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Doing Time in an American Gulag

December 13, 1990

Re "Spending 97 Months in a Family of Felons" (Nov. 10): I represented Jacqueline Hendricks, who pleaded guilty in federal court in Seattle to conspiracy to distribute cocaine. She was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents at Sea-Tac Airport with two kilos of cocaine in her overnight bag and sentenced to 97 months. Under federal law, although she was merely a courier, she faced the same penalties as the leaders of the conspiracy if she was convicted at trial. There was a potential sentence of 25 years.

Hendricks' case is not atypical of many first-time drug offenders who are caught in the federal system. Like Hendricks, a number of them are highly intelligent, well educated and have no prior criminal record. Many receive prison sentences of 10, 15, 20 years or more due to mandatory sentencing laws. They could and would be rehabilitated if it were not for the Draconian sentences.

We are slowly but surely creating an American Gulag. It does not appear likely that the manufacturers of cocaine and heroin are ever going to be stopped and there is an infinite supply of middlemen and couriers.

Years from now the public may come to realize that we have imposed cruelly excessive penalties for no particular reason.

GILBERT H. LEVY

Seattle

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