Boulder Weekly

The Kindness of Strangers

The tale of the Colorado Compassion Club begins with a couple of antagonistic tree trimmers. As the story goes, in the summer of 2004, a Denver resident, whom we shall call Frank, told a few tree trimmers he would pay for their services in marijuana. The trimmers knew Frank was good for it. All they had to do was look into his house to spot his pot – hundreds and hundreds of plants.

When the tree trimmers' work was complete, however, Frank apparently failed to pay up. So the trimmers took matters into their own hands, namely making off with some of Frank's marijuana plants. Incensed, Frank called the cops, which, in hindsight, might not have been the best decision. When police officers arrived at Frank's home, they were less interested in his tale of mischievous tree trimmers than they were in the fact that he had hundreds of pot plants growing all over his crib.

When the cops tried to take the plants, Frank told them they'd have to go through the Drug Enforcement Agency. Bad idea number two. Frank ended up with federal agents crawling all over his cannabis arboretum.

To lessen the heat, Frank told the authorities he'd rat out the folks who'd helped him grow his sizable marijuana garden. Frank's admissions led North Metro Drug Task Force officers and federal drug agents to the door of a low-lying red-brick bungalow in a neighborhood of low-lying red-brick bungalows in east Denver at 10:30 p.m. on June 1, 2004. The home belonged to Thomas and Larisa Lawrence. Thomas is just over six feet, with light-blue eyes, brown hair tied in a ponytail and a soul patch plummeting from his lower lip. Larisa is small and pretty, with straight brown hair. At the time, both were inside the house celebrating Thomas' grandmother's 72nd birthday.

The officers asked Thomas and Larisa if they could search the premises. What happened next is in dispute.

Larisa says she asked to see a search warrant. She says the officers responded that they didn't need one because of the Patriot Act, but that they would be happy to get one, provided that Thomas, Larisa and all their guests didn't mind being locked out of the house for six hours while they whipped one up.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver, unequivocally denies such a conversation ever took place. He says Thomas and Larisa must have given the officers permission to search the premises.

Whatever the circumstances, the officers searched the house. The investigation turned up 84 young pot plants in the basement, 12 ounces of loose marijuana and six pounds of ice in the freezer that contained marijuana plant matter.

It appeared that Thomas and Larisa were unusually over-achieving stoners, but that wasn't the case. Thanks to a combination of football injuries and a degenerative spinal condition, Thomas suffers from migraines and back pain. He can't stand prescription narcotics, especially since they leave him too doped up to run his home-improvement business. The only thing that seems to help is marijuana, which dulls his pain and thins his blood, leading to fewer migraines. The medicine, as Thomas and Larisa call it, works so well that the two moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Colorado in 2001 because of the Centennial State's more lenient medical marijuana laws.

The year before, Colorado passed Amendment 20, which allows people to become licensed to use marijuana to alleviate debilitating conditions including cancer, AIDS, severe pain and seizures. The law allows a licensed marijuana patient to usually possess no more than six marijuana plants and two ounces of usable marijuana – much less than what the authorities found in Thomas and Larisa's house.

But Thomas wasn't just growing for himself, he was providing for other patients. Word had gotten around that Thomas was growing some good medicine, and many patients specified Thomas as their state-certified caregiver. Frank had been one of Thomas' patients; albeit one with whom Thomas had severed all ties because of a disagreement long before the cops came knocking on his door. At the time of the raid, Thomas estimates he was providing medicine for 11 licensed patients and about 20 more who were in the process of getting licensed – more than enough, he says, to legally justify his ganja garden.

The feds didn't see it that way. After mulling about the property for several hours, they confiscated all the marijuana, plus lights, heaters and books used in the operation. They allowed Thomas to keep his collection of one-of-a-kind bongs and roach clips. Thanks to the raid, Thomas and Larisa lost between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of property and gained a reputation around the neighborhood for being the focus of a federal drug bust. While Thomas and Larisa have not been charged with any crime, their property remains confiscated.

Weird Science

Whatever the officers hoped to gain from the raid, they didn't stop Thomas and Larisa from growing their medicine. Instead they caused these Curies of cannabis to go official – by starting the Colorado Compassion Club.

"We are not trying to say, 'How can we grow as much pot as we can,'" says Thomas. "We are trying to make sure patients and caregivers have some access to medicine, and make it as cost-effective as possible."

Today there are 587 people licensed to use medical marijuana in Colorado – 32 in Boulder – but the law doesn't specify how they are supposed to get the pot. The most obvious ways of doing so seem to be scoring a dime bag in Centennial Park or spending hundreds of dollars and six months growing pot from seed in a closet. But now, through Thomas and Larisa's Colorado Compassion Club, a rapidly growing consortium of about 70 patients and caregivers, there's another option.

Sorry, run-of-the-mill stoners: Prospective Colorado Compassion Club members need to be either licensed marijuana patients or in the process of obtaining a license. Thomas, Larisa or other caregivers in the club work with club patients, discussing their conditions and what type and dose of marijuana might be appropriate. Everything is recorded on extremely detailed paperwork – so if there's ever another raid, Thomas and Larisa will have proof they're not drug lords. The club provides members from Carson City to Grand Lake with medicine or helps them build and maintain their own grow rooms. It's all based on donations, and the club is hoping to get nonprofit status. If a member can't pay in cash, they volunteer time helping the club produce medicine, or donate clippings from their own plants, if they grow their own.

Thomas and Larisa's bungalow is the club's center of operations, a sort of communal hospital-cum-greenhouse-cum-pharmacy. Club members stop over all the time to help out, chill out or toke up. The living room feels like a rainforest, filled with large plants, ceremonial masks, roaming cats and dogs and an unmistakable aroma in the air. But the important greenery is downstairs, in a small room with bare white walls. This is where the magic happens.

"I think the love and care we put into the plants produces a different quality of medicine. You have to love the plant," says Thomas, as he stands in the basement room. Around his feet spreads a thick carpet of young marijuana plants, each labeled by type: Chocolate Chunk, Ultimate Indica, Chronic Maple Leaf, Humboldt Snow, G13, White Lightning – Thomas cracks up in the middle of listing the varieties – Bubblegum, Bubble Funk, Shiskaberry, Dutch Treat. A fan blows gently through the leaves and a large circular metal grow light hangs overhead, traveling slowly back and forth on a motorized track attached to the ceiling. There's a stereo in the corner – some volunteers like to play rock for the plants; Thomas prefers hip-hop.

In the room's closet, Thomas runs his genetics lab. Here, tiny plant clippings grow in small containers, all part of Thomas' experiments in cloning and cross-breeding cannabis to produce varieties with specific medicinal qualities – some to increase hunger, some to dull pain, some to ease muscle spasms.

