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December 26, 2011

"Mom of 4 reflects on first year in prison for $31 pot sale"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article in the Tusla World, which provides an update on a state drug sentencing story that I have previously covered.  Here are excerpts from the interesting piece:

[Patricia] Spottedcrow, 26, was arrested and charged for selling $31 in marijuana to a police informant in December 2009 and January 2010.  [Her mother, Delita] Starr, 51, was also charged. Because children were in the home, a charge of possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor was added.

In blind pleas before a judge, Spottedcrow received a 12-year sentence and her mother received a 30-year suspended sentence.  Neither had prior criminal convictions. The judge sentencing the two said she allowed Starr to avoid prison so she could care for Spottedcrow's children.

When Spottedcrow was booked, after her sentence was handed down, marijuana was found in the jacket she was wearing. She pleaded guilty to that additional charge and was sentenced to two years running concurrent with the previous sentence.

After her story was published in the Tulsa World, a groundswell of support grew. Supporters expressed concern with possible racial bias, unequal punishment among crimes, women in prison, effects on children of incarcerated parents and extreme sentences for drug offenses.

Oklahoma City attorney Josh Welch has been donating his services to fight what he calls an inequitable punishment.  In October, a Kingfisher County judge took four years off her sentence. The judge issued an order rather than allow her an appearance in court. Her attorney and supporters believe it was to avoid the crowd expected to be at the courthouse that day.

Welch said he plans to file for post-conviction relief, alleging the original attorney was ineffective and had a conflict in representing Spottedcrow and her mother. He plans to make the filing in early January and submit an early parole packet at the same time. "We are grateful to get four years taken off her sentence but still believe the sentence is unjust and excessive," Welch said....

"The first eight months were a blur," Spottedcrow said. "I just cried a lot. It's like I woke up a couple of months ago." Her daily schedule starts with breakfast at 5:30 a.m., followed by her job in the laundry. At 4:30 p.m., she is released and goes to the gym, followed by dinner and then church at 7 p.m.  "You have to try and keep your mind busy," she said. "It's easy to get sad, depressed and stuck in your own head in here."

Prison is no picnic, even at a minimum-security campus like Eddie Warrior, she said. "I took for granted using the bathroom by myself, what clothes you can wear and being able to pick up and go to the store when you want," Spottedcrow said.  "I hate not being able to use your own shampoo and you are limited to spending $10 a month (in the commissary)."

But it's her kids taking up most of her thoughts.  "I was there every day taking of care of them before this," she said.  "I did everything from going to football games and PTA."

While in prison, Spottedcrow has taken parenting classes, finished her GED and participates in a grief/loss recovery program, a behavior course, Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous and a faith-based program.  She is on a waiting list to begin higher education and Career Tech classes.  "The life I was living before, that's over," Spottedcrow said. "I'm not playing with my life anymore. I would never chance this again for my children."

Spottedcrow never denied she smoked pot but said she was never a drug dealer or ever used or sold marijuana in front of her children.  "I got myself in this situation, and I'm not saying I shouldn't be punished," she said.  "But I think this is a little excessive, especially looking at other cases from my county.  And I'm sleeping next to people who have killed people, and they have less time than me. There are days I really can't believe I'm in prison."

In prison, she has had three misconducts: one for bartering when she gave an inmate cigarettes, one for having contraband when cookies were found in her locker without a receipt and another for aiding and abetting when she did not tell authorities a woman put bleach in the laundry area.  "I have a big heart," she said.  "When I see someone in need, like for food, I want to help if I can.  But you can get a misconduct in here for the littlest things."...

At the Kingfisher home, it's been a tough existence and one that is relying on the generosity and help of others.  Spottedcrow's oldest child has been acting out since her incarceration.

"He's in trouble for stealing, and his mouth is real swift and sharp," Starr said.  "He blames me a lot for what happened to his mother.  The girls want to cry a lot.  They don't like to listen to me, saying, 'You're not my mother.' We struggle every day."

Related prior posts on Spottedcrow's crime and punishment:

December 26, 2011 at 02:03 PM | Permalink

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Comments

This case simply cries out for the Governor of Oklahoma to issue a commutation of a plainly unjust sentence.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Dec 26, 2011 6:16:17 PM

“Supporters expressed concern with possible racial bias”
à- Uh huh Spottedcrow.

"I did everything from going to football games and PTA."
à- Whilst temporarily unfettered from selling or smoking an illegal substance?

“Spottedcrow never denied she smoked pot.”
à- How’d that effect the one-year old?

"I hate …[that] you are limited to spending $10 a month (in the commissary)."
à- "Offenders may spend up to $80 per week in the canteen.”

Q: Wondering why the police informant was tasked to make a purchase from Ms. Spottedcrow?
Q: Wondering how the police were so lucky to catch her in her first illegal act of this kind?

Posted by: adamakis | Dec 26, 2011 11:16:27 PM

"'Spottedcrow never denied she smoked pot.'
à- How’d that effect the one-year old?"

