This Billboard Could Help Free a Grandfather Serving Life in Prison for Marijuana

Convicted for possession of marijuana, Jeff Mizanskey has been in a Missouri prison for more than 21 years.

Jeff Mizanskey has been in prison for 21 years for marijuana possession. (Photo: Show-Me Cannabis)


Oct 27, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Nicole Pasulka is a writer and reporter who lives in New York City. She has written for Mother Jones, BuzzFeed, The Believer, and the New York Observer.

Every time Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon drives southbound on U.S. Route 54, he will see 61-year-old Jeff Mizanskey's face staring down at him.

In 1994, Mizanskey was sent to jail for having seven pounds of pot. Because it was his third conviction for possession of marijuana—on one occasion he was caught with a half pound, and once he had around two ounces—he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Mizanskey, who recently became a great-grandfather, has been in jail for 21 years. The Missouri-based advocacy group Show-Me Cannabis has launched a billboard and online campaign calling for his release.

"Jeff's family and friends have not forgotten about him, and neither should Governor Nixon," Aaron Malin, a researcher for Show-Me Cannabis, told Riverfront Times.

Mizanskey's son, Chris Mizanskey, has been vocal in asking Nixon for his father's release. "What's happened to him isn't right, and I just think people should know that this happens," Chris said, according to the paper. "My dad wasn't a violent man. People always tell me what a good guy he was. He worked hard. He doesn't deserve this. Who does?"

Since Mizanskey's conviction, marijuana laws across the country have loosened, and criticism of harsh drug sentencing is growing. But thousands are still in jail serving exorbitant sentences for nonviolent drug-possession charges.

Around 79 percent of the 3,278 prisoners sentenced to life with no possibility of parole in the U.S. in 2013 were nonviolent drug offenders, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Even Jeff Mittelhauser, the attorney who prosecuted Mizanskey, thinks he has served an adequate amount of time in prison and deserves clemency.

"I don't think it's so much a change in heart as it is a realization that after he has sat in prison for 18 or 19 or 20 years, that's what I believe is enough punishment for the crime he committed," Mittelhauser told CNN.

With no comment yet from the governor's office, Mizanskey and his family can only wait and hope the billboard inspires a change.