One of Missouri's Rarest Inmates Has Shot at Freedom
Jeff Mizanskey has been in prison for two decades over non-violent pot offenses
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2015 7:11 AM CDT
Jeff Mizanskey, the Missouri man sentenced to life without parole for marijuana-related offenses, is eligible for parole Friday, May 22, 2015, after Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence.   (Jefferson City Correctional Center via AP)

(Newser) – As of this year, Jeff Mizanskey, 62, was two decades into a life sentence "without the possibility of parole" for nonviolent marijuana offenses—something so rare there was no one like him in Missouri and only a handful across the US. Then, after a highly publicized campaign led by his son to get his sentence commuted, Gov. Jay Nixon decided in May to change the sentence to life with the possibility of parole, and the man's first parole hearing is set for Thursday, reports US News & World Report. More than two-thirds of state legislators and some 400,000 online supporters have backed the release of Mizanskey, with commenters on overwhelmingly expressing the sentiment that "enough is enough." His son writes: "Over the 20 years he has been in that little cell, he has watched as violent criminals, rapists, and murderers have 'paid their debts' and left—sometimes just to return a few months later."

Still, Mizanskey remains cautious. "Parole is a privilege, not a right," he tells ABC News. When asked about his family, though, he gets choked up: "I'm 62. You want this for yourself. My parents died. My family's growed up. I've got grandkids, great grandkids. A lot of 'em I've never even seen." After having been arrested twice for pot-related offenses (selling an ounce in 1984; having 2-3 ounces at home in 1991), Mizanskey was arrested for the last time in 1993 and convicted of possession with intent to distribute seven pounds of marijuana. Mizanskey's attorney says the sentence is "cruel" and, "thank goodness, it's relatively unusual," and adds that the governor’s move sends a "strong signal" to the parole board that freedom is appropriate. (See what this woman did to get life without parole.)