All Moe Foley wants is to find a nice girl, settle down, have a kid, and have a normal family. His desires are simple, but similar to so many people around the world.
The trouble is that Foley has no idea how to talk to women anymore. He’s paralyzed by fear, assuming that saying anything will get him in trouble and send him back to prison, the one place he never wants to go back to.
He spent 15 years in prison for selling marijuana, slightly over half of his original 27 and a half year sentence. The full charge was conspiracy to distribute 700 to 1000 kilos of marijuana. They added on five years for owning a gun that was locked in a safe.
He fought to have his sentence reduced while he was in prison, and was finally released on July 20, 2017. Unfortunately, the experience still haunts him.
Marijuana for anxiety
Foley started smoking marijuana at a young age. He carried with him some residual trauma from an abusive childhood, and that brought anxiety issues with it. When he realized that smoking weed helped, he never turned back.
"It’s always been my thing," he said. "It calms me down, keeps the anxiety down. It’s the only thing that makes me feel better."
His dalliances with marijuana got him in trouble with the law, and he moved to Los Angeles and assumed a new name to try to stay ahead of them. He had a brother there that helped him get settled.
At first, he tried to live life by the books, looking for work in restaurants, where he had experience. But he quickly realized that it was almost impossible to get a job, and when he did, it was equally hard to support a life in LA making minimum wage.
When he realized how cheap it was to buy marijuana in bulk, and how much he could sell it for back home in Pennsylvania, he started driving pounds of the stuff back and forth.
"There was no violence involved," he said. "It wasn’t like the Mexican cartels killing people and all that, they were my friends, I knew them all my life."
But someone told on him, and then the cops found 75 kilos of marijuana in his garage, and the whole thing came crashing down. People testified against him to reduce their own sentences, and he ended up with a 27 and a half year sentence.
Betrayal and acceptance
"I was really upset about it," Foley said of when he found out what his sentence was. "It’s not just doing the time, it’s how the whole thing went down, you know? I couldn’t say nothing."
Once he was in prison, all his former friends abandoned him, leaving his dad as his only outside connection.
He did his best inside, but prison really took a toll on his mental health. He didn’t have access to his self-prescribed medication, and he was bunking with some really violent people.
"I was in jails where I saw three or four people get killed," he said. "People getting beat down, two to three on one almost every day. All kinds of stuff."
He says he couldn’t get involved in any of the stuff he saw, because if he tried to help someone, he’d get jumped himself. He joined the white gang, not because he wanted to, but because he didn’t really have a choice.
"It’s just constant nonsense watching your back, constantly having to worry about who’s trying to get who," he said. "All those problematic people in that one place, there’s a lot of gossip, like middle school or something, but they’re violent people."
Even throughout that, he did his best to stay positive. He enrolled in every program the prison had to offer, and he attended college through correspondence, eventually earning 32 credits with a 4.0 GPA before running out of money to finish his diploma.
"I assess everybody for a threat"
During his time, he worked to challenge his sentence and get it reduced. His big break came when he was put before a new judge, one who was much more reasonable, in Foley’s mind, than the one he had at first.
He fought a number of his prior convictions that raised his sentence, and ended up with 180 months, which he’d already served.
But once he was out, Foley was completely overwhelmed. He didn’t know how to use new technology like smartphones, or how to apply for a job online.
"I’m a smart guy and I’m competent and responsible and all that, but my mind is just not functioning right," he said. "It’s getting better now, but some situations I don’t know what to do, it’s weird."
When he goes into Walmart or somewhere, he says, he’s in full alert mode. He’s constantly looking at people’s hands, assuming that they’re out to get him. Do they have a knife. Are they coming for him?
"I assess everybody for a threat," he said. "I don’t know if it’s PTSD or what, but I just automatically assume somebody’s trying to get me."
His parole officer has been helpful, setting him up with mental health counselling, but the one major condition of his release is that he’s not allowed the one drug he’s found that works for him: marijuana.
Now he’s looking to both settle down, and advocate for those still in prison on cannabis related charges.
"I just had de facto life. [Others] have real life, you know? They’re never getting out," he said. "And I tell people and they still don’t believe me. Like for weed? What? Did anybody get killed?"