Journey for Justice reflections
Jodi James & Kay Lee
Last month we told you about the Journey for Justice, Medical Marijuana patients and prison reform advocates traveling by wheelchair and on foot pleading amnesty for sick people and trying to bring an end to the abuse of prisoners in Florida State Prisons. The Journey began at Florida State Prison in Starke on Friday, March 24 and ended in Tallahassee on the Capitol Lawn on Thursday, March 30. The Journey was a great success, gaining support from every town it passed along the way.
I believe it was the afternoon of the fourth day--looking back, the journey seems like one long day, but day four sounds right. There was commotion up ahead. Soon the word came over the radio...a lone drummer was standing vigil along side the road. He couldn't be in Tallahassee, so he made his stand right where he was, beating his drum, welcoming us home.
The Journey for Justice III Florida style is over. Two weeks ago, thirty-some people came together from all over the country. It was a tenuous meeting at first, this relative group of strangers standing on the lawn of one of the worst prisons in the United States. At the gates of Raiford Correctional Institute, we were met by the prison warden, it was our first encounter with law enforcement, but certainly not our last. For several hours we decorated our convoy and gathered our courage. It was to be a long journey through enemy territory.
We had no way of knowing if we were out there alone. Little access to any of our normal methods of communication left us feeling a bit isolated from the rest of you. It's easy when you are rolling at 4 miles an hour through rural America to feel disconnected to anyone but the animals and people you pass on the road. But, God bless the people. Florida law enforcement has been the meanest of the three states the Journey has traveled through, but the support from the people was just as consistent as Ohio and Wisconsin. Not once in the many times we stopped for supplies did the people fail to gather round us and tell us their stories, ask questions or ask for literature. Three of us stopped at one tiny station to gas up on the way home with no signs on the car at all, and were swamped with nearly 20 people wanting to sign the Florida initiative petitions. One convenience store owner came ranting out of his building at us as we parked for lunch beneath the trees: "You can't hand out that trash on my property," he roared. We quietly and truthfully answered, "We are not passing out anything - The people are coming up to ask us for it." He walked back inside and left us alone.
Journey veterans knew what to expect. Tiffany from Texas brought a pillow for her back and walkman CD player. When she got on the scooter, tucked in her pillow and put on the earphones I knew we were ready to roll. The primary caravan consisted of six vehicles--a lead car driven by Mary and Tommy from Arizona, a patient support car driven by Florida activists, the wheelchairs, the command RV pulling the famous Hemp Mobile, a van (donated by Golden Boy Productions in Tennessee) hauling the moving prison cell full of "patient convicts" in striped uniforms, the patient care RV with Brian and Cher from Kentucky, and the rear caution vehicle. Chad, the digital photographer from Ohio let us use his truck as the rear vehicle while he roller bladed the journey and took pictures. We were quite a sight. The caravan was covered with drug war slogans, banners, posters, and photos.....the messages..."medical marijuana now" and "end of the drug war" were loud and clear.
Columbia County was very harsh, threatening to search Ross' truck, to which we just said no. Law enforcement there seemed just as determined to end our journey as the following county, Suwannee, did. When the interdiction team set up roadblocks and dogs at the county line where we had to leave Suwannee County, we eluded their trap by swinging quickly into a motel parking lot. We checked in while the local cops set up observation at either end of the lot and across the street. Kevin made late night phone calls to the journey lawyers, Gary Eddinger and Dick Wilson, and the next morning we began to load up to get out of the county. The cops converged on us in the motel lot, calling our DOT papers "forged," and telling us we were not going on through their county. The patients stood strong, we called him a liar in the nicest way, and were finally told to "get out of here and stay off the road." So we did . . . Walking right into the hands of the Madison county enforcers on the other side of the line who were, thank goodness, very kind. We sure needed the break.
