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."

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather
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While most 10-year-olds are playing Minecraft, riding bikes, or watching YouTube videos, Justin Sather is intent on saving the planet. And it all started with a frog blanket when he was a baby.

"He carried it everywhere," Justin's mom tells us. "He had frog everything, even a frog-themed birthday party."

In kindergarten, Justin learned that frogs are an indicator species – animals, plants, or microorganisms used to monitor drastic changes in our environment. With nearly one-third of frog species on the verge of extinction due to pollution, pesticides, contaminated water, and habitat destruction, Justin realized that his little amphibian friends had something important to say.

"The frogs are telling us the planet needs our help," says Justin.

While it was his love of frogs that led him to understand how important the species are to our ecosystem, it wasn't until he read the children's book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada that Justin-the-activist was born.

Inspired by the book and with his mother's help, he set out on a mission to raise funds for frog habitats by selling toy frogs in his Los Angeles neighborhood. But it was his frog art which incorporated scientific facts that caught people's attention. Justin's message spread from neighbor to neighbor and through social media; so much so that he was able to raise $2,000 for the non-profit Save The Frogs.

And while many kids might have their 8th birthday party at a laser tag center or a waterslide park, Justin invited his friends to the Ballona wetlands ecological preserve to pick invasive weeds and discuss the harms of plastic pollution.

Justin's determination to save the frogs and help the planet got a massive boost when he met legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather

At one of her Roots and Shoots youth initiative events, Dr. Goodall was so impressed with Justin's enthusiasm for helping frogs, she challenged the young activist to take it one step further and focus on plastic pollution as well. Justin accepted her challenge and soon after was featured in an issue of Bravery Magazine dedicated to Jane Goodall.

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