Justice served: A Missouri man is free after serving 19 years of a life sentence for selling pot.

In 1996, Jeff Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison for selling marijuana. On September 1, 2015, he was finally released.

Photo via Free Jeff Mizanskey/Facebook.


When Mizanskey was convicted, Missouri law allowed anyone who could be considered a "persistent drug offender" to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Since Mizanskey had already been convicted of two drug offenses, he was sent away for life.

After nearly 20 years behind bars, his family was shocked and thrilled in May when they heard that Governor Jay Nixon had decided to commute his sentence to include the possibility of parole.

They were even more thrilled when parole was almost immediately granted.

"There's probably not enough words to describe how awesome it was and amazing of a day it was to get my dad back," Chris Mizanskey, Jeff's son, told Upworthy.

Jeff and Chris MIzanskey. Photo via Free Jeff Mizanskey/Facebook.

"It really did take the times to change, and people to start realizing that marijuana wasn't the evil drug they made it out to be."

Chris credits the the successful legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington, and petition drives held by groups in Missouri for helping change public attitudes about marijuana, persuading lawmakers to support his father's release.

Mizanskey's original sentence was highly unusual for his crime, even by the often-draconian standards of drug convictions in many U.S. states.

Photo via Free Jeff Mizanskey/Facebook.

A clemency petition written by Mizanskey's lawyers notes that, while Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to sell seven pounds of marijuana, the "leader of an international organization importing and distributing multi-ton shipments," was sentenced to only eight years in prison.

It goes on to mention that the subject of the "biggest maritime marijuana arrest on the West Coast," was sentenced to 10 years, and released after serving only four.

Despite the increased support for criminal justice reform from policymakers, drug offenders continue to turn up in prisons at alarming rates.

A report from the FBI cites drug abuse violations as the single highest arrest category in the United States, with over 1.5 million arrests in 2012.

As of July 2015, drug offenders were the single highest subpopulation in federal prisons, nearly triple the next highest category.

A spokesperson for Governor Nixon's office declined to comment on whether the governor would be issuing more sentence commutations to non-violent drug offenders.

Now that he's free, Mizanskey plans to advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

"He's going to advocate for legalization. He doesn't want anyone else to be stuck in his situation," Chris said.

"No one really does belong in jail for a plant."

In the meantime, his family is overjoyed to have him back after the long struggle to free him.

Jeff meeting his great-granddaughter for the first time. Photo via Free Jeff Mizanskey/Facebook.

"He'll be here the rest of his life and the rest of mine, and that's the best thing in the world," said Chris.

And the celebration doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

"Oh my goodness, I think he's ate so much food we're going to have to go join a gym."

More

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Wikipedia

Women in country music are fighting to be heard. Literally. A study found that between 2000 and 2018, the amount of country songs on the radio by women had fallen by 66%. In 2018, just 11.3% of country songs on the radio were by women. The statistics don't exist in a vacuum. There are misogynistic attitudes behind them. Anyone remember the time radio consultant Keith Hill compared country radio stations to a salad, saying male artists are the lettuce and women are "the tomatoes of our salad"...? Air play of female country artists fell from 19% of songs on the radio to 10.4% of songs on the radio in the three years after he said that.

Not everyone thinks that women are tomatoes. This year's CMA Awards celebrated women, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles saw the opportunity to bring awareness to this issue and "inspire conversation about country music's need to play more women artists on radio and play listings," as Nettles put it on her Instagram. She did it in a uniquely feminine way – by making a fashion statement that also made a statement-statement.

Keep Reading Show less
popular