This group of patient warriors rose to every challenge like champions. Although we had worked with law enforcement and the Department of Transportation for over eight weeks securing permits and escorts, the harassment was intense. Although we were told they had no manpower for escorts, they sent as many as seven cars at once to survey us. Using walkie-talkies for communication, we moved through North Florida with military precision. Armed with the constitution and a lot of courage, this rag-tag army of patients and advocates fought the law and won. Stopped over 7 times in 70 miles, we developed a routine when encountering law enforcement. Kevin Aplin and I, permits in hand would jump from the RV when pulled over and aggressively distract the police. The crew would disembark and begin passing out information and talking to the locals about the war and our journey. Each assault by law enforcement strengthened our resolve and tempered us with fire; the stops also educated hundreds of people.
The talents of each crew member quickly rose to the surface, by day 3 we were a team. As though each of us had been evaluated for our strengths and weaknesses, then chosen by providence for this pilgrimage. It became a mission--our objective--Tallahassee and an end to the drug war. Our core crew hailed from around the nation, but the support of Floridians was amazing. Friends of our cause donated vehicles, time, money, food, talents, property--all to meet the needs of the Bushwhackers. At one store, our advanced team was told "Oh, you must be one of those Bushwhackers. We heard you were coming." Locals watched and waved as we passed their homes and businesses, moms with children in tow came to the cell to get information, to walk along side and tell about their husband/brother/father who was in jail. One man from Madison knew God had sent us. He had just walked out of the courthouse after flipping off the prosecutor over a marijuana plea when we appeared. He cried when he saw the proud marijuana smokers, smiling, honking and waving...mylar-backed photos of beautiful buds adorning our parade.
We gathered the day before the march at Tom Brown Park in Tallahassee, directly behind the Women's prison on Capitol Circle. We parked our little moving cell on the hill and everyone lined up with the drums to chant to the women: "If there is no victim, there is no crime. Why are these women doing time?" We could see some inmates tiny in the distance waving white towels(?) in the air, thanking us from afar for caring enough to come. We called out on the megaphone, "All you women over there, we just want you to know we care." When prison guards in a white truck made a direct path to where we stood facing them, we beat our drums in challenge and we looked them straight in the eyes. Just yards from us, they abruptly turned around and went back the way they came.
Then, as it grew dark, we moved to the front gates of the prison to hold our planned candlelight vigil. We lined the little brick wall with candles, and focused our energy on all inside the walls. The rain again picked up, and tired but satisfied that the ladies had heard us, we started back to the caravan parked in the field across the road. That's when the journey suffered its first and only casualty.
Ray "Berry" Kreiger was the third person to cross the road, and would have been safe, except for the petite mal seizure that made him hesitate for the moment it took the little gold car to slide through the rain and plow into him. There was a lot of blood from a head wound, and it was easy to see both legs were broken. Although in shock, all the patients remained calm. We called 911, a couple of us held Ray, others attempted to comfort the hysterical lady who hit him, and some gathered in the vehicles below out of the rain and out of the way, until the cops and ambulance got there and forced us all to back off.
Hostile Officer Knight was on the scene, staring at us with hate-filled eyes, forcing the screaming lady to sit alone in the bent car, snatching Ray's bags from our hands. He is the one who later wrote the report that stated, "While searching for identification, I smelled a strong odor of marijuana emanating from the backpack . . ." One small roach was found wrapped in two layers of baggies. We were lucky it was not more. Our song for Ray's job on all journeys has been, "Roaches, roaches everywhere we go. Let's call Ray Berry: RoachControl!"
I rode wet and cold to Tallahassee Community Hospital in the front of the ambulance not knowing how Ray Berry was doing in the back. The driver just said that although she was going to run the lights and siren, she was going to drive slowly for fear of damaging Ray's legs further. Emergency surgery was done, 33 clamps in his head, one leg in a cast, and the other sporting a torturous device with screws digging into the bone. And Ray Berry slept fitfully through the night. The following day, we stopped traffic for nearly two hours as our parade wound its enthusiastic way to the capitol, accompanied by a crowd of supporters from colleges in Tallahassee and Georgia. We called out long and clear with perfect rhythm, "We don't know but we been told, Brother Jeb ain't got no soul... We don't know but we been told, he wants to put us in the hole. . .We are not criminals! All we want is our medicine! STOP THE DRUG WAR! Now!" People were bouncing in their cars to the beat as they drove by, and I bet some of them were still humming when they got home.
