My friend Daniel Muessig went to prison today.
A former criminal defense attorney himself, he sold cannabis in Pennsylvania, a state where it’s legal. But it’s still illegal federally, and now he’s spending the next 5 years of his life in a cage, torn from his family. He left me the letter below to share with you. They are his parting words. Share them with anyone who still doesn’t understand how the War on Drugs is destroying lives.
To hear the whole story of what happened to him, listen to my interview with Dan, or read one of the articles linked below the letter.
To all free people,
By the time you read this I’ll be inside a federal prison for the first day of my five year sentence for cannabis trafficking.
The last few weeks have been a dystopic and sickening blur as I sought to wind down what was left of my life as a nominally free man.
Tonight will be the last night I sleep next to my wife in several years and tomorrow will be the last time we kiss, touch, or hold one another until I’m free or COVID restrictions cease, an unlikely prospect given the rapacious and adaptable nature of the virus and the utter recalcitrance of the staff to be properly vaccinated. My prison is in “Let’s Go Brandon” country and little as I like Biden I at least agree people should be vaccinated.
This small digression was to provide context for why I will most likely pass my first few weeks to a month inside in quarantine, unable to leave my dorm, obtain commissary, or interact with my new environment. I probably won’t have access to much else save a bunk and a few rancid meals a day until such time as I’m deemed fit to enter the compound and begin my prison life in earnest. The fact I’m vaxxed and double boosted is meaningless although it may keep me alive through the inevitable multiple COVID cases I will be infected with during my sojurn in the human petri dish sans medical care that is prison in America.
My release date will be almost 5 years to the day I walk in, whenever they bother to update it.
Now my personal space will be truncated to a bunk. I will answer largely to a number, stand to be counted, wear only a uniform, and have my day subject to the whim and will of staff, guards, and counselors.
My life in any sense one would want to live it is over for quite a while.
Some people find meaning in this suffering. They rise above it and forge an architecture of righteousness and purpose. Others, poisoned by the assaultive nature of confinement and its incessant aggressions, humiliations, depredations, and losses oscillate between depression and rage, their souls brittle and unable to ever embark any meaningful joys or salutory impulses like patience or peace. The former exit emboldened with a mission to do good. The latter with a wish to die.
I don’t know which I’ll be. I know which I aspire to. But any prediction smacks of the premature.
I can only do what every convict with a release date can do: take it day by day.
For how many days? I do not know.
I don’t know the future. I do know pain.
I’ve experienced agony behind this process that I cannot adequately describe. My abilities fall so short to convey the terror, rage, helplessness, loss, and stultifying, suicidal depression that takes hold of one when a Damoclean sword hangs over one’s head for years on end.
My wife and I strove so mightily to create a new life for ourselves. Away from the risk and pain of my previous life and line of work.
There were some beautiful moments inside of that interstitial fever dream of a life.
We tried to adopt a child. We stood in the high desert Mesa near Taos and hugged narrow mountain passes to siesta at Alpine lakes.
We smoked chopper joints at the rocky Maine coast and watched the spray break on the gray ziggaraut of rock that jutted like an alien edifice or battlement, crenelated and speckled with tidal pools suspended at heights far above the rolling floor of green glassed thunder that leapt at impact.
We saw seals roost at the coves in La Jolla and watched a technicolor sun paint the palms each night.
We sat on a loamy berm above Algiers Point New Orleans with colorful overpainted Queen Anne’s and shotgun bungalows lifted four feet off the dusty ground and watched Oil Tankers and and barges wend their way down the placid, muddied, riverine highway of the Mississippi.
The copper adobe azure sky with Pueblo Terra Cotta of an Indian village outside of Santa Fe and the black glass glacis of the stratotowers of Midtown Manhattan.
We went everywhere COVID would let us post Vax because we knew on some base, elemental level that our world was fragile. One phone call would end it like the Death Star’s laser pulverizing Alderaan.
And one humid night after a mundane day in what would going to be a beautiful life that call came.
We lost our child to be, our sanity, peace, hope, and future.
My refusal to cooperate is well documented. We don’t have to masticate that morsel again.
