Few question the valor of those who serve in the military. Even those who disagree with American foreign policy recognize that soldiers don’t have the luxury of choosing their missions. As such, for having the guts to risk the ultimate sacrifice for their country, they are held in high esteem.
Similarly, no one can question another’s personal truth – including what it means to those who carry the weight of combat experience.
I spoke recently with a friend, a veteran who saw action overseas, who knows first-hand that freedom isn’t free. The cliché, rooted in truth as commonly understood, has unique significance for him.
This man, who we’ll call Mikey, recently completed serving a two year sentence in state prison for growing and distributing marijuana. But he didn’t walk out before he stood up in a courtroom and diagnosed the brutal reality of a paradox in plain view. His conclusion left the courtroom stunned.
“The government sent me halfway around the world,” Mikey said. “Carrying a gun for them, I was considered a hero. Then I grew marijuana. And the government kicked my door in and locked me up. If you had told me when I was nine years old, that one day I would have two jobs – one where I shot human beings that never killed anyone, and another one where I grew a plant that has never killed anyone – and the second one would make me a criminal, I would have told you that you were crazy.”
The judge nodded. Others in attendance cried. In the collective silence, there was agreement: It was crazy.
As Mikey put it, he was “ahead of his time” in North Carolina, where marijuana is illegal for any purpose. Yet one in five Americans now live in a state where marijuana is legal. A clear majority of Americans favor legalization for recreational use and even more favor legalization of marijuana for medical use. The only real question is when, not if, marijuana will be legalized from coast to coast.
Beyond the legal context, another aggravating factor was tougher to stomach. Mikey said he was conflicted about the rationale for his incarceration in contrast to many of those around him.
“Some of these guys had done bad things – hurt people, killed people,” Mikey recalled. “But for some of them, they had this sense of peace about being locked up. They accepted that they were being punished for something they knew was wrong.”
Lying down to go to sleep each night on a thin mattress in a metal bunk, Mikey could find no such comfort.
“I still stand strong with love in my heart,” he announced in his first social media post after being released. “I’m still not sorry. At all.”