A New Hope: The Amazing Journey to Free Jeff Mizanskey


Jeff Mizanskey’s story is simply amazing. It is a story of tragedy, despair, hope, triumph and a new hope for cannabis law reformers. The tragedy of a man spending more than two decades locked in a cage for selling cannabis hurts the soul of everyone with a soul. The despair of a man sentenced to die behind bars for marijuana as a legislative bill designed to free him dies in a state legislature. The hope of freedom after thousands of people urged a Midwestern governor to do the right thing. The triumph of a man, sentenced unjustly, smile the biggest possible smile upon emerging free from prison into the loving arms of family, friends and supporters. The stranger than fiction story then evolves into a new hope for freedom, as a man wrongly caged immediately becomes an advocate to prevent anyone else from suffering the same unjust fate.

Mianskey’s plight captivated people around the globe; his release viewed more than 6 million times on Facebook alone:

The Riverfront Times, one of the first (if not the first) media outlets to publicize Jeff’s case, has a great rundown of the man’s long, strange trip. I recommend that everyone read the entire piece as it really captures the emotion and hard work that went into securing Jeff’s release.

From Jeff’s fight with the prison roaches:

“I put some baby oil in a paper cup and stuck a little piece of food, something sweet, in the middle,” Mizanskey says. “And I placed that cup on a shelf and roaches would go in it, but then got stuck. When it was full, I put them in the toilet. I’d say about three or four hundred roaches a day.”

To his battle against becoming a “drug mule” that culminated in dealers beating him because he wouldn’t smuggle any drugs for them. Following the beating, Jeff was punished because he wouldn’t finger the attackers:

“I didn’t snitch, so the guys who beat me up knew I was OK, but they still wanted me to do their drug-muling thing,” says Mizanskey. He again declined the invitation — not only did he risk more time in solitary if he was caught, but, at the time, he still figured that he had to somehow have some chance at parole. He couldn’t jeopardize that. (Emphasis mine)

Cruelly sentenced to life in prison, Jeff didn’t want to ruin a potential chance of parole, I can’t say for certain that I would have managed the same hopefulness. How easy it would have been to give into the despair, to wallow in the utter unfairness of his situation. Then Jeff would suffer even more despair when politicians let him down, but then he was granted parole and he finally triumphed, emerging from prison, finally, a free man:

At the front of the crowd was Chris Mizanskey, the inmate’s 37-year-old son, who had become the de facto family spokesman over the past two years. Mizanskey walked through the metal detector, no longer a prisoner, and hugged him. Both men cried as family and supporters applauded. And more family members held their arms open for Mizanskey: his older son Robbie, his brother Mike and many more.

To show the true heart of the man, and the new hope he helps represent for Drug War reformers, Mizanskey immediately talked about the need to end cannabis prohibition and implement prison reform. KMBC.com reported:

He said he plans to focus on issues like prison reform and legalizing marijuana in Missouri.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to get this legalized. Nobody deserves to be in there for marijuana,” he said. “I’ll be going around talking to a lot of people. I don’t know if I’ll always be politically correct, but I know that it’ll be coming from my heart.”

He said there’s a lot of people in prison serving long sentences for what he feels are lesser crimes, while he sees child molesters get released.

After 15 years in the Drug War reform movement, I have certainly learned to appreciate victories of all sizes and important events that can help us convey the harms prohibition has brought upon good, nonviolent people. Even from afar in Oregon, I haven’t appreciated any victory any greater than the release of Jeff Mizanskey in my birth state of Missouri, it ranks right along with electoral victories that legalized cannabis in states across our nation. Jeff’s case personifies the failure of the War on Drugs and I am confident that his story will help us educate average voters about the need to legalize and regulate cannabis across the country.

My sincere thanks to Jeff’s family, his attorney Dan Viets, Show-Me Cannabis and everyone that worked for his release. With this type of dedication, along with our movement’s momentum, hopefully the Show-Me State will continue showing the rest of the country that regulating marijuana is a much better policy than prohibition by legalizing marijuana as soon as 2016.

Jeff’s family has set up a GoFundMe page, overseen by his lawyer Dan Viets, to ensure that every dollar goes to Jeff. Please consider a donation. Every dollar makes a difference.

Featured photo credit: Sedalia Democrat 




Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.