When the plants are large enough, Thomas will move them to a large greenhouse in the backyard. There they will grow for most of the summer; when they're harvested, they'll probably be over 6 feet tall. Neighbors warn their kids to stay away from the unusual foliage poking over the fence.

Along with marijuana and hash for smoking, the club produces brownies, muffins and fudge, all made with a specific amount of cannabis, so patients can take regular dosages ("Take two pot brownies and call me in the morning"). While most tokers just use cannabis flowers, the Colorado Compassion Club also harvests the plant's leaves, which offer many of the same medicinal qualities with fewer of the intoxicating side effects. So if you don't feel like smoking, there's a myriad of other ways to take your medicine: teas, tinctures, topical rubs, lotions, cooking oils, creams, compresses and even hard candy.

"It doesn't have to be about sitting around and taking bong hits," says Larisa. "Though it is your right to do so."

If Thomas is the mad scientist in the basement, Larisa is Mother Theresa in the living room. She prefers working with patients, finding out how to best meet their needs, helping them cope. She says she's watched many people heal before her eyes.

Busted – Again

For Thomas and Larisa, running the Colorado Compassion Club is a full-time job – especially since they aren't about to receive much support from the local authorities.

Thomas learned this the hard way in January. He was driving home one evening when a cop pulled him over. The officer found an ounce of "Kahuna Salad" marijuana and two pipes in the glove compartment. Since Thomas didn't have his caregiver license on him, the cops were somewhat skeptical when he told them it was medicine.

Once again, Thomas' medicine was taken by the Man – but this time, he was determined to get it back. In February, Thomas walked into the police station with a court property disposition for his weed and his pipes. The police laughed in his face. They said his disposition was fake, that he was trying to steal illicit drugs from the cops. Not even a call from the city attorney's office could sway the officers. There was no way the Denver police were going to start handing out Mary Jane to needy citizens.

A month later, on March 4, Thomas returned to the police station, armed with a court order, his lawyer and the press. He picked up the phone in the station lobby and said, "Hi, I need to pick up some property."

This time the police were more cooperative. Thomas became the first person ever to receive drugs from the Denver police.

"What happened was a victory for all patients and caregivers in Colorado. It was a victory for everyone who voted to get the law enabled," says Thomas. The only problem with the returned medicine, Thomas told a journalist at the scene, was "It's a little dryer than I'd like."

Thomas and Larisa have big plans for the Colorado Compassion Club. Both are taking naturopath courses, and talk about creating a wellness center for the club where members will have access to health spas and even hospice rooms. Reaching that goal won't be easy, especially since the Colorado Compassion Club probably hasn't seen the last of its run-ins with the authorities.

One possible reason federal attorneys have yet to charge Thomas and Larissa for the 83 plants they found in their house last year could be because they are waiting for an upcoming decision in the Supreme Court case, Ashcroft vs. Raich, which will decide on the federal government's ability to supercede state medical marijuana laws. If the court rules in the fed's favor, people like Thomas and Larisa could be looking at federal prosecution – maybe even prison time.

Thomas isn't too worried. He doesn't expect to be thrown in the clink for growing some supreme weed.

"Here in Denver, I don't see them being able to convict me under a jury of my peers," he says, relaxing on his living room couch, while behind him a few visiting club members sit around the kitchen table, munching take-out fried chicken and packing a glass bong. "All I am trying to do is help people who can't help themselves."

The Change Agent

One September day in 1992, FBI Special Agent Jon Lipsky stood in the office of Ken Fimberg, assistant U.S. attorney for the state of Colorado. Lipsky and Fimberg had once been close friends, like brothers. The earnest, hardworking FBI agent and the aggressive, liberal-minded lawyer had teamed up to lead, in the summer of 1989, the first and only U.S. Justice Department raid on a Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear-weapons facility, the Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant located between Boulder and Denver. Three years later, the maligned investigation of Rocky Flats was itself being investigated, and Lipsky and Fimberg were barely on speaking terms.

The raid had led to Colorado's first special grand jury, to investigate alleged environmental crimes at Rocky Flats. After years of exhaustive study into operations at the 40-year-old nuclear weapons plant, the Justice Department announced in spring 1992 a plea agreement with Rocky Flats' operator, Rockwell International. In exchange for Rockwell paying an $18.5 million fine – less than the government bonuses the plant operator received while operating the plant – no Rockwell or DOE employees were charged with crimes and the numerous boxes of grand-jury evidence pertaining to alleged wrongdoings at Rocky Flats were locked in a vault, never to be shown to the public.

In response to public outcry over the plea bargain, Howard Wolpe (D-Mich) had announced he would head an investigation of the Justice Department's handling of the Rocky Flats raid. The Justice Department reacted by circling the wagons. There was only one problem: Jon Lipsky.

Of the government officials associated with the Rocky Flats investigation, Lipsky had become the Boy Scout of the group. He did not hide his displeasure over how the raid had turned out. Fimberg and other Justice Department staff met with Lipsky to allegedly tell him, "You're not stuck with how you felt before. Even today, your opinion can change." The FBI had arranged a special meeting for Lipsky with Bureau Director William Sessions. According to Lipsky, Sessions' message was clear: Do the FBI proud – keep your mouth shut.

The day before Lipsky was to speak for the second time to the Wolpe congressional subcommittee about Rocky Flats, Fimberg was meeting with Lipsky to seal the deal. Fimberg handed him an affidavit for him to sign. The affidavit allegedly stated that Lipsky agreed that there'd never been enough evidence to indict individuals at Rocky Flats. Lipsky believed there was enough evidence to indict individuals, but the investigation had been mysteriously cut short by the Justice Department. It appeared to Lipsky that he was being asked to lie.

Lipsky put his pen to the affidavit – but did not write his signature. Instead, on the back, in large, angry letters, he scrawled "Bullshit." He would never talk to Fimberg, his former friend, again. Lipsky told Congress there was enough evidence to indict individuals. He told Congress that he had been ordered to curtail his investigation of Rocky Flats. Soon after, Lipsky, one of the FBI's star environmental crime agents, was transferred to a gang unit in Los Angeles. His days working environmental crimes were over.

It would not be the last time that Lipsky would speak out against what he believes is a government cover-up of criminal wrongdoing and radioactive contamination at Rocky Flats – nor the last time he would suffer the consequences. Years later, when Congress voted to turn the site of the now-closed Rocky Flats into a wildlife refuge, Lipsky teamed up with a former Rocky Flats employee, the foreman of the Rocky Flats grand jury and an environmental lawyer to write the book, The Ambushed Grand Jury.