Well that's the $1,000,000,000,000 question, isn't it? How does a parent's pot-smoking affect a child? My guess is that in most instances, it does not affect the kid one bit.

I wonder how it affects a kid to have her mother locked in prison for the first 12 years of her life?

Posted by: C.E. | Dec 27, 2011 1:19:16 AM

C.E.

I would actually say that the state should start removal and parental relationship termination proceedings whenever a parent (even in the case of two parent households) when one of the parents is convicted of a felony offense. In the case of a two parent household if the other parent can prove that the did not have any knowledge of the criminal activity they can keep the kids.

And if you try to say that would be having to prove innocence, the determination of guilt would have already been made by the criminal case so I honestly don't see that being an issue.

Certainly in the case of 1 parent households a felony conviction should simply terminate the parental relationship, and I wouldn't give very much consideration to extended family members either, especially where those extended family members are like here also felons.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 27, 2011 10:27:35 AM

CE stated: "Well that's the $1,000,000,000,000 question, isn't it? How does a parent's pot-smoking affect a child? My guess is that in most instances, it does not affect the kid one bit."

Parental illicit drug use presents significant risks for children’s physical, psychological, and social development. For example, studies show that children of illicit drug users are more likely to develop antisocial behaviors, especially drug use behavior (Fawzy, Coombs, & Gerger, 1983; Gfroerer, 1987; Jacob & Johnson, 1997). According to Wills, Sandy, Yaeger, and Shinar (2001), parental substance use is associated with lower levels of parental support and with higher levels of parent-child conflict. A study by Tarter, Blackson, Martin, Loeber, and Moss (1993) revealed that the overall quality of parental discipline provided in families of substance abusers was poorer than that in a control group. Bauman and Dougherty (1983) reported that substance-abusing mothers were found to have a higher frequency of aversive behaviors, and to engage more in commanding, disapproving, provoking, and threatening behaviors than non-substance users.

*Parental marijuana use also has deleterious effects on rule-setting and for establishing an affectionate relationship, even if the parent is conventional (less rebellious, less deviancy). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1461416/

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 27, 2011 12:24:00 PM

Maternal drug use also was found to be associated with the toddler's insecure and dependent behavior. The findings suggested that mothers who use drugs are more likely to use maladaptive parenting techniques and have a weak mother-child bond, which, in turn, is related to the level of the toddler's emotional development. Maternal drug use was associated with maternal child-rearing practices, which in turn were related to insecure and dependent behavior in toddlers. Similarly, with older children, Brook et al. (2000) reported that mothers who use drugs are more likely to have a more distant bond as well as a more conflictual relationship with their children.

Maternal Correlates of Toddler Insecure and Dependent Behavior. By: Brook, Judith S., Brook, David W., Whiteman, Martin, Journal of Genetic Psychology, 00221325, Mar2003, Vol. 164, Issue 1

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 27, 2011 12:42:32 PM

"Drug use behavior" is antisocial only if it's illegal and disapproved by society. In any case, not all drugs are created equal, and only one of those studies appears to address marijuana, the drug for which Ms. Spottedcrow was sentenced to over a decade in prison. Moreover, none of the conclusions cited demonstrate that drug use is a cause of, rather than a symptom of, the problems that result in bad parenting.

Gratuitous cruelty by severing the parent-child relationship does nothing to solve any problems; it only creates new ones.

Posted by: C.E. | Dec 27, 2011 7:46:55 PM

It is sad to read through the pro drug war comments in this thread.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Atty. | Dec 27, 2011 11:44:51 PM

TarlsQtr, Soronel and adamakis --

Forced to choose between living among pot dealers on the one hand or pitiless, sanctimonious, brutish scolds on the other, I'd choose the pot dealers every time.

Posted by: John K | Dec 28, 2011 7:47:05 AM

John K:

Seriously? Rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints?

I've worked amongst mostly 'small-time offenders' since '99, actually on the 'helping' side. They are not aided in any long-term way by appeasers or frankly by those who are unduly nice and generous with them. Many have a 'moms' who can see no wrong in them, and treat them indulgently.

On the plus side for Ms. Spottingcrow is her statement: "I'm not playing with my life anymore. I would never chance this again for my children," as well as her attendance at N.A. and the like, but her genuineness remains to be proven.

I'm no expert on sentences, & I'm also arm-chair quarterbacking to boot, however, the continued pattern of behaviour prompted the kind of judge who gave Spottingcrow's mother probation, to slap her with a weighty sentence (10/2 concurrent; parole eligible in 2014 after 4 years?). The state facility offers various programming and self-improvement opportunities.

