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'I'm Going To Die Here': Marijuana Lifer Ismael Lira Speaks Out Against America's Unjust Prison System

For the longest part of Ismael Lira’s 14 years in prison, he’s felt completely alone. He talked to his wife, until they got divorced, and other than that, he’s communicated with his brothers and sisters, and his mothers.

That is until Beth Curtis - founder of the advocacy group Life for Pot - learned about his case. After she got in touch with him, he learned about this whole outside movement to commute the sentences of non-violent marijuana offenders, and for the first time in a long time, he started to feel hopeful.

Lira was sentenced to life without parole for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute over 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. It all started over a decade ago when DEA officers found 6.7 lbs of marijuana at a border checkpoint. The person caught with the marijuana implicated Lira in the conspiracy, saying he was transporting drugs for him. Lira pled not guilty. Then the prosecutors upped the charges after another 400 lb stash was found. Lira maintained his innocence throughout the trial but to no avail.

To this day, Lira still says he had nothing to do with any of it, but even if he had, he insists that the sentence he’s serving is completely at odds with the severity of the crime.

“I'm going to die here,” he told Civilized during a 15 minute phone call from Terre Haute USP in Indiana. “It's kind of like throw away the key, there's no rehabilitating you.”

“I'm not here to say that I'm perfect or I’ve never done nothing wrong, but all this is really ridiculous.”

A rough childhood

Lira’s hardships didn’t start in prison. He grew up with an abusive father, and felt he was unable to protect his family from his outbursts. His dad was locked up when he was 12, so he started working to provide for his family.

He first smoked marijuana on a trip to Mexico. He says it seemed to take away all of his pain, and it allowed him to relax for the first time in forever.

He dabbled in the drug for a while, but quit when he met the love of his life.

“I got married, and to me, it was just kind of a phase for me,” he explained to Civilized. “When I did it, I didn't feel like it was hurting anybody, but looking back upon it, I would definitely not make that choice again, just me personally.”

Everything was going well in his life, for once, until he and his wife were detained and then arrested at the border checkpoint.

“That’s when the nightmare began,” he said.

“I don't recommend prison for anybody”

The bust happened in 2004, and Lira has been in prison for almost 14 years. His anniversary is coming up in August, although it’s definitely not one he celebrates.

“I don't think there's anything good I can tell you about prison,” he said. “The food sucks, everything sucks, definitely. Prison sucks. I don't recommend it for anybody.”

He’s been keeping himself busy by participating in as many prison programs as possible, learning carpentry, yoga, and a bit of painting.

As for the love of his life? Their divorce was finalized last year.

“This life is definitely not an easy one,” he said when talking about his wife. “I think every woman deserves to be loved and held and all that, and I can't do that.”

Despite that, he’s doing his best to keep his hopes up. Although his request for clemency under President Obama was denied last year, he’s still hopeful that things will change and he’ll able to get some relief. If he does, he isn’t likely to stay in the United States.

“I could see myself living the rest of my life in Mexico or anywhere else, there's plenty of places to go, Europe, anywhere. But I kind of lost the dream here.”


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