The four argued that the government knowingly distorted the truth about the extent of environmental contamination at the weapons plant, thereby seriously calling into question current plans to clean up and open Rocky Flats to the public. While the book made international headlines early last year, Lipsky, still with the FBI, remained out of the public limelight. When Lipsky attempted to go public with his concerns this past summer, he says he was muzzled by his superiors.

But now, for the first time, there's no one telling Lipsky what he can and cannot say. Having just retired early from the FBI, Lipsky has left the only job that ever really mattered to him so that he can tell the public what he believes they need to know about Rocky Flats. Sixteen years after this hotshot agent led the raid on the nuclear-weapons facility, he is finally ready to tell the world what he found.

Raid Gone Awry

Growing up, Lipsky knew he wanted to serve and protect the public. He'd inherited this trait from his father, an immigrant, who'd tried and failed to join the Detroit police department.

"My dad was my compass in my career decision," says Lipsky. "My dad said, 'If you are going to do that kind of work, work for the best.'" His dad was referring to the FBI.

While in college, Lipsky worked as a service employee for the Los Angeles FBI office. After college, to gain experience in the field, Lipsky worked as a street cop for the Las Vegas metropolitan police department. Finally, in February 1984, Lipsky's hard work paid off, and he became an FBI agent in Denver. It was the perfect job.

"We all want to do something meaningful, but we also want to be fulfilled, and this had the entire package," says Lipsky, Almost immediately, Lipsky was assigned to investigate environmental crimes, as a liaison to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – despite the fact he had no background in the subject.

"I guess because I used to write littering tickets as a cop they figured I'd have experience as an environmental investigator," says Lipsky. Despite his green feet, Lipsky and his EPA counterpart William Smith hit the ground running, winning some of the first convictions associated with the two agencies' still-fledgling partnership. Lipsky was already making a name for himself when he started hearing rumors in 1987 about a DOE nuclear-weapons plant outside of Denver that did top-secret work building plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, operated by a Fortune 500 company. Leaking barrels of toxic waste. Contaminated drinking water reservoirs. Tons of unaccounted-for weapons-grade plutonium hidden in the nooks and crannies of the facility. Lipsky and Smith teamed up with Fimberg in the Justice Department to prepare for a raid of the 6,500-acre Rock Flats.

Two years later, on June 6, 1989, "Operation Desert Glow" began, as Lipsky led 90 FBI and EPA agents into Rocky Flats, ready to investigate charges detailed in a 116-page affidavit. But even before the investigation started, Lipsky found the raid beginning to unravel. The Justice Department had insisted on telling DOE beforehand about the raid. Two months before the raid, the highest-level DOE official at the plant had been transferred to Washington, D.C.

Lipsky had gone to great lengths to legally seal the search-warrant affidavit, but three days after the sting U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh unsealed the documents to assure the public that "this investigation does not signal any major new environmental or safety concerns." Now Rocky Flats officials had the FBI's playbook. "When I found they were going to unseal that, I wasn't very happy," says Lipsky. "It was basically our game plan, the affidavit, and they could use it against us." Lipsky's superiors also restricted him and his investigators. Agents were blocked from looking into the cozy relationship between DOE and Rockwell. They were discouraged from following up on new leads regarding possible environmental crimes. And in March 1991, Lipsky was told to stop pursuing indictments against individuals at the plant. Lipsky realized something had gone terribly wrong.

"It made no sense," says Lipsky. "We were pursuing evidence against individuals the whole time. The corporation doesn't commit crimes by itself – it has people who do things."

While the investigation was going awry at the plant, the Rocky Flats grand jury that had been empanelled in August 1989 to review the evidence Lipsky and his team had collected also seemed to be foundering. Justice Department attorneys started dropping some of their most serious allegations against Rockwell. Then they began repeating evidence to the grand jury and instructing witnesses not to answer specific questions posed to them by jury members. Someone appeared to have tampered with the jurors' boxes of evidence.

The grand-jury members decided to take matters into their own hands in January 1992. According to a story leaked to Westword, they compiled an indictment charging three DOE officials and five Rockwell employees with environmental crimes and a presentment reiterating the accusations. They also wrote a report lambasting the conduct of DOE and Rocky Flats contractors for "engaging in a continuing campaign of distraction, deception and dishonesty" and noted that Rocky Flats, for many years, had discharged pollutants, hazardous materials and radioactive matter into nearby creeks and Broomfield's and Westminster's water supplies. It was a report that would never reach the public.

The grand jury handed over their indictment, presentment and report on March 24, 1992. Two days later, Colorado U.S. Attorney Mike Norton announced a plea agreement that was totally different than the indictment and presentment signed by the grand jury. Rockwell agreed to plead guilty to the Justice Department's indictment and to pay an $18.5 million fine. No individuals were charged with crimes. In public statements, Norton reportedly said, "I know of no evidence of physiological or environmental damage at all from the operations of the facility."

In September, a federal judge announced the grand jury's report would be sealed. Now if the grand jury, or Lipsky, spoke about what had transpired during the grand jury investigation, they could be found in violation of Federal Criminal Rule 6(e), which limits what grand-jury information can be released to the public.

That did not stop Lipsky from speaking his mind in September 1992 to the Wolpe congressional subcommittee. On Jan. 4, 1993, the Wolpe subcommittee released their report detailing Lipsky's concerns about the Justice Department's handling of the Rocky Flats investigation. Three weeks later Lipsky learned he was to be transferred from Denver to Los Angeles.

Never mind that Lipsky would never again work environmental crimes. Never mind that the FBI had announced they didn't have the money for any transfers that year. Never mind that Lipsky's daughter could soon require a major surgical procedure. Lipsky believed he was being punished. "I didn't toe the line. I was under oath, and I told the truth. That's the only thing I can think of," he says. "So they found the money and moved me."

Silent No More

In 2001 Lipsky received a memo from his superiors at the FBI. It noted that a lawyer from Santa Fe, N.M., Caron Balkany, had requested an interview with him about the investigation of Rocky Flats. The memo instructed Lipsky not to tell Balkany anything prejudicial about the Denver U.S. Attorney's Office, even though Lipsky believed the Denver U.S. Attorney's Office was responsible for a lot of the problems he saw with the Rocky Flats investigation. According to Lipsky, this was the first time he was ever ordered outright to lie about Rocky Flats. It was exactly the wrong thing Lipsky's superiors could have done. The FBI agent had a nasty habit of believing he worked for the people, not a few superiors. Lipsky immediately called Balkany.

