Celebrating Last Prisoner Project and Two Years of Impact
PAX launches limited-edition swag collection benefitting restorative justice mission
Two years ago, Last Prisoner Project was founded on the belief that no one should remain incarcerated for cannabis while others are profiting. Today, the regulated cannabis industry is exploding on the heels of legalization for adult use in 18 states, yet there remains a fundamental injustice: an estimated 40K people, predominantly black and brown, remain behind bars for nonviolent cannabis offenses. Enter Last Prisoner Project, which works at the intersection of restorative justice and cannabis to end failed drug policies through intervention, advocacy and awareness.
In support of this critical mission, PAX is launching a limited edition bucket hat and tote bag, with 100% of proceeds benefiting Last Prisoner Project. As part of our ongoing commitment to use our platform to give voice to others, we’re sharing the stories of Donte West and Stephanie Shepard—two change agents and Last Prisoner Project constituents using their personal experiences with cannabis injustice to drive their quest for reform.
DONTE WEST: EDUCATING FOR CHANGE
Donte West’s life changed forever the day he was arrested in Kansas, at the age of 22, for cannabis. Despite having nothing in his possession, no proof of intent to distribute, and no criminal record, he was convicted for possession of a pound of marijuana and sentenced to nearly eight years in prison—all on charges that were later overturned. During his three-year incarceration, as he worked with the support of the prison’s warden and staff to support sentence reduction through executive clemency, one thing became inherently clear: there was a tremendous lack of education and understanding around drug laws and policy. “The less educated people are,” says Donte West, “the slower we move forward as a society. Time is the only thing we can’t get back.”
In the midst of his jury trial, Donte learned that his lawyer had not read his case, and was not equipped to defend his rights to the best of his ability.From there, his commitment to education on these issues was born, even while incarcerated, beginning with efforts to speak to local youth about his experience with law enforcement and the injustice in the courts. Today, post-release, he is a tireless decriminalization and anti-incarceration advocate working as a Legacy Fellow for Last Prisoner Project, tapping into his own experience with the criminal justice system to help fight for the freedom of anyone incarcerated for cannabis-related charges. Donte’s determination to learn law and seek justice has inspired many, and will be highlighted in an upcoming documentary, The Story of Donte West, by Academy Award winning filmmaker Kevin Wilmott. The documentary, which is being released this year, showcases Donte and his mission to get his younger brothers out of the foster care system while locked up across the country for a crime he didn’t commit.
STEPHANIE SHEPARD: REBUILDING AFTER PRISON
In 2010, Stephanie Shepard was charged with conspiring to distribute cannabis. At the time, she wasn’t particularly worried about the consequences. She had a clean record and had grown up in progressive California, which had a well-established medical programs and was barreling toward adult use legalization. But everything changed when Stephanie was arrested while living in New York, and the judge handed down a sentence of 120 months and 5 years probation.
She served her time and was released in 2019, but quickly realized that the consequences of her conviction were far from over. Reentry was jarring to Stephanie, and presents devastating challenges to anyone with a criminal record, from finding employment and housing to access to loans to losing the right to vote, particularly given the direct impact of election outcomes on the criminal justice system. Despite a successful real estate career prior to her arrest, Stephanie found that obtaining a job post-release—even just at her local coffee shop—was a different story. Most devastating was the time she’d lost, which now meant she wouldn’t be able to start a family in the way that she’d hoped. Stephanie was sentenced to 10 years in prison as a 41 year old woman. That 10 year sentence effectively became a life sentence.
But despite everything she’s faced, Stephanie has only grown stronger in her resolve to impact change. Her resilience has propelled her toward advocacy and her role as a Development Associate at Last Prisoner Project enables her to support the post-incarceration reentry of others. Writing has also been one of Stephanie’s steps towards healing, in hopes to have her journey published.
This collection will be sold exclusively on pax.com through 1/31/22 or while supplies last. PAX will donate all proceeds, up to $25,000, to Last Prisoner Project.