By Tess Allen | Feb 20, 2017
Days after John Knock learned that his application for clemency had been denied – meaning he would have to continue serving out two life sentences plus 20 years for a non-violent cannabis offense – he found himself transfixed by a story on NPR.
“There was [someone on the radio] talking about how they’re going to handle the marijuana distribution stores in Pennsylvania, and here I am doing a life sentence for marijuana,” Knock told Civilized from the federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania where he currently resides.
“It was just one of those wakeup moments, where you realize that America’s idea of justice is only their idea. It is not true justice.”
Knock, a first-time offender with no history of violence or drug abuse, was indicted in 1994 in the Northern District of Florida on charges of conspiracy to money launder and to import and distribute marijuana.
John Knock (center) with his wife and son.
Now a senior citizen at 70, Knock had high hopes he would be included in former US president Barack Obama’s final round of commutations for nonviolent drug offenders, a move that brought the total number of clemencies during his presidency to 1,715.
Knock has now been incarcerated for more than 20 years, and every day faces the sickly ironic reality that he may die in prison while the cannabis legalization movement makes greater and greater strides outside his permanent four walls.
“We’re sitting in here watching as [state after state] legalizes… and there are people in here doing life for pot, an accepted recreational and medical drug in the majority of the states in America,” said Knock. “When are they going to recognize that?”
Like most others locked up for life for nonviolent cannabis crimes, Knock believes greater public awareness about the issue would go a long way. He’s certain that most people don’t even know ‘marijuana lifers’ exist.
“My sister runs LifeForPot.com, and whenever she talks to people [about my case], they say: ‘He’s got a life sentence for marijuana? There must be something other than that. Somebody must have died.’ And that’s just not the case,” said Knock.
“Society has to be the one to say ‘now wait a minute’… to realize that the War on Drugs is actually a militaristic [effort] against an open society.”
There’s not much that can be done to change things on the part of "somebody locked in a room", said Knock, which is why cannabis advocates on the outside need to make clemency a part of their activism platforms.
“I read an article the other day about a gym opening in San Francisco that’s going to utilize marijuana in their workout [regimes] because it helps people concentrate and eliminate the pain of the workout,” Knock told Civilized.
When asked what this news signified to him, Knock replied: “America is full of hypocrites.”