JEFFERSON CITY – After 21 years behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, Jeff Mizanskey is now a free man.
Mizanskey, 62, of Sedalia, was released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center early Tuesday morning with a crowd of family, friends and members of the media ready to greet him. His supporters wore black shirts with the Show-Me Cannabis logo and white lettering that said #WeFreedJeffMizanskey 09-01-2015. Mizanskey wore a similar shirt that said “I’m Jeff and I’m Free.”
“It’s been kind of like a dream. Everybody in there’s been asking me, my family, if I’m excited, and I said I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground,” Mizanskey said of the days leading up to his release. “I’ve been through courts and thought things would change that should’ve changed, some of the issues I’ve brought up, and nothing ever happened. I had a lot of high hopes so I’ve taught myself not to keep those high hopes up so I keep them all the way down. Really everything’s hit me right now. I’m trying to keep everything in check.”
He had been sentenced to serve life without parole under Missouri’s “prior and persistent drug offender” law, although he had not been previously convicted of a felony other than marijuana law violations.
“It was cruel and unusual. It’s a shame,” Mizanskey said of his sentence. “There’s people in here that are in here for molesting children, and I’ve seen them come, go and come again. That’s what hurt me more than anything ‘cause here I was stuck here forever for marijuana.”
Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence May 22, making Mizanskey immediately eligible for parole, and a parole hearing took place Aug. 6 at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.
According to an Associated Press report, Mizanskey had two previous felony convictions for marijuana-related offenses when he was sentenced in 1996 to life without parole for a third felony offense. At the time, the law allowed a sentence of life without parole for people with three felony drug convictions and has since been changed, but it was not made retroactively effective. The repeal will become effective in January 2017.
Police said Mizanskey conspired to sell six pounds of pot to a dealer connected to Mexican drug cartels.
Mizanskey’s previous felonies were for possession and sale of marijuana in 1984 and possession in 1991.
When asked what he plans to do now that he is no longer in prison, Mizanskey said he plans to find work in Sedalia, and help advocate for marijuana legalization.
“Three weeks ago you said the first thing you wanted to do was get some new shoes,” one reporter remarked to Mizanskey.
“And I got ‘em!” Mizanskey said laughing as he showed off the bright white tennis shoes to the crowd. “It’s like walking on air.”
Mizanskey has missed many technological developments during his more than two decades in prison. He said it’ll take some time to get ahead of the learning curve.
“I’ve never been on the Internet. I’ve messed around on the computer here doing some legal work so I know a little bit about it but that’s about it,” he said. “As far as a telephone, I used to walk into a telephone booth and drop a dime in there; it’s probably not even a dime anymore. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’ve got a lot of family members and people here that are going to help me learn. It’s going to take me some time.”
Support for Mizanskey’s release through petitions and social media have surged in recent years from family members, lawmakers and advocates for marijuana legalization. He was the only person in Missouri serving a life sentence without any possibility for parole for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses.
“I think Jeff Mizanskey’s story embodies how the drug war has failed. It’s a moral failure,” said Travis Mauer, co-founder of Show-Me Cannabis. “The war on drugs ruins lives, fails to keep people safe and enriches cartels and costs taxpayers money. We need to redirect law enforcement resources to get violent criminals and start by legalizing cannabis in Missouri.”
Republican state Rep. Shamed Dogan, of the St. Louis area, agreed. He was one of several lawmakers who helped Mizanskey.
“Who in their right mind would start a drug war that costs as much as it does – building new prisons, putting people in prison, putting people in jail, spending law enforcement resources on non-violent crimes when in my city of St. Louis we have a crime epidemic,” Dogan said. “… Any reforms we can do to get us to that place – I’m not for full legalization like my friends here at Show-Me Cannabis, but I think there’s got to be some place that we as a society can come to between the policies we have now and full legalization that will be more rational, that will actually help us reduce drug use.”
After taking photos with those in attendance, Mizanskey and friends made their way to their vehicles to get Mizanskey’s first meal.
“Thank you everybody for coming. Thank you for your support. Now if everybody is done with questions, I’d like to go get some steak and eggs,” Mizanskey told the crowd with a big smile.