Friday, March 23, 2012

The Case of Ray Wilson

Over the past several days, I've enjoyed many simple pleasures. I've slept in my own bed, eaten homemade meals, gone shopping, enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather, and continued to earn a living. Lately those mundane things have been reminding me of Ray Wilson.

For those who don't know, Ray Wilson is a New Jersey resident who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for growing 17 marijuana plants in his back yard (Mr. Wilson has multiple sclerosis and claimed he was growing the plants to help cope with his medical condition). He was arrested after a National Guard helicopter happened to fly over his property and spot the plants.

Since his arrest and conviction, many have petitioned Governor Chris Christie to pardon him. Even the state Senate Judiciary Committee passed a non-binding resolution to have his sentence commuted. But so far the governor hasn't budged, and has stated publicly that he believes Wilson belongs behind bars- going so far as to question whether Wilson even has a medical condition.

I read about this incident a little over a week ago, and it has been nagging me since. Ray Wilson is suffering from a debilitating disease, locked in a cage away from everything he enjoys in what is likely a filthy overcrowded prison. I'm frequently reminded of Wilson when I look through my refrigerator, watch TV, use the computer, or even flip a light switch, because I know that sitting in a cell, he can do none of these things like he used to when he was free.

The injustice is offensive. The details, like the number of plants he was growing or how bad his condition is, are irrelevant- a man is serving a five-year sentence for no good reason. It's alarming that one can be sent to prison at all, let alone for years, for doing something that nobody even directly complained about. What is going on? Why are we paying for this?

The worst part is that this kind of thing is probably far more common than most people believe- Wilson's case is just one that I heard about by chance. Not only does Governor Christie need to pardon Ray Wilson, he needs to pardon every prisoner convicted of non-violent offenses. Yes, all of them. These people need their dignity back, their lives restored, and their records cleared. Making sure peaceful people aren't terrorized by their own government is something we should demand from our elected officials. Any governor who doesn't make this a priority, no matter how well he balances the budget, is neglecting one of his most basic duties. But I don't just blame Governor Christie. I also blame the legislature, the courts, and the people who elect them- including myself. I'm frustrated because I feel I can't do anything about our broken justice system, and I'm pissed that those who can, don't.

Things will only get worse until issues like this become more mainstream, and they won't become more mainstream until we start holding elected officials accountable for the injustice that happens on their watch. Before politicians can be trusted to take care of us in so many other ways that people demand, maybe we should first hold them to the tasks of securing people's rights, leaving peaceful people alone, and seeing that justice is done.

It's probably the most Ray Wilson would ask for.