FAMM Fights for a Fairer Deal for Drug Offenders

By Seth Ferranti 01/16/13

Drug prisoners tell The Fix what Families Against Mandatory Minimums means to them.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws tie
judges' hands.
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FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization fighting for fair sentencing laws—as opposed to the mandatory minimums that see many non-violent drug offenders incarcerated for decades. It was formed by its president, Julie Stewart, in the early '90s, in response to her brother getting a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for growing some marijuana plants in his garage. Since then, she and her team have strived to bring national attention to deserving cases, and helped to organize bipartisan campaigns against the draconian sentences handed out to first-time, non-violent offenders. "I first heard about FAMM in the mid-'90s," one long-term federal prisoner tells The Fix. "I was at FCI Manchester and there was this little newsletter going around called a FAMMGram that kept us aware of the laws and how FAMM was fighting to get them changed." FAMM has been instrumental in getting LSD, marijuana and crack sentencing reform bills passed, using a network of congressmen, law professors, attorneys, prisoners and former prisoners to advocate for change. "We still have a lot of work to do," says Julie Stewart. "We need to show that mandatory minimums do not make us safer, regardless of the crime they are applied to."

As you'd expect, Stewart and FAMM's efforts win plenty of praise inside. "I have been a member forever, along with my parents and wife," says the prisoner, "and in here the FAMMGrams they send out mean a lot. When they come in the mail everyone wants to read them to keep up with what is going on sentencing-wise outside these fences." He continues, "Julie and FAMM have provided us with a glimmer of hope as we do these decade-long sentences. I have watched them grow from a little organization into a force that can lobby Senators and lawmakers and bring about real change. She has fought for us, and I would like her to know that we appreciate her efforts."

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.