My name is Martin Condon. I am 24 years old, studying Chemical Engineering at CIT (Cork Institute of Technology – Ireland), and raising two children. Recently I was jailed for personal possession of herbal cannabis and this has caused serious distress for me and my relatively young family.
Over the course of this year I have come to the realization that joining Students for Sensible Drug Policy is the most proactive way to develop real change in our society. I am currently starting a new SSDP chapter at CIT in Cork, Ireland to work alongside the UCC (University College Cork) chapter of SSDP.
This is my story:
I can still recall the terrible feeling that came over me when I saw the blue lights behind my car when I was just 17. I pulled over and two Gardaí (police) approached my car at each side. Without providing any documentation the Gardaí demanded we get out of my car and threatened to search it. This was my first encounter with the Gardai. As a decent citizen I complied with their demands and proceeded to get out of my car. Before they started their search they asked me if I had anything that I should not have, so I told them there was a little hash (2-3 grams worth about 20 euro) inside. A court summons arrived in my door over a year later due to the seizure of these 2-3 grams of hash.
I was relieved when the judge told me I was wasting his time over such a petty crime and to not return again. Unfortunately this judge is now retired and the next time I was not so lucky.
Over the last year the Gardaí have called my home several times; they did not reach me until last week. They placed me under immediate arrest and told me I was being held on a bench warrant to be brought to court the next day. They took me to the local Garda station where I was placed in a freezing cold cell that smelled like urine and feces. I was told to take off my shoes and pants in case I tried to harm myself with my laces or the string in my pants. I spent 16 hours inside in that freezing cold cell in just my underpants and a t-shirt with just a seat, a bed and a concrete floor.
I was worried about what my daughters would think of me and how I was going to face them afterwards. Were they worried? Did they miss me? I was depressed and thoughts of suicide and harming myself crept into my mind as I knew I did not deserve to be there. I have never harmed anyone. I’m not a criminal, but society thinks I should be locked away.
I was then taken to the court and placed in another cell along with 5 dangerous prisoners. One of them had beaten up his own mother the night before and another was a suspect in a murder case. To make matters worse these five guys were allowed to smoke cigarettes in the small confined cell. As a non-tobacco smoker I politely asked if I could go into a non-smoking cell, and was told to “Shut up and suffer on”. When I asked the officer for his badge number he refused to provide it. I had not consumed tobacco for over four years because of the health implications but yet here I was in the custody of those who are supposed to serve and protect me being poisoned by carcinogenic smoke.
I was eventually brought before a judge for a brief period, and the judge put the case off for a few days. I should have been let go then but because I didn’t show up to court before they didn’t want to risk me not showing up again, so I was held on remand in Cork prison where I spent the most torturous 5 days of my life. I had college exams only a few days away and even more importantly I couldn’t see my kids. Time would freeze when I thought about them. During my stay at the prison I did not eat for 5 days because of stress. This place was making me depressed and physically sick.
When I eventually got out of there I realized that I lost 5 kg in five days. I had to visit my doctor the next day. I was released because I was having trouble eating, sleeping and concentrating. My doctor diagnosed me with insomnia, depression and anxiety. Two nights later just after getting into bed I had a seizure. I was born with epilepsy but had not had a seizure since the age of two. I had to spend two nights in the hospital under observation and had several tests carried out. The Doctor could not find anything out of the ordinary in my tests and told me everything was most likely caused by stress.
I wrote this piece so people can read my story and hopefully join with me and others in groups like SSDP that are working on drug reform. The laws should protect the people not put them in danger. The reality is that cannabis is a part of our culture and is here to stay. Current legislation does not provide adequate protection for cannabis users, but instead poses a threat to the physical and mental health of any person who is wrongfully convicted of a crime that should not exist for a non-violent herbal possession. The prison system should be reserved for those who pose a threat to society not as a tool for controlling people’s lives. We should take a step in the right direction and decriminalize cannabis and regulate the market. SSDP’s mission is best for our policy makers to get involved with serious discussions about reform and I encourage you to join us in these efforts. We have some events planned for 2014/15 in Cork and elsewhere around the country. We want to train a new generation of young people who are informed and confident to talk about drugs but also to stand up for themselves. Together we will have a voice and I believe there are thousands more like me who have been shunned from society.
Thank you for reading