Sunday, November 27, 2016

News from Dusty Costa, in prison for growing marijuana

   Many of you will remember some of the writings we published about a Calaveras High School grad from 1964, who was arrested and convicted of growing marijuana 11 years ago and has been in federal prison since that time.

   Dustin Costa, known as Dusty, lived in the Valley Springs area
and was just an average guy in high school. Since 2014, when the graduating class held a reunion, more of his classmates learned of his fate.

   In his own words:

   "Compared to lifers, I've had it pretty easy, with only five of the last 11 years spent behind the wire.  Most of my
incarceration so far has been spent in a place lifers can never go, and that is a camp.

   Lifers can never be sent to a camp, and most times, not even to a low security prison.  They live in a world dominated by the constant threat of violence, shankings, beatings, riots, gangs and endless noise that reverberates annoyingly, even painfully, off concrete 

   In their world, privacy and comfort are rare and almost unknown commodities.  There are endless lockdowns, some going on for weeks, months or even years at a time.

   There are frequent shakedowns, controlled movements and two or one man cells, and stress unrelieved by any real prospect of ever getting out.

  I experienced a small taste of those things during my year and a half in the Fresno County jail, awaiting trial, and the following three and a half years behind the wire at the low security prison in Big Springs Texas.

   But I live with the sure knowledge that my time being incarcerated will come to an end, worst case being September of 2018.

  On the other hand, lifers live knowing that they will likely spend the rest of their lives locked away, never to breathe free air again.  Knowing that one day I will one day return home is a picnic compared to that.

   Marijuana lifers have my undying respect and, for what it is worth, my support."

   Dustin was asked questions by a website inquiring about life behind bars for marijuana growers in California.

   1)  What do you most want people to understand about being incarcerated that you don't think they understand?

   " Things that are routine on the outside, for example, a simple phone call, can be an ordeal for prisoners in ways a free person never experiences.

   We are limited to just 300 minutes of phone time per month.   Each call is limited to fifteen minutes, followed by a required one hour wait until you can call again.

   But that is assuming you can even make the call, because an annoying and problematic voice recognition program must be successfully navigated prior to your call.

  Often it does not recognize the prisoner's voice. Taken together, these hurdles add up to discourage phone use.  This is only one example of how a prisoner becomes a little like a ghost, fading away from the real world."

   2)  What was the most difficult thing about prison life that you had to adjust to?

   "Keeping my mouth shut when stupid things happen.  That's pretty much all of the time, whether it's interacting with staff or with inmates.

   Awesome dumbness is a hallmark of prison.  My mouth has contributed to a few close calls, from threats of violence by fellow prisoners, to being sent to the hole by staff for a reckless wisecrack.

   An incident comes to mind when I was frustrated at not being able to make a point about my diabetes to a so-called physician's assistant.

  I let slip an insult, calling him a fraud.  He went ballistic. Had it not been for the cool and sympathetic head of a custody C.O. I would have been sent to the hold.

   From there I could easily have been transferred to a higher security level (read more punishing and violent) facility."

  3) What is the most challenging thing you have to deal with on a daily basis?

  "The daily slog of getting through the day.  It's like a forced march.  To get through it, I must stay focused on simply putting one foot in front of the other.

   It helps when I think of all the good things waiting for me and the end of the journey."

   4)  What has been the hardest thing for your family concerning your incarceration?

   "The nagging, tiresome burden of having to assist me in the most mundane things. For family, it's a little like being a caregiver to someone who is profoundly disabled.

   They help with everything associated with being on the outside, from ordering books through paying bills, locating important documents and anything else surrounding my incarceration.

   It has been a terrible imposition and strain on their lives."

   5)  What is the most misunderstood thing about prison life?

   "There are many things, like the notion that prisoners have decent healthcare. That is just not true.

   Another is the lack of credibility that dogs every prisoner.  It is BOP policy to disbelieve anything a prisoner says. I know that for the most part, it is right to be skeptical of what a prisoner says or alleges.

   But it seems to me that to disbelieve anything and everything coming out of a prisoner's mouth 100% of the time is painting with too broad a brush.

   This is what we face daily from staff.  Consider for example that staff are specifically trained to 1. never trust a prisoner and 2. to always treat prisoners with the minimum possible respect.

   This is drummed into every C.O's head daily, from the moment they begin their career with the BOP. A simple FOIA request re: training of prison staff will confirm this.

   This is worse than annoying. It can lead to tragic results.  For example, when a prisoner has a stroke, often staff will assume that the prisoner is faking it.

    The result can be delayed medical care leading to a catastrophic end."

   6)  What advice would you give to someone else who is looking at a marijuana conspiracy charge?

    "Research as much as you can about how to successfully prepare for and adjust to prison life."

   7) Some of you have some pretty shocking stories when it came to your trials.  What surprised you the most about that experience?

   " Trials make their own truth, which more often than not bears no resemblance to actual truth or fact.  That is a shock for anyone brought up believing in truth and justice. Very disturbing and sad."

   8)  When you went to trial did you have any idea you could be looking at a life or de-facto life sentence?

   "Yes, the prosecutor made that clear at my first hearing."

    9)  How does it make you feel to know that so much progress has been made towards marijuana legalization - recreationally legal in 7 states, medical in 27 more - while you remain stuck in prison?

   "Better than you might think.  I was and continue to be an activist for legalization.  My ordeal has been a drop in the rising tide of the legalization movement.

   But it was my drop, and I'm damn proud of it."