Instead I want you to know that my mother felt frail when I hugged her goodbye and she shook when she wept. She felt leaflike in my arms. Her 300lb son hugging her 90lb frame while we both sobbed.
My father cried in a way I’d never seen him do in my entire 40 years. His grief so raw and seismic that it almost separated my feet from the ground when it pulsed like orange magma from steaming crater.
I didn’t want to cry after I left them. I wanted to die. I never wanted to see that again and know I caused it. But I did. This did.
My wife and I passed our last night in loving embrace. Whispering our dreams to each other. Things many of you take for granted. Peace. Freedom. Hope. A chance to be together again. I haven’t left her side since 2003 for more than a few months on tour and now I will be gone years.
The gods gave Odysseus and Penelope an eternal night at one point. But no delphic deities touched here. Ours ends at dawn.
She’s my world. And I’m leaving her.
She should have my presence and protection. My love and attention. Instead I leave her with a tear spattered kiss and depart.
I met some of the fellas and said goodbye.
We hugged and slapped backs.
Til the next time, we said. We joked about past travails… the bum deals and the near misses. The fast money and the teeth cracking Ls.
I on boarded a rapid fire stream of advice about prison life as they imparted their wisdom and my friend called from Otisville.
Get your Pax # he said.
112# gets you on the payphone. You’ll be quarantined. Stay level.
He said one day we’d be cracking lobsters next to our wives and eating babka for dessert.
I won’t see or hear from him for years. We’d spoken nearly every day since 2019. He’s been in since 2020.
Before I left one friend said:
Thank you. Thank you for keeping me free. You know what you did. And it’s appreciated.
I said it was my pleasure. And it is.
I didn’t do what I did to buck authority.
I didn’t do it to be a gangster or want to be one.
I didn’t do it to burnish a rep.
I did it for love.
I’m not a hero. I’m a crook. Your parents are heroes. Doctors are heroes. People who house the homeless are heroes. Democracy activists and community organizers are heroes. Not me. .
What I did is the baseline of what a decent human being should do.
I didn’t emmiserate the next person so as to diminish my own fear or pain.
I could never do to another person what was done to me here.
No one else’s wife or mother or father or brother should have to feel like this.
No one else should be sitting in the bedroom in these scant predawn hours so wracked with grief and stress that sleep is a fantastic myth for the nth night running writing their farewell missive to the world, physically ill from sadness, loss, and trepidation.
I look at our wall art, our pillows, and most of all her and I know that I won’t be here for YEARS and I die inside. Each heartbeat is poison pain.
But I could never make anyone trade with me. So I will go. My fate is sealed.
I love the people I saved. Those whom I’m close with and those I never will speak to again. I can one day sleep again knowing that they are free no matter what happened to me.
And although all I want is to be with my wife again for just one more night I also understand I could never be with her at peace knowing my freedom was purchased by the incarceration of others.
Love of humanity. Love of good. Love of my family. Love of an ideal that should be followed even if others break it.
To inform was based in fear. It’s opposite was always based in love.
Remember me well,
I will miss the world fiercely,
But most of all I’ll miss my wife, she is my world.
When I ran away from that raid lurching to freedom I just wanted to see her one more time.
And now as I say goodbye to her and depart for captivity my wish is unaltered.
“Just let me see her one more time….just one more time….I have to make it….one more time.”
Till that time,
Dan has asked people to do just one thing, which is to sign this pledge: No Pardons, No Votes. http://pardonsnow.com Agitate your elected officials. Tell them to legalize cannabis (and all drugs) and pardon cannabis (and all drug) prisoners.
Note: I do this abolitionist/anti-prohibition work in my spare time, and it costs a lot in child care money. If you want to help me keep doing it, please consider sending a tip on PayPal, supporting me on Patreon, or sending some diapers for my baby from my Amazon registry. I’m a grad student and mother of two trying to fight against the devastation of the Drug War—every little bit helps.
Other places to find me on the internet ranting about drug policy, criminal justice reform, capitalism, psychedelics and anthropology:
⇨ Bread & Poppies Podcast
More on Dan:
The ad that made Dan famous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_iaugcJW7Q