The $250,000 Joint


A single joint smoked by Amir Varick Amma cost him an additional 5 years in prison, and taxpayers roughly $250,000.

March 29, 2010 |

In 1992 Anthony Williams, now known as Amir Varick Amma, was sentenced to 25 years to life for a non-violent drug offense under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Amir was convicted of two felonies, the worst of which was the sale of 2 ounces of cocaine in Albany County. Amir was badly assaulted by the police when he refused to give up his accomplices. His refusal to cooperate guided Judge Keegan to sentence him to 12 and a half years to life on each charge, meaning he had to serve 25 years. Most judges would have incorporated the two charges together, resulting in a 12-and-a-half-year sentence. But Keegan was a “hang ’em high” judge, part of a tightly knit crew of upstate judges that dished out extraordinary sentences for drug offenders.

Amir challenged his conviction, but lost every legal challenge he pursued. On the outside, Amir’s greatest supporter was his mother Queen Nazimova Varick. Over the years she fought tooth and nail to get her son out of prison. She joined the Mothers of the NY Disappeared, a leading activist group that fought the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws for many years. She was suffering from several ailments, including cancer, but she never gave up hope that her son would return home to her, although his continued incarceration made her healing process all the more difficult.

In 2004, the legislature passed some incremental Rockefeller reforms that would help individuals like Amir who were sentenced to extraordinary amounts of time. Amir filed an application only to be denied. The judge could not even address his motion because he had been busted for smoking a joint while in prison. For this they gave Amir 60 days in solitary confinement and took away his merit time, rendering him ineligible for judicial relief under the new reforms of 2004.

Activists quickly rallied together to seek justice for Amir, but to no avail. Amir then filed for executive clemency, but his application was denied by Gov. Paterson. Amir did not give up hope. In 2009, under the new Rockefeller reforms that were championed by Gov. Paterson, Amir was finally granted his freedom.

On March 23, 2010, after 19 years in prison, Amir was released. He came by my office and I hugged him. I shared a laugh with him when he showed me a check he had received, issued by the prison from their parole release funds in the amount of 83 cents. What the hell was he suppose to do with that check, I asked.

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3 thoughts on “The $250,000 Joint

  1. In order to provide the Prison Industrial Complex:
    (1) American Legal System Is Corrupt Beyond Recognition
    Judge Tells Harvard Law School
    By Geraldine Hawkins March 7, 2003
    http://www.geocities.com/three_strikes_legal/corrupt_legal_system.htm
    (2) Karen Heller: A messed-up justice system Jun. 9, 2008
    http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/20080609_A_messedup_justice_system.html
    (3) Eve Pell on America’s Culture of Punishment Apr 24, 2009 on Cruel and Unusual
    By Dr. Anne-Marie Cusac, Yale University
    http://www.truthdig.com/arts_cultur/item/20090424_eve_pell_on_americas_culture_of_punishment/
    (4) The prison industry has a perverse incentive to keep the inmate population growing. Make it compete. By Van Jones 04.24.06,
    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2006/0424/034.html–
    The New World: a Prisoner Breeding Nation of North America.

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  2. I could write a book on this, but people need to inform themselves and become educated about what is really going on.

    First, The Myth of the Rule of Law, by Dr. John Hasnas:
    http://faculty.msb.edu/hasnasj/GTWebSite/MythWeb.htm

    Second, Jury rights and powers:
    http://emporium.turnpike.net/P/ProRev/juries.htm

    http://nowscape.com/fija/_abhope.htm

    Your vote is rarely effective due to the dilution factor. Once realized, your rightful power as a juror is not diluted. One juror in 12 can alter the outcome of a trial. How many injustices could be avoided if this were put to use? Bad laws, crooked prosecutors, and corrupt judges can be set back on their heels by educated jurors using their power wisely and discreetly. If prosecutors became afraid of always having a jury with one or more informed jurors, prosecutorial tactics would change in a heartbeat.

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