   10)  Are you married, do you have children/grandchildren?  If so, how many (names and ages if you want to share them only)? Parents? Siblings?

   I am single with a wonderful woman waiting for me on the outside. No kids, Both of my parents passed since I've been incarcerated. I have two sisters, both of whom have been supportive, especially my sister Kathy, who has been a real trooper in assisting me with keeping what's left of my life together on the outside."

   11)  What meal or food do you crave most that you will want to eat when you get out?

  "One of my favorite things to think about.  First off, a week of great breakfasts, starting with bacon and eggs cooked to order.  Evening meals are another thing altogether. I have many, many cravings, mostly to do with some sort of meat, like a perfectly aged, thick and medium rare New York Steak, then it's on to Prime Rib, then Pork Ribs, Pork Roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, Rack of Lamb, Salmon, and on and on and on."

   12) What is your favorite book? Author?

   " I have many favorites, such as The Grapes of Wrath, Swamplandia, The Goldfinch and non-fiction such as Beast in the Garden, Cadillac, Desert and Dead Wake.

   General fiction, anything written by James Lee Burke, John Sandford, Greg Iles, Time Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen.

   My favorite authors are John Steinbeck, Donna Tartt, Greg Iles, John Sndford Erik Larsen, James Lee Burke and Annie Proulx."

   13) Do you prefer winter or summer?

   "I love each of the four seasons."

   14)  Are you a nocturnal or morning person?


   15) Favorite team or athletes - football, soccer, baseball, boxing, etc...?

   " I love the Olympics, both the Winter and Summer versions, and enjoy watching all of the events."

   16)   Favorite movies?

    "My favorite movie of all time is a French movie titled "The Wages of Fear", made in 1951/ It is a great thriller/suspense movie.  An American remake of it, starring Roy Scheider called "The Sorcerer" did a fine job of capturing the flavor and quality of the original. The original is better.

   Others include:  The Godfather, parts one and two, all three Hangover movies, Anything with W.C. Fields and The Wild Bunch."

   17) Favorite TV shows?

   "I like news and investigative journalism, comedy/satire like Saturday Night Live and the Steven Colbert Show.  I also enjoy almost anything exploring science or nature."

   18) Favorite songs or musical artists?

   " I play rock/blues guitar, sing and do a little songwriting. I have literally hundreds of favorite songs. Among my most favorite are Statesboro Blues, the live Allman Brothers version, and Jimi Hendrix's version of All Along the Watchtower.

   Both songs feature some of the most beautifully crafted lead or slide guitar work ever recorded."

   19)  What is your favorite color?

   "Blue.  That is the color that looks best on me, and the sole reason I would pick that ahead of any other color."

  20)  Do you prefer to be near a lake or ocean?

   "Love both, but the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean are my absolute favorite places to watch a sunset."

   21)  If you could walk out tomorrow and go anywhere, where would it be and why?

   "Maybe Argentina. I'm a carnivore and Buenos Aires is the carnivore capitol of the planet.  My girlfriend might object as she is a vegetarian, but we both love the Tango, so maybe we could work that out.  Frankly, almost anywhere is Latin or South American would do."
    22)  What were you favorite hobbies or interests before you went to prison?

   "Novice mushing, and growing some of the best marijuana on the planet.  Mushing came as a result of adopting an oversized malamute.  That led to adopting another snow dog and then on to training them and me how to mush.

   In this case, that mostly meant putting the dogs in harness and having them pull me on a bike along the canal banks in the Modesto area. Lots of fun.

   In my quest for ideal medical strains of marijuana, I had at one time collected more than 100 varieties, all closes from the premium strains, all from top growers.

   The specimens of each strain had been selected as the best representatives of their type.  My collection was created by means of trading with them.

  Probably the most fun I had during that time came when I decided to thin out the collection, selecting the best for their respective medicinal properties.  I had no problem finding volunteers to help sort out the cream of the crop."

  24)  What is your favorite food that you can get at the prison commissary?

   "At the moment, it's Raisin Bran."

  25) What item do you most wish they would carry at the prison commissary?

   "Fresh produce"

   26) Even in horrible places there can be some good. What was the best day you ever had while in prison and why?

   "There are actually two that stand out.  As is common at many low and medium security prisons, as well as certain camps, there was a full blown music program, complete with concert sound, amplifiers and all the equipment necessary to do an actual concert at the camp in Florence, Colorado, where I was once a guest.

   When I first arrived there, I was lucky enough to become a part of a short lived bank and what a bank it was!  I played lead and slide guitar and did some of the vocal work.

   The drummer had played for greats like Edgar Winter and Luther Vandross, and mentored the drummer for In Living Color (Cult of Personality) .

   The lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist used to open for Tommy Bolin.  The Bass player was an accomplished guitarist in his own right, having recorded a couple of CDs of his original county/rock music.

  It was a great little band, the best I've ever played in, but was short-lived as two of the guys were getting out within weeks of the gig.

   We performed turns, all cover, like Statesboro Blues, Can't be Satisfied and Bo Diddley at our one and only prison concert.

   We absolutely nailed them all much to our and the crowd of a couple hundred inmates' delight.

 The second was not so much a specific event or day as it was an achievement.  That was the writing, completion and publication of my first ever novel, called "Squirrel Days".  It is a send up of the War on Drugs. While it hasn't sold well, it did get good reviews. You still find it on Amazon."

Cheri Sicard at the Marijuana Lifer Project,  which is an effort to reduce sentences for some non-violent drug war prisoners.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We love you Dustin