Grandpa Serving Life Sentence for Pot Now Eligible for Parole

After 21 years in prison, Jeff Mizanskey could finally go home.
Jeff Mizanskey. (Photo: 'Here I Am'/YouTube)
May 23, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

At 61, all Jeff Mizanskey wants to do is spend time with his two sons and six grandchildren. For the past two decades, those moments have been limited to brief visitation periods. Mizanskey is currently serving a life sentence for marijuana possession, but an unexpected decision from Missouri’s top official means the grandfather could be home before summer’s end.

Gov. Jay Nixon commuted Mizanskey’s sentence on Friday afternoon, making him eligible for a parole hearing.

“In the case of the commutation, my action provides Jeff Mizanskey with the opportunity to demonstrate that he deserves parole,” said Nixon in a press release. Gov. Nixon also chose to pardon five other nonviolent offenders, but he left Mizanskey’s fate ultimately up to the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole. It will make a final decision after a hearing, which will likely occur in the coming weeks.

Given that Mizanskey has been a model prisoner, with only two minor infractions during his incarceration—one for putting mail in the wrong spot, the other for messiness—his team of advocates from Show-Me Cannabis said it is “extraordinarily likely” that Mizanskey will qualify for parole and be sent home within the next few months.

Mizanskey found himself the victim of such harsh punishment for a seemingly minor crime under Missouri’s prior and persistent drug offender law. In 1993, he was arrested holding a few pounds of marijuana, and in 1994, he was convicted of possession with intent to distribute. He received life without parole due to two prior convictions for the nonviolent crime of marijuana possession. Although Missouri’s three-strikes rule was repealed in 2014, it does not allow retroactive resentencing.

With prison overcrowding causing dire budget problems—taxpayers have spent more than $400,000 to keep Mizanskey locked up—and convictions skewing to incarcerate blacks and minorities at an alarming rate, drug sentencing is undergoing reform at the highest levels of government. Also, as marijuana has been decriminalized in almost half of the states, Mizanskey’s punishment seems acutely unjust. Missouri still outlaws marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use, although advocates are hoping to get a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot for 2016.

Mizanskey’s family, lawyers, and representatives from Show-Me Cannabis have petitioned Nixon for clemency for more than a year, including a petition with close to 400,000 signatures and a billboard encouraging drivers to call the governor on Mizanskey’s behalf. When Nixon still declined to respond, state Rep. Shamed Dogan introduced new legislation to specifically release those serving life sentences for marijuana possession in March. Finally, the combined efforts paid off.

Given his lengthy silence on the matter, Nixon’s decision came as a bit of a surprise. "I am still in shock but obviously thrilled,” Aaron Malin, a representative for Show-Me Cannabis, told the Riverfront Times as he rushed out the door to share the news with Mizanskey himself.