When we finished on the capitol lawn, some of us went to the hospital to see Ray. The first nurse we came to told us that the cops were there to arrest him for the joint found in his boot. The two arresting officers were trying valiantly to talk to their supervisor on the phone, begging him not to make them arrest Ray, but Sgt. Blankenship of the Tallahassee P.D. demanded that Ray be physically brought to his jail. There were tears in one officer's eyes and the nurses were stunned. For one joint and one roach, they removed Ray's catheter and transported him on a stretcher by ambulance to the county jail.The officers were more than kind, leading us there and showing us where to stand to get video footage of them unloading Ray's stretcher and entering the jail. Even with everything happening to him, Ray Berry smiled and gave his traditional salute, one hand held up like holding a joint. We called through the night to make sure they knew he had seizures, to make sure he had medicine, to make sure they knew that thousands of people were watching. Finally, after midnight, they moved him to a medical cell. They begged us to get him out, saying they were not fit to care for him, but there was nothing we could do until morning. His bond hearing was at 8:30 the following morning, and we were able to film the prosecutor saying that she could not believe the police had brought him there. Ray, in absentia, was released under his own recognizance and the judge said he would include orders for Ray not to use marijuana. The prosecutor said, "Your honor, he is not from here and the laws on medical marijuana are not the same everywhere. I recommend the order be not to use where illegal." The judge approved it and it was over.
Ask the courageous patients why they'd do another one tomorrow and most of them can't put it into words. It is healing and empowerment for them. It raises the their spirits and gives them hope to see how much support is out there for us. The obstacles we face make us more determined than ever to risk everything to put a face to the pain, to help our fellow man understand that bad laws hurt good people. I believe our courage commitment, honesty and passion touches the people we meet on the road in a special way, and awakens the compassion in even some of the hardest hearts. There is good work being done here, and I hope those involved in the movement of truth will continue to support the sick among us who are fighting for their own lives as they stand up for the rights and freedom of every American. Better yet, come on the next journey with us.
It was scary, it was exciting and it was empowering. The people who made this journey possible are my heroes. They changed my life, and even as we make plans for a bigger journey, I am scared. We stood up and definitely stood out (you tend to do that at 3 miles per hour in a pot parade). Tens of thousands of people heard us proclaim "We are not criminals," we did not sneak though their towns - we boldly declared "justice and liberty for all." We planted a lot of seeds. Our e-mails are packed with messages and people are calling. We are still receiving messages about all the media coverage that we received. It was a very costly journey. Vehicles broke down, the rain came, still we journeyed on.
The Journey for Justice III is over. The memory of Mary with pot leaves in her hair remains. The man with 17 acres in North Florida who gave Eddie the hemp necklace will never forget us. He has a "Legalize It" sign in his yard and he knows he isn't alone anymore. We got letters from the Federal Prison for Women in Tallahassee today. They heard the bullhorn (we love you Cowboy) and they said it gave them hope.
I think it is all about hope--this journey gave people hope. The cars honked and cheered, drivers waved and gave thumbs up as they passed the journey. A small group of strangers on a mission, we saw a vision and we pursued it together, we overcame the obstacles and we became friends. We planted hope. J4J III is over.... still we journey on.
If you'd like to wish Ray Berry well, he'd love to hear from you.
Ray "Berry" Kreiger
481 Van Buren Street
Mansfield, Ohio 44905
Journey Videos will be at:
Original Journey for Justice pages:
The Florida Prisoners' Page:
If you would like to help defray the costs for those who marched over 160 miles loudly advocating for EVERYONE'S rights, send your contribution to:
2613 Larry Court
Melbourne, FL 32935
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |