his sentence reduced to 20 years, and in 2001, he was paroled to California. Now he is back in prison in Oklahoma, charged with violating the terms of his parole, and is likely to remain there until either 2011 or 2015 -- depending on whose interpretation of the state's arcane sentencing laws is followed.

Will Foster
Foster did well in California, sponsored in his parole by "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal. After three years on parole there, California parole officials deemed him rehabilitated and ended his parole. That didn't sit well with Oklahoma parole officials, who argued that under the interstate compact governing parole to other states, it was the state which had sentenced the parolee that should determine when he had discharged his sentence.

"Based on his discharge date, we requested that Foster be put back under supervision," said Milt Gilliam, administrator of Parole and Interstate Services for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. "California indicated they were finished, but we indicated to him that no, we dete\rmine the length of the sentence, as required by our state law."

Oklahoma issued a parole violation warrant for Foster, and, after an encounter with police in California -- he was cited for driving with an Oklahoma license -- he was jailed pending extradition back to Oklahoma. But Foster filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking his freedom in California and won.

"That warrant was thrown out," Gilliam recalled. "We didn't agree with the judge's decision, and our best option was still to get him under supervision, but we were not successful."

Oklahoma parole officials then notified Foster that they had changed his discharge date from 2011 to 2015 and demanded that he sign paperwork to that effect. He refused, and Oklahoma issued another parole violation warrant.

"We sent an explanation to Mr. Foster about the difference in discharge dates," said Gilliam, explaining that the later date was based on the fact that he had earned credits at a different rate than originally stated. But a moment later, Gilliam argued that 2015 had always been his discharge date. "My contention is that the 2011 date and the 2015 date were given to him from the beginning," he said.

"That is complete crap," retorted Foster's partner and primary supporter, Susie Mueller. "All of the original documents we have only mention 2011. This 2015 stuff only came up after they lost that habeas case. They said they made a mistake and they were taking away his good time credit, then they added the additional time. But every document we have says his discharge date is 2011. They went back in and added two fake charges, gave him 18 years, and set his discharge date for 2015, but that isn't in the original documents."

Foster's Oklahoma Department of Corrections offender page suggests that something funny is going on. It shows the four charges Foster was convicted of in 1997 with the latest discharge date of 2011. But a recent addition to the page lists two new counts of cultivation of a controlled substance with a discharge date of 2015. Oddly, though, unlike the four original counts, which show a conviction date of February 27, 1997, the two new counts show no conviction date.

"Before the Department of Corrections can treat a conviction as valid, they have to have a certified copy of the judgment of sentence," said Foster's Oklahoma attorney, Mike Arnett. Arnett declined to comment on the specifics of Foster's case until he could talk to Foster and get his approval.

Oklahoma got another crack at Foster last year, when he and Mueller were arrested by California police after an informant with a grudge against the pair told police Foster was engaged in illegal marijuana cultivation. But Foster was a registered medical marijuana patient, and his grow was within state and local guidelines. After letting Foster sit in the Sonoma County Jail for more than a year, local prosecutors dropped all charges against him and Mueller.

But Foster remained behind bars under the new Oklahoma parole violation warrant. A new writ of habeas corpus was unsuccessful, and late last month, Oklahoma officials arrived at the jail, shackled Foster in a van, and drove him back to Oklahoma. After sitting in the Tulsa County Jail for a week, Foster faced an preliminary hearing to revoke his parole on Tuesday and is now housed in the Oklahoma state prison system.

He will get an administrative hearing sometime in the next one to three months. If administrators revoke his parole, his case then goes to the governor's office. Under Oklahoma law, the governor ultimately decides whether or not to revoke parole.

Foster's supporters are working up a campaign to ask the governor and the parole board to either pardon Foster or commute his sentence. For more information on the campaign, go here.

Lynda Forrester, the parole officer handling Foster's case, declined to speak to the Chronicle. Instead, she referred reporters to the department's public information office, whose Kathy King did attempt to explain what was going on.

"The basis of Foster's parole revocation is that he violated city, state, or federal law, the use or possession of illicit substances, failure to report, and failure to follow the parole officer's directives," she said, reading from documents. "Police in California confiscated 184 marijuana plants, MDMA, and methamphetamine."

Although Foster and Mueller were never charged with possession of MDMA or meth and although the marijuana cultivation charges were dropped because Foster was operating within California's medical marijuana law, parole officials can still use that against him, King said. "That will be presented in revocation hearings," she said.

"The MDMA and meth stuff is a flat-out lie," said Mueller, suggesting strongly that any drugs found in the home -- if any really were -- were "throw-down" drugs placed there by the raiding officers. "We have never seen any MDMA or meth," she said. "We volunteered to take immediate drug tests, but they just laughed at us. There were arrest reports written by three different officers, and each report had the supposed drugs recovered from a different location. They do this to try to discredit the medical marijuana movement, to try to portray us as drug dealers."

When confronted by the discrepancy in release dates, King was unable to explain it. "The official record shows 2015," she said. "I can't answer questions about the stuff on the web site. I don't know where that information comes from."

Unlike Tuesday's preliminary parole revocation hearing, Foster and his attorney will have the opportunity to challenge the evidence and cross examine witnesses at his next hearing. They intend to make the most of it.

In the meantime, Foster remains behind bars, yet another victim of a justice system seemingly operating on petty vengeance and mindless reflex.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

I am also on parole and have been since 2007. It has been made very clear to me that California is "baby-sitting" me. The state I was sentenced in is the state that says if I can and will be released from parole not the state that is "watching" me. My officer has told me that "most people who interstate compact do their full parole time". So for me that means I will not get off parole till 2012. Who cares though, as long as I am being compliant all is well....

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 1:24pm Permalink
borden (not verified)

Or better yet, stick to drug policy, since that's what this forum is for... Posts relating religion to drug policy are fine; posts that are just about religion be they pro or con belong elsewhere...

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Sun, 09/13/2009 - 2:30am Permalink
NativeSonKY (not verified)

That's very strange - in 1985 I was released after serving 6 yr. 3 mo. of a 23 year sentence for Burglary in Kentucky and after 6 months on KY parole I was allowed to relocate to Cali. I was supposed to be on parole at least 4 years. Once I was in CA and had dropped pee for my parole officer 3 times, he saw I was working 3 jobs and wasn't using (that he could tell), so after 4 months he told me "I'm just baby-sitting you, and you are the least of my problems since you work so much and don't show any anti-social tendencies. As long as I don't see your name on a Police call sheet or Court Docket, I don't need to see you anymore. My CA caseload is enough." So, after only being on parole 9 months total out of a possible 4 years I could have been on parole, I walked out and have never been back.

Just last week I walked back into the Parole Officer's office here in Kentucky - to apply for my Gold Seal (reinstatement of citizen's rights). When they asked me the last time I had been arrested it felt good to say "Over 30 years ago", and luckily I haven't even had as much as a ticket since 1981. I just watch myself closely and make sure I don't carry any herb around with me. I hope Mr. Foster will finally get some relief from the system. It is just a vicious circle once you are in their clutches!

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 1:45pm Permalink
maxwood (not verified)

Bible Belt = Tobackgo Belt

Some historians make the point that the punishment-oriented society criticized above grows out of the slave-owner community in which each person had a duty to help all the other slave-owners retain control over their slaves. The Bible was cherry-picked for supportive doctrines which would excuse and affirm this slave-owner society. It happens that the growth of slavery is coincidental with the growing dependence on a few cash crops, of which tobacco and cotton are the most notorious.

Today slavery has transmogrified into a worldwide institution based on drug enslavement of 1.2 billion nicotine addicts, of which over 90% are chronic purchasers of hot burning overdose (usually 700-mg.) cigarettes. Cannabis is the modern equivalent of some Yankee plot to attack someone's cash cow slavery, and the slave-owners stand together in hatefuming opposition to cannabis. Many "allied" industries also stand with Big 2Wackgo, including booze (there is a synergy between nicotine and alcohol which makes many drinkers smoke and vice versa), coffee (if cigarettes disappeared fromn the planet coffee sales might sink 20%, and that's big money). Tobacco also helps junk food addicts avoid gaining weight, so McD's has an interest here.

Sat, 09/12/2009 - 2:51pm Permalink
6uldvnt (not verified)

Someone with poilitical power hates this man for something other than the piss ant charge the he originally got convicted of if all this is happening. Poor guy. Hope this never happens to me or someone I know.

Sun, 09/13/2009 - 1:12am Permalink
Robert Walker (not verified)

At what expense to the taxpayer is the State of Oklahoma persecuting a man who has harmed no one?
This pursuit of a man who has done no harm to society, seems vindictive, and shows the fear of the POLICE STATE that they might be found out. It might be found that the members of the POLICE FORCES are not necessary, and those people could no longer feed at the public trough. They would have to find a real job and become productive members of society.
Thank you,
Robert Walker

Sun, 09/13/2009 - 11:34am Permalink
revolutionary (not verified)

it doesn't have anything to do with religion OR the South. keep in mind that California officials kept Foster imprisoned in California until the Oklahoma police took him away.

it's about MONEY.

the people who own the credit card companies, Sony, General Electric, the radio stations, the oil wells, the tobacco companies...also own the government. they use "taxes", "fines", and "tickets" to steal from us over and over again.

they push alcohol on us because it's a poison that keeps people depressed and malleable (the trick goes back to the destruction of the Native Americans), and pills and medications that keep you numb and unresisting~

i've never met a pothead (i use the term favorably) who isn't down to raise a fist in the air and say, "f*ck that!" when you talk about oppression and injustice.

marijuana makes people relaxed, happy, and pain-free. the rich people can't have that...because happy, strong, confident people don't let you just steal their money, property, and human rights. they don't go down easily, without even a fight.

and unless we're all cowed, afraid, and if not silenced...locked away~ how can the rich steal enough from us to support their lavish lifestyles and coke habits?

Mon, 09/14/2009 - 11:57pm Permalink

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