I’m an ex­am­ple of state’s un­nec­es­sary im­pris­on­ments

The Arizona Republic - - Opinions - Your Turn Stephanie Troy Guest colum­nist Stephanie Troy served a six-year sen­tence in the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions and was re­leased in July 2018. Reach her at [email protected]

In re­cent months a num­ber of re­ports — one from the ACLU and a se­ries from FWD.us — have con­firmed what I have long known to be true: Ari­zona has a bloated, ex­pen­sive prison sys­tem filled with too many peo­ple who have com­mit­ted non­vi­o­lent of­fenses.

Women have been par­tic­u­larly hurt by this sys­tem. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent FWD.us re­port, the num­ber of women in prison has dou­bled since 2000 — largely due to de­ci­sions to send more women to prison for low-level drug and prop­erty crimes.

But I don’t need data or re­ports to tell me this is true. I was one of those women in prison for a drug crime, and I re­cently fin­ished serv­ing a six-year sen­tence in Ari­zona pris­ons with too many other women just like me.

By 2011, my teenage drug use had blown up into a full-on ad­dic­tion. My mar­riage to a con­trol­ling, abu­sive man fi­nally ended, and my ex-hus­band got cus­tody of our three chil­dren. I was not in my right mind at the time, and since then have deeply re­gret­ted ever los­ing hold of my kids.

At the same time, I look back and have to ad­mit that I was des­per­ately in need of help. The di­vorce sent me on an even deeper down­ward spi­ral. By the time I got ar­rested in 2013, my whole world re­volved around metham­phetamine and other peo­ple who used it and could pro­vide it to me.

Though I was caught with only 9.7 grams of metham­phetamine — the weight of less than two nick­els — Ari­zona’s manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tenc­ing laws re­quired that I re­ceive a six-year prison sen­tence. If I had pos­sessed just 0.8 grams less of drugs, I would not have been sub­ject to a manda­tory sen­tence.

That manda­tory sen­tence ap­plied de­spite my mi­nor and non­vi­o­lent crim­i­nal record (two mis­de­meanors for petty theft), my prior em­ploy­ment record as a nurse, my clear need for treat­ment, and my lim­ited role in and profit from the of­fense. I feel only sor­row and re­morse that I was ever in­volved with drugs. I de­served to be pun­ished. But I thought that get­ting such a long and manda­tory prison sen­tence solely based on my drug quan­tity was ar­bi­trary and un­fair, con­sid­er­ing all the other facts of my case.

Some think all drug of­fend­ers in Ari­zona pris­ons are the same — vi­o­lent car­tel mem­bers with se­ri­ous crim­i­nal records. Just be­cause Ari­zona is a bor­der state and drug traf­fick­ing is a se­ri­ous prob­lem here does not mean that ev­ery drug of­fender is a king­pin, a ma­jor dealer, or shoot­ing peo­ple while sell­ing drugs. I was not a saint, but I also was not El Chapo.

Nei­ther were most of the women I met in prison. Most were a lot like me: they strug­gled with drug ad­dic­tion, had sur­vived do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, played small roles in drug op­er­a­tions to fund their own ad­dic­tions, and yet re­ceived long, manda­tory prison sen­tences. We knew we were guilty. We just wanted pun­ish­ments that fit our crimes and were tai­lored to our back­grounds and needs. Many of us won­dered how our years in prison made peo­ple back home any safer.

The Ari­zona Leg­is­la­ture should get rid of the manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tenc­ing laws that have filled our pris­ons with non­vi­o­lent and low-level of­fend­ers. Data and jus­tice de­mand it.

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