"This is Jon Lipsky," he said. "I would like to talk to you..." Lipsky met Balkany in the lobby of a Los Angeles hotel. For years the FBI had refused to let Lipsky be interviewed about Rocky Flats. So this time he hadn't asked the Bureau's permission.

Lipsky told Balkany that he believed the unraveling of the Rocky Flats investigation wasn't due to a lack of evidence or incompetence. He believed it was an inside job.

"[The Justice Department] limited the types of crimes we could investigate, the time period we could investigate, the people who could be investigated. They even limited how we could use the law. And they cut off the investigation before we'd even really gotten started." Lipsky told Balkany. According to Lipsky, the Justice Department began discussing a settlement with Rockwell in late 1991 – without telling the Rocky Flats grand jury. In order to accept a plea bargain, said Lipsky, Rockwell demanded that there had to be no indictments of individuals, no grand-jury report, no charges serious enough that Rockwell would be banned from future government contracts.

To meet these demands, Justice Department officials stonewalled both the FBI investigation and the Rocky Flats grand jury. For years Lipsky had kept these thoughts to himself, but now he was ready to speak out. Soon the Rocky Flats site could be opened again – but where there had once been plutonium incinerators and top-secret laboratories, there would now be school groups on hiking trails, children hunting with bows and arrows.

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001 had earmarked the site of the former nuclear-weapons plant to become a wildlife refuge once the plant was certified clean, a $7-billion process scheduled to be completed by the end of 2006. But Lipsky believed that the extent of nuclear contamination at Rocky Flats, and the government's attempts to cover it up, precluded it from becoming a safe place for public recreation.

"[The Justice Department was] just using me – using me so when they settled the case, they could say they'd done a complete investigation," said Lipsky to Balkany. "And now that they've calmed down the public about Rocky Flats, they can encourage people to believe it's safe to let kids play there. And that's just crazy. It's dangerous for any of us, adults or kids. Rocky Flats is no place to play around. It's a closed-down nuclear-weapons plant, not a playground."

Lipsky soon learned that Balkany wasn't alone. She was working with two ghosts from his past, people who also believed there was more to the Rocky Flats investigation than the government told the public. One was Jacque Brever, a former Rocky Flats employee who had been one of the main witnesses in the Justice Department's case against Rockwell and DOE. Brever had faced death threats and worse for testifying to the grand jury about alleged crimes at Rocky Flats, only to be labeled by Justice Department officials as an unreliable witness.

The other familiar face was Wes McKinley, a Colorado rancher who was the foreman of the Rocky Flats grand jury. For years McKinley had been stifled from talking about what happened during the investigation because of grand-jury secrecy rules. Together, the three had banded together to discover the truth about Rocky Flats, calling themselves the Citizens' Grand Jury. They asked Lipsky to join them – and he agreed.

Together the four unusual compatriots spent years pouring over countless boxes of documents, looking for proof that the Justice Department had covered up environmental crimes at Rocky Flats. They detailed their results in their 2004 book, The Ambushed Grand Jury: How the Justice Department Covered Up Government Nuclear Crimes and How We Caught Them Red Handed. The book received international attention, with Balkany, Brever and McKinley featured on media around the globe. But not Lipsky. As an FBI agent, he was still discouraged from speaking to the public about Rocky Flats.

Despite protests by the Citizens' Grand Jury, not to mention by many local citizens, activists and public officials, the cleanup plan for Rocky Flats went forward unfazed. Late in 2004, government officials announced that the Rocky Flats wildlife refuge will definitely be open to the public. Eventually, Lipsky decided to stop holding his tongue. The Citizens' Grand Jury announced Lipsky would go public for the first time about the Rocky Flats investigation at a Denver press conference on Aug. 18. But at the last minute, as he and his family were driving into Denver, Lipsky received a phone call from the FBI.

"I was ordered not to talk about the investigation, even though it was public record," says Lipsky. "And it was told to me that the [FBI] director doesn't like surprises and it would be good probably for the L.A. office that I consider not even going to the press conference." Matt McLaughlin, supervisor in charge of special projects at the L.A. FBI office, says no one banned Lipsky from speaking. McLaughlin says Lipsky was just informed he had not gone through the proper administrative channels before speaking to the public, and was warned not to violate grand-jury secrecy rules. "He was not ordered not to speak," says McLaughlin. "He just needed to weigh very carefully what he wanted to say."

Lipsky attended the press conference, but once again he remained silent on Rocky Flats. It would be the last time. On Friday, Dec. 31, Lipsky retired from the FBI.

Now no one would be able to shut him up.

The Criticality Factor

During Operation Desert Glow, Lipsky would sometimes wander the Rocky Flats facilities, hoping that a potential whistleblower would find the guts to approach him. One day, it worked.

An analyst pulled Lipsky aside and showed him a thick binder of documents. "Wow, look at these elevated strontium readings," said the analyst. "Wonder what that's from?"

To Lipsky, the readings didn't make sense. Strontium is a manmade radioactive element produced by splitting atoms. Rocky Flats just processed plutonium – it did not have a nuclear reactor or accelerator that split atoms. One of the other ways large amounts of strontium could appear in Rocky Flats was if the plant was conducting secret experiments involving the element, of if there had been a "criticality" – an uncontrolled nuclear accident that released lethal amounts of radiation.

Rocky Flats officials had long denied rumors of a criticality, which could be caused by storing too much plutonium in one place. If there had been a criticality or strontium experiments at the plant, Lipsky believes the current cleanup of the plant wouldn't account for it, which means hazardous byproducts from such an event would still be there when the site is opened to the public. Lipsky never found out what the strontium readings he'd seen meant. The Justice Department was already pursuing a settlement at the time and discouraged him from following the lead.

This was not the only time reports of elevated strontium levels at Rocky Flats surfaced. In 1989, EPA officials expressed concern about discovering strontium and another man-made radioactive element, cesium, in underground water at the plant. According to press reports, EPA official Nathaniel J. Miullo implied at the time the elements may have been buried in the soil. In 1996, a citizen committee conducting soil and sediment sampling at Rocky Flats found elevated strontium levels in subsurface soil in several locations around the plant, in some places three times the average background levels of strontium for the region. In their report, the committee noted that the strontium could have been caused by undocumented strontium experiments or a criticality accident.

Not everyone today is concerned about reports of strontium at Rocky Flats. Miullo, in a recent interview, said the strontium levels discovered in 1989 were low enough that they might have been background levels of strontium, which is found all over the world in varying degrees because of fallout from nuclear bomb tests.

"It would be very difficult to determine whether it was a source of natural background or something that might have been disposed of through the wastewater treatment system that might have gotten into some of the creeks, or was disposed of through solid waste," says Miullo.