On the negative side which possibly justifies a strong sentence:
. . . Spottingcrow & Starr "were conducting “an extensive operation” and included children in the business" said Judge Pritchett.
. . . The PSI "rated Spottedcrow's risk of re-offending as “high” and recommended substance abuse treatment while incarcerated."
. . . The PSI found that Spottedcrow "makes justifications for her actions,” & does not see a "nee[d] to make changes in her current behavior.”
. . . "When Spottedcrow was booked, after her sentence was handed down, marijuana was found in the jacket she was wearing."

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 28, 2011 9:29:30 AM

CE stated: "Drug use behavior" is antisocial only if it's illegal and disapproved by society."

Bull. It has been shown that those who engage in "drug use behavior" are much more likely to be unemployed/underemployed, abuse their children, etc.

And that has nothing to do with it being "illegal and disapproved by society."

CE stated: "Gratuitous cruelty by severing the parent-child relationship does nothing to solve any problems; it only creates new ones."

Spottedcrow severed that relationship by her actions, not the state. And the "gratuitious cruelty" to the children in this episode was caring more about selling her product than the well-being of her children, even choosing to use them in her business.

They are much better off without her.

CCDA stated: "It is sad to read through the pro drug war comments in this thread."

It is sad to see how little regard you have for the well-being of children.

John K stated: "Forced to choose between living among pot dealers on the one hand or pitiless, sanctimonious, brutish scolds on the other, I'd choose the pot dealers every time."

Then go live with them. Sure, John, anyone with even a modicum of a belief in right or wrong is just a brutish scold.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 28, 2011 11:38:29 AM

VERY harsh to even suggest termination of parental rights due to a felony conviction. Are you suggesting all felonies? or just drug use/dealing? As someone who was accused of a Federal Felony (12 counts!) and went to trial this year to prove my innocence, I am appalled at even the THOUGHT of the Government moving to terminate my relationship with my three children (two were minors)---all of whom stood 100% behind me as I went through the horrible ordeal. Of course, it was just as bewildering to them to explain "Mom is being accused of buying a boat---and could get a decade long prison sentence."
This goes back to the point of punishment. Retribution, Deterrence, Rehabilitation? If rehabilitation---it would seem there is some progress in that direction in the case discussed. To throw away family relationships due to a conviction does not seem to be a good goal for a civilized society.

Posted by: folly | Dec 28, 2011 11:38:59 AM

Posted by: folly | Dec 28, 2011 11:38:59 AM

All felony convictions, of course. I have advocated for years that a felony conviction should carry a presumptive death sentence and that 75 to 90% of felons should be executed and that the burden should be on the convict at that point to escape execution. I see automatic termination of parental relations as being entirely in line with the policies I champion.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 28, 2011 2:18:08 PM

Folly, I'm working on a book about folks whose circumstances might be similar to yours. In fact, I recently covered a trial in which the defendant summarized federal charges against her as "selling my house." I'd be eager to hear more about what's happened to you. You can reach me at mrtpwjr@gmail.com

Can't help but wonder, Soronel, if one of your parents, or a sibling or your spouse, or an adult child were set upon by the feds -- and faced decades in prison for ostensibly violating some vague, expansive, malleable statutory offense most citizens wouldn't recognize as a crime -- would you be arguing for the DP for the relative/spouse once convicted at trial (or coerced into a plea deal)?

Posted by: John K | Dec 29, 2011 8:37:20 AM

Soronel --

Can't help but wonder, if one of your parents, or a sibling or your spouse, or an adult child were abducted by aliens -- and faced decades on a distant, hostile planet for ostensibly violating some vague, expansive, malleable statutory offense secretly promulgated by the Interplanetary Council Against Crime -- would you be ridiculing stories of alien abduction spun by the relative/spouse once convicted by the Council (or coerced into a plea deal)?

Moral of story: If you build in any premise you want, you can get any conclusion you want. Not that this is news to anyone above ninth grade.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 31, 2011 1:24:26 PM

Bill, neither should it surprise 9th graders (or ex-prosecutors) that laying down Swiftian proposals as Soronel did all but begs for the advancement of hypotheticals crafted to challenge such proposals.

Abducted by aliens? I hope you're joking, Bill. Decent, unsuspecting mothers, wives, brothers, adult children, etc., are somewhat routinely being dragged under these days by powerful, aggressive feds armed with thousands of broad, sweeping laws and virtual control over sentencing outcomes.

Posted by: John K | Jan 2, 2012 4:29:06 PM

Oklahoma is full of unfair sentencing practices. It is part racial part socio economic. Another young Hispanic/ Native girl Tiffany Kaulaity is sitting in Mabel Bassett Correctional Center right now serving a five year sentence for a second DUI 8 1/2 years between her first. She has five kids and they are being raised by her single mother on a fixed income. She has already served 20 months in prison. There is a point where these long sentences not only waste tax payer money but also hurt families and serve no greater good. Sure punish someone give them six months or treatment but five years is ridiculous. I mean if she had the money for a lawyer it is doubtful she would be sitting in this situation right now.

Posted by: Justin | Nov 30, 2012 10:33:50 AM

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