Looking out: Drugged injustice

June 22, 1994

Drugged injustice

By Brandon Astor Jones

"Ms Benson was receiving higher than average doses of each of these medications [Robaxin, Nalfon, Tylenol 3 (with Codeine), Valium and Vistaril] ... The combination of medications ... very likely significantly altered her state of consciousness. She would likely feel, appear and act intoxicated — V. Meenakshi, M.D.

There is an insidious double standard that presently permeates US society, allowing the representatives of the state to get away with things that, if done by a private citizen, would land them in prison for a very long time. It's time to change that.

One would think that when a citizen is charged with a crime and brought to trial, all parties concerned would want her or him to be completely cognisant of the proceedings. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. It certainly did not happen in Daisy Jane Benson's case. She was in a medicated stupor when she was tried and sent to prison.

When asked to comment on her courtroom presence, Dr Meenakshi said, "If she were participating in a trial, she would probably not understand the full implications of the proceedings. She would be prone to fall asleep at inappropriate times and might give the impression that she did not care about what was happening to her."

Consequently, when the state of California routinely subjected Daisy Jane Benson to anti-psychotic drugs — on an involuntary basis — for a sustained period of time, prior to and during her trial, she was denied her constitutional right to due process of law. While she was physically present at her trial, she was absent mentally due to her "significantly altered ... state of consciousness". She was not able to help in her own defence. The right to do that is guaranteed to her by the Constitution of the United States. For that reason alone, if for no other, she is deserving of a new trial.

It is estimated that at least 10% of California's prison population were drugged in a similar fashion when they were tried and convicted. Understandably, complaints from prisoners abound, but seemingly to no avail.

When Benson's circumstances were brought to the attention of James P. Turner, acting assistant attorney-general, of the United States Civil Rights Division, he referred to them as "personal grievances". Her civil rights have been violated, and the Civil Rights Division could immediately address the situation, but the agency seems unwilling to do so. Her complaints rise well above the level of mere "personal grievances". Daisy needs your support.

Australians can help Daisy and many others like her by writing a letter of complaint to James P. Turner, Acting Assistant Attorney-General, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Washington, D.C. 20035. He needs to know that the world is watching. If enough letters reach him, they might move him and his office to take appropriate action.

Meanwhile, Daisy Benson has formed a group that is trying to help others who share her complaint — Women Prisoners Convicted by Drugging (WPCD), and you can also write to her direct. I am sure she would appreciate letters of support. Write to: Ms Daisy Jane Benson, W-28860, Miller B-117-L, Frontera, California 91720, USA.
[The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He is happy to receive letters commenting on his columns. He can be written to at: Brandon Astor Jones, EF-122216, G2-51, GD&CC, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233, USA.]

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