Neils Schonbeck, a member of a governor-appointed Rocky Flats health advisory panel who was involved in the citizen sampling study in 1996, says that his committee's strontium findings were too isolated and insignificant to suggest a criticality with any certainty.

According to Karen Lutz, DOE spokeswoman, "Extensive sampling for radionuclides in soil, sediment and water has been conducted since the early '90s. Over the past 15 years we have extensively characterized the soil and water for radionuclides (including strontium), metals and organics. Strontium is not found at levels that require cleanup or any other environmental action."

Mark Aguilar, the EPA's Rocky Flats coordinator, says his agency has also tested the site for strontium. Most evidence of the element were consistent with background levels, says Aguilar, and any elevated amounts that were found were likely linked to two well-publicized noncriticality accidents at the plant, major fires in 1957 and 1969. Lipsky and the rest of the Citizens' Grand Jury say the strontium issue is just one of many examples they've found that the DOE and Justice Department overlooked or purposefully ignored possible evidence of plutonium and other hazardous-waste contamination at Rocky Flats.

While government officials have long denied charges that Rocky Flats employees illegally ran Building 771's aging plutonium incinerator when it was supposed to be shut down – one of the central charges of the FBI investigation – the Citizens' Grand Jury has said it has found considerable evidence that the incinerator was run illegally and that the plutonium-contaminated byproduct was stored secretly on-site for years. The Citizens' Grand Jury also says that internal Rocky Flats memos and former plant employees indicate that the facility burned mixed radioactive waste in two fluid bed incinerators, even though Rocky Flats was never permitted to do so and Justice Department officials swore to the Court, under oath, that the incinerators were never used.

Another smoking gun, says the Citizens' Grand Jury, is evidence that the facility secretly sprayed hazardous and radioactive waste on the site that contaminated area groundwater and drinking water. The Citizens' Grand Jury says that the extent of pollution caused by these incidents has not been addressed in the cleanup and could still be there when the site is opened to the public. But officials associated with the Justice Department and the cleanup say the Citizens' Grand Jury's evidence is not cause for concern.

"Our cleanup is based on extensive documentation of the site, hundreds of interviews with current and former workers and tens of thousands of samples. Every aspect of this cleanup has been thoroughly investigated and has been independently verified through government and nongovernment agencies, all in full public view," says Lutz.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the Denver U.S. Attorney's Office, says concerns about the 16-year-old investigation of Rocky Flats, whether founded or not, have little bearing on the current cleanup of the site. "The purpose of that criminal investigation was to determine whether federal law had been violated and who, if anyone, would be held responsible for that violation. You don't develop an effective cleanup plan by conducting a criminal investigation. And a criminal investigation is not a fundamental part of a cleanup plan," says Dorschner.

Aguilar agrees that the FBI investigation of Rocky Flats is just a small part of the massive investigation and cleanup of the plant. "I think that's what started the investigation, but we've gone light years past what was done in 1989," says Aguilar. He notes that while he does not know if the Citizen Grand Jury's allegations of criminal misconduct at Rocky Flats are true, cleanup officials have tested the site extensively for any contamination that might have been caused by such activities and have thoroughly treated any areas of concern.

But Lipsky and his compatriots say failures in the past to identify environmental contamination at Rocky Flats could very well have an impact on the current cleanup – especially since it would not look good for the government to admit the cleanup is less than thorough. They say government officials need the good P.R. as Washington mulls the possibility of opening a "Rocky Flats II" somewhere else in the country. "You have to doubt the Department of Energy and what they are doing," says Lipsky. "The past has an impact, and it's a reflection of what's going to happen in the future."

No Rules

On a recent snowy morning, Lipsky sat quietly in the dining room of a Denver hotel with Balkany, Brever and McKinley. Soon Lipsky would go in front of the television cameras, reporters and photographers and, for the first time, say what he's been wanting to say for 16 years. He would tell the world why he'd left his dream job: to expose a possible government cover-up at Rocky Flats and push for a more thorough cleanup of the site. For the first time, there are no rules.

While Lipsky is setting out into uncharted territory, the Citizens' Grand Jury is there to support him – and they have a few new tricks up their sleeve. McKinley now has a new title: state representative-elect. In November, McKinley won Colorado's Representative District 64, and now he's hoping to pull some strings regarding Rocky Flats. McKinley plans to introduce a bill that will require visitors to the Rocky Flats wildlife to learn about the dangers of plutonium exposure and sign a release noting they are aware of the risks of visiting the site.

"It would be dangerous to do less than that at Rocky Flats," says McKinley. "Everyone that goes out there, they need to be educated about what plutonium does, what happened in that area. It's part of our country. It's a legacy."

While some may say Lipsky and others are fighting a losing battle against Rocky Flats, many are refusing to give up the fight. The Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, working with Citizens' Grand Jury members, is planning on filing a petition with the federal court to release some of the Rocky Flats Grand Jury documents that have been sealed away.

As for Lipsky, the future is unusually uncertain. While he expects to receive retirement benefits from the FBI, that does not mean the decision to leave was easy. The FBI will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2008, and Lipsky will miss not being a part of it. But Lipsky knows he hasn't reneged on the three qualities required of an agent for the FBI: fidelity, bravery, integrity. Far from it, in fact. Lipsky is applying to become a private investigator in California. And he will continue to speak out for what he believes is the truth about Rocky Flats. His father taught him to serve the people, and that's just what he's going to do. "I guess I am on a mission," says Lipsky. That's all I can say."

The Dry Party

Earl Dodge, 71, has never tasted alcohol. Not a gulp of beer. Not a sip of wine. Not a swig of whiskey or a sniff of brandy. But that doesn't mean he doesn't know a thing or two about alcohol's vile aftertaste.

"I've never had cancer either, but I know it's something bad," says Dodge.

Growing up in a teetotalling Baptist family in Malden, Mass., Dodge read grisly stories in the paper about drunkards killing their best friends. He'd walk by taverns, and the smell from inside would just about knock him over.

But the truth about alcohol came when a teenage Dodge began helping out at a rescue mission in Boston. He assumed the alcoholics he'd be helping would be the stereotypical bums off the street. Instead, he stared into the rheumy eyes of priests, lawyers and other high-ranking members of society, all laid low by the evils of the demon drink.

Five decades later, Dodge, aka "Mr. Prohibition," is waging practically a one-man crusade against liquid licentiousness, one of the last vestiges of a once-mighty reform movement that (at least officially) dried up the nation's beer taps for 13 years.

Out of his unlikely home base of Lakewood, Colo., a state where microbreweries dot the hills, the capitol's mayor owns seven bars and the golden boy of one of the world's biggest beer companies is running for one of the highest posts in the land, Dodge is stumping for president of the United States – for the sixth time – on the Prohibition Party ticket.

While his campaign might lack the greenbacks and glitzy ads of the two major presidential candidates, Dodge and the 2004 Prohibition Party rank with the big leagues with its share of scandalous internal controversies and colorful characters. And despite the minor roadblock of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, Dodge and his supporters say their fight is far from over, and that, sooner or later, Alabama Slammers, Long Island Iced Teas, Manhattans, Irish Car Bombs, Tequila Sunrises, Three Wise Men and all the rest will be a thing of the past.

The Saloon Must Go

Dodge's brown brick home in Lakewood is the official Prohibition Party campaign headquarters, but you wouldn't know it from outside. There are no yard signs out front promoting the party's 2004 ticket (Dodge for president and Howard Lydick for vice president), just a banner telling passersby to support our troops. If he's home, Dodge will most likely show you into the green-carpeted den and offer you tea or coffee – though no G-and-T's, thank you very much.

Once settled in, get ready for a long afternoon. After all, as Dodge says with a characteristic amiability, "My mother told me as a boy that I was vaccinated with a telegraph needle, so I tend to go on."

It's here, among over-stuffed bookshelves, old file cabinets, several computers and a small shrine to Calvin Coolidge, that Dodge runs the Prohibition Party. Forced to drop out of school in 10th grade after his father passed away, Dodge's career has run the gamut from insurance salesman to cemetery-plot hawker. But since 1957, give or take a year or three, his main occupation has been acting as either the national chairman or executive secretary of the Prohibition Party. Since the 1980s, he's voluntarily run the party without salary.

Dodge's charity is possible thanks to his side business – collecting and selling political buttons and other political memorabilia at trade shows and on the Internet.

"Probably we have the largest collection in the country today," says Dodge of his wares, ranging from Socialist Party pins to a Franklin D. Roosevelt thermometer.

Somehow Dodge also finds time to run the 800-member Dodge Family Association, which he operates out of another room down the hall.

The current state of the Prohibition Party is less than imposing. In 2000, Dodge's presidential campaign garnered only 208 votes, down from Dodge's personal high of 14,000 votes during his first campaign and the worst showing by the party in nearly 130 years. The party's convention last year, where Dodge was nominated for president, totaled nine people, two of whom were Dodge's daughters. Colorado is the only state left that lists the Prohibition Party on its ballot.

It's sometimes hard to imagine that the Prohibition Party, the nation's oldest third party, was once a force to be reckoned with. The party was formed in 1869 by those concerned that Democrats and Republicans were ignoring moral issues – most notably alcohol, which churches had been labeling a social ill for decades.

With a two-humped pachyderm as mascot and the ax-wielding temperance zealot Carry A. Nation as its most notable representative, the Prohibitionist Party would go on to win more than 100,000 votes in each election from 1884 to 1920. There were Prohibitionist sheriffs and mayors, congress members and governors. And then came the party's crowning achievement in 1920: the 18th Amendment, which launched Prohibition.

Unfortunately for the Prohibition Party and other temperance folks, the Noble Experiment failed – at least according to most sources today. After 13 years of alleged rum running, bootlegging, drive-by shootings and other cinematic lawlessness, the 21st Amendment killed Prohibition – and with it the Prohibition Party. The last party candidate to be elected to office was in 1959.

"Prohibition as a general concept, historically, doesn't work. It did bring us NASCAR, which is a good thing. People seem to love that," says Stephen Powell, an expert on drinking in American culture. (Hard-driving rum runners became the first NASCAR drivers.)

"Basically [Prohibition supporters] lost their fire. They had their chance, and they failed. And I don't think anyone was particularly interested in trying to resurrect another movement to bring that legislated morality back. They lost popular support and just faded into the background as a bunch of whiners."

Dodge begs to differ.

"All of the facts and figures show that it did work," he says. "For the most part, the media is taking liquor-company advertising and painting the Prohibition era as an era of unparalleled lawlessness."

Prohibition was far from a smorgasbord of mobsters and Tommy guns, says Dodge. He points out that, during this period, U.S. alcohol consumption dropped by 70 percent, prison populations declined by 52 percent in some states, bank deposits soared from $15.8 billion to $28.9 billion and the fatality rate for cirrhosis of the liver plummeted by more than 50 percent. He adds that by the time Prohibition took effect, a majority of states already had prohibition laws. Dodge also says the amendment's repeal was caused not by public outcry but by behind-the-scenes dealings by the Roosevelt administration.

And despite the fact that the Prohibition movement is nearly ancient history, Dodge says the dangers of alcohol are more pressing than ever. Dodge says there are 11 million alcoholics in the country today, and that liquor leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damages annually. It's ironic, says Dodge, that the government allows this destruction while banning drugs like marijuana, heroin and cocaine, which cause much less damage.

Despite its name, however, the Prohibition Party is about a lot more than just the devil's drink.

"The majority of the reforms that most people think are good were started by the Prohibition Party," says Dodge. Since its founding, the Prohibition Party supported the right for both women and African Americans to be able to vote and the direct election of U.S. Senators.

The 2004 Prohibition Party platform spans eight pages. Along with a return to Prohibition, it calls for, among other things, an amendment requiring Washington to balance the federal budget, a return to the gold standard, terminating the Federal Reserve, closing the gap between church and state, abolishing the Department of Education, researching the possibility of banning all immigration and, above all else, a limited federal government. The last platform issue might seem surprising, considering Prohibition seems to entail increased government control over citizens.

"We believe the greatest threat to personal freedom is big government. The government can't be a nanny," says Dodge. "But alcohol is a different class. The costs have to be paid by the entire population. It just impacts every area of our life."

Dry vs. Dry

Dodge's race to the White House faces an added hurdle this year: Colorado voters will find two Prohibition tickets on their presidential ballot, that of Dodge and Lydick, and that of Gene Amondson and Leroy Pletton.

The dueling tickets are the result of internal struggles within the Prohibition Party that led to what some members are calling a rift. While several Prohibition Party members gathered at Dodge's house in the summer of 2003 and nominated him as their presidential candidate, a different group of people met that fall at a time share in Tennessee, calling Dodge's nomination void and coming up with their own ticket. While these dissidents have been forced to call themselves the Concerns of the People (Prohibition) Party, they say they are the true standard-bearers for the dry movement.

"This really is the Prohibition Party, which was organized in 1869 and has run candidates on the national slate every election since 1872," says James Hedges, a retired Marine Corps tuba player and one of the leaders of the breakaway group. "There has been a dispute over management of the party, and the other faction got the prohibition name first on the ballot, but we don't have the money for lawyers to sue each other, so we just adopted this other name."

Hedges and others say Dodge has helped drive the Prohibition Party into the ground, refusing to share control of the party and making financial decisions that are questionable at best. The smoking gun, says Hedges, is that Dodge sold the former Prohibition Party headquarters, a Denver condo, in 1999 to the tune of $120,000. While he promised to use the proceeds to build an addition on his home to house party headquarters, Hedges says all that's been built on Dodge's property is a garden shed.

"So we're wondering where the $119,500 is, allowing him $500 for the garden shed," says Hedges. "He needs to welcome new people into the party, and he needs to share responsibility so they have something to do, and he has to have financial transparency."

For their own presidential choice, the Concerns of the People (Prohibition) Party turned to Gene Amondson, a minister, painter and self-described "world's best pie maker" from Washington state who has a habit of touring the country re-enacting temperance sermons by famous ballplayer-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday or dressing up as the Grim Reaper and shaking an empty bottle of Jim Beam.

Despite the differences between Dodge and Amondson, the two prohibition parties' platforms are nearly identical.

"Earl Dodge and I both are agreed," says Amondson. "Even though our party is kind of split right now, we both know that dumb people drink, and we've got to get that message across."

Dodge has little regard for his new opposition.

"It's not a split from our party," he says. "It's just a couple of people. Sort of like a flea on an elephant that's trying to use our name to get some attention."

Dodge labels the heads of the dissidents, Hedges included, as disgruntled folks who were either kicked out or voted out of the Prohibition Party leadership. Dodge adds that most of their members, such as Amondson, have never been part of the Prohibition Party, and that those who were gave very little to the party in terms of funding or support. As for the party headquarters fiasco, Dodge says proceeds from selling the Denver condo went into a Prohibition Party investment fund and that he did build an addition onto his house to make room for the party office.

Howard Lydick, Dodge's vice presidential running mate, is also critical of the dissident group, but says the infighting is a good sign.

"I have been in active organized politics since 1947, and I am used to splits and people breaking off. We certainly had enough of those in the Republican Party in the past 50 years," he says. "[This division has] told me that [we're] not a pressure group, but a bona fide political party."

There's another reason why Dodge and his compatriots might appreciate the controversy. Thanks to the hullabaloo, the normally media-starved Prohibition Party has once again found itself in the national spotlight. CNN, NPR, the New York Times, the New Yorker and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have all featured the unusual political clash.

With regards to the media attention, Dodge just smiles and quotes the old adage, "I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right." After all, no matter what the newscasters and newshounds say, it will likely mean Dodge will beat his low of 208 votes come Nov. 2.

Tremble, King Alcohol

Members of both parties contending for the Prohibition mantle agree that the dry movement has suffered primarily because the elections have been rigged against third parties. They say the Democratic and Republican parties worked together to require prohibitively large numbers of signatures in order for third-party candidates to get on the ballots in most states. Colorado alone has not adopted these measures. Dodge and others are pushing to abolish such requirements.

"The main parties feel that the votes, by divine right, are theirs. And they feel if someone like Nader or Earl Dodge comes along, they are spoilers. If a third party has support in a state, the major parties work to suppress them," says Dodge.

Even if the Prohibition Party continues its slide into a footnote in the history books, Dodge believes Big Alcohol is actually on the run. The number of people who drink is down. Age limits and drunk-driving standards are becoming stricter. Major alcohol companies are diversifying into other interests, as if they know booze isn't a good long-term investment. While the first prohibition was based on moral issues, Dodge believes the next prohibition, like the crackdown on smoking, will be based on health issues.

"I think we are moving in the direction of prohibition," says Dodge. "I don't think it will be an amendment like we had before. I think it will gradually come about because people will finally say it is a health hazard, and eventually I think the FDA will regulate it, and then at some point, it will be voted out of existence."

Dodge doesn't harbor any illusions. He knows the only way he's likely to see the inside of the White House is on a public tour. And he knows he'll probably never see another prohibition in his lifetime. But he stands true to the maxim printed in every Prohibition Party newsletter: "A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman thinks of the next generation."

The Science of DJ Spooky

In 2003, artist, writer and musician DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid, teamed up with the poet Saul Williams to release the Not in My Name EP, a collection of songs and poems resisting the war in Iraq and the U.S. government’s oppressive policies at home. That project has since evolved into an activist movement combining art and politics. DJ Spooky is the zone operator and editor-at-large of 21C magazine, co-publisher of the multi-cultural periodical A Gathering of the Tribes, and his writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Village Voice. He is working on a new novel, and he recently released a book and CD titled Rhythm Science.

Boulder Weekly: What was the impetus to the Saul Williams project, Not in My Name, and how did it come together with your involvement?

DJ Spooky: Saul’s an old friend, and we just wanted to do something fun and have some kind of impact from the viewpoint of progressive hip-hop.

What is your hope for the Not in My Name project?

That it will make people realize that there are a lot of different perspectives on what’s going on in the world. That people can participate in the system and change things.

What role does or can music have in effecting politics and political change?

Everything is politics. Everything is linked. The basic thing for me is to figure out ways to get information out in a lot of different channels and to figure out how music helps people connect the dots between all of the media fragments that are floating around out there. Music is just the pen letting me write the text. The rest is up to people to actually think about what’s going on around them.

How important is the role of music and art in politics?

Life is all about communication, and music just makes it all a little more easy to understand. Things sometimes seem so complex these days; it’s hard to be able to filter out all the conflicting messages the media send us. For me, music is the best way to actually get people to realize that at the end of the day, we all are a community, and it’s so important to think about the ways things work. That means comparing information from a wide variety of sources.

How do your art and politics interact?

I live my life… I believe in multi-culturalism, women’s choice, some kind of functioning nation state where people have a choice, reform of the prison-industrial system and some kind of international consensus on how nations participate in the international community. Ask your average American on the street, and I bet a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. But it’s not mainstream in a way that either large party focuses on. I think that it’s important to realize that there are a lot of different mainstreams. But I’m voting for Kerry because Bush really, really, really has to go.

A lot of artists speak about the need for people to take action and get involved. What can you offer as far as an action plan—in other words, what direct steps would you suggest people take toward effecting political change?

Vote, read, participate. It’s really an open system, and there’s still some kind of representative democracy, but things are really scrambled at the moment. Now is a great time to show that the mainstream can be changed and that it’s all about acceptance of different life views. Pluralism is OK.

What are your major concerns with current politics?

Totalitarianism, loss of any sense of linkage to the “real world” of the rest of the planet in the U.S. and a basic numbness toward how messed up the planet really is. Uh, I mean species are dying every day.

As a working artist, you travel a lot. What are your observations on the current political climate?

Things are, beneath the surface, in total entropy.

What are your predictions for November?

Kerry will win.

If you could have readers/listeners come away with one message from your work, what would you like that to be?

Think. It ain’t illegal yet.

Freedom Under Attack

A building at a Colorado ski resort explodes into flames. A secret organization claiming to oppose the ski resort’s expansion takes credit for the fire. In a matter of days a dozen environmental activists from Boulder disappear, taken by federal law enforcement.

Not charged with a crime, the activists are placed in solitary confinement on 23-hour lockdown in a federal prison. Their names are kept secret. No phone calls. No lawyers. No visitors.

Some are released after three months, others almost a year later. None is ever charged with a crime. In fact, all are eventually cleared. Yet their lives have been devastated by fear, lost income, lost jobs, lost housing, lost credits in college.

Civil libertarians say such scenarios could be part of America’s future if a collection of proposed changes to U.S. law -- known collectively as Patriot Act II -- become law. Drafted in secret by officials in the U.S. Department of Justice and leaked to the public last January, Patriot Act II would expand powers given to federal law enforcement under the USA PATRIOT Act (USAPA), which itself has fallen under fire for violating people’s civil liberties.

While Patriot Act II has already garnered substantial opposition from all points on the political compass, the task of combating it is made difficult by the fact that the Patriot Act II as such doesn’t really exist -- not yet, or perhaps not anymore.

In response to the early reaction to news of Patriot Act II, strategists at the justice department have repackaged various sections of the bill into other legislation, making the bill’s various components extremely difficult to follow, even for Washington insiders and watchdogs.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft continues his 20-state roadshow, defending the USAPA and stumping for the Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act, or VICTORY Act, setting the stage for the biggest battle over civil liberties since the McCarthy era.

Laws and consequences

On Oct. 26, 2001, a mere six weeks after terrorists attacked the United States, a frightened Congress passed the USAPA, a 342-page bill that gave sweeping powers to law enforcement agencies ostensibly to keep Americans safe from terrorism. A highly complex piece of legislation, it increased government powers in areas that were previously restricted.

• It removes virtually all checks on the government’s ability to pry into records of people’s activities held by other organizations, such as libraries, hospitals, bookstores and credit card companies.

• It makes it much easier for the government to search private property without notifying the owner. This is known as the "sneak and peak" provision.

• It enables the government to conduct a physical search or wiretap on American citizens to obtain evidence of wrongdoing without first having to prove probable cause to a judge.

• It permits the government to perform "trap and trace" searches -- gathering addresses, telephone numbers and URLs that people contact -- with virtually no judicial oversight.

In the debate over Patriot Act II, it has become relevant for many to know what the government has done with the powers accorded it under the USAPA. But what the government has done with that power since then remains largely a mystery, despite numerous attempts on the part of legislators, press and citizens to hold the government accountable.

"It appears that the American people feel the government is intent on prying into every nook and cranny of people’s private lives, while at the same time doing all that it can to block access to government information that would inform the American people about what is being done in their name," complained Rep. William D. Delahunt, D-MA, during the House Judiciary Committee hearings last June.

Delahunt isn’t the only person to express frustration.

"We’re trying to find out how they’re using this new power, and that’s not even available," says Charlie Mitchell, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union on national security and immigration. "We get bits and pieces. We got one document from the Department of Justice–it was six pages, every line blacked out."

While Ashcroft downplays concerns about lost freedom and secrecy in his controlled public appearances, there is plenty of evidence to prove those concerns are not unwarranted. Reports issued by the justice department itself -- one provided by Glen A. Fine, the justice department’s inspector general -- offer the public at least a glimpse into the government’s actions. The picture it paints isn’t pretty.

Among Fine’s findings was the fact that some 762 people were imprisoned in the wake of Sept. 11 in very restrictive conditions, some on 23-hour lockdown. Some were physically abused by being slammed into walls, while others were denied contact with attorneys. Every one of the 762 turned out to be innocent of any terrorist-related crime.

A 60-page report issued by the justice department to the House Judiciary Committee admits that measures passed for use against terrorists have been utilized in non-terrorism cases, including drug dealing, credit card fraud and theft. In one North Carolina case, a prosecutor is charging a man who produced methamphetamine with two counts of making a nuclear or chemical weapon. Regular meth charges might have landed him in jail for six months; the chemical weapons charge could get him 12 years to life.

DA Jerry Wilson revealed what critics see as a serious flaw of anti-terror legislation when he told the press that "there is nothing in the statute that requires any organized terror effort. There’s nothing in the statute that requires that these chemicals be used as weapons."

The justice department also admitted visiting some 50 libraries in the past year in search of individuals’ reading records -- not in cases of suspected terrorism, but in ordinary criminal cases.

This is not to mention the hundreds of individuals, who range in age from 13 to over 70, being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, where there have reportedly been 32 suicide attempts. The U.S. military has kept a tight lid on information pertaining to the treatment of prisoners there, but it is well known that prisoners have been denied both constitutional protections and many of the rights guaranteed to prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

"All this stuff at Guantanamo Bay is ‘brave new world’ -- it has never come up before," says Richard Collins, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law and administrator of the school’s Byron White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law. "It’s clearly in violation of international law."

Confirmed and suspected abuses of power such as these have garnered both the USAPA and Patriot Act II widespread opposition from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, civil libertarians, leftwing activists, rightwing militia members and ordinary citizens. Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican from President Bush’s adopted state of Texas, is a vocal opponent of both, as are U.S. Rep. Mark Udall of Boulder and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver. About 158 towns and cities across the country have passed resolutions opposing provisions of the USAPA, along with Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii.

"Patriot I went through Congress so fast that it was difficult to get the public informed, and the media, quite frankly, did a miserable job of informing the public about what was going on," says David Kopel, research director for the Independence Institute, a pro-civil liberties think tank. "I think by now (people) have a sense that Ashcroft is bad on civil liberties. They couldn’t supply many details, but they know that there’s something there, and in that way they’re better informed."

While Kopel believes some U.S. government actions have made Americans safer -- by attacking al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq -- he has serious concerns about the government’s plans to enhance current anti-terror legislation.

"We have moved the front line of the war on terror from New York City to Baghdad, so it’s much safer for the American people that the fighting is going on in Iraq rather than downtown Manhattan," he says. "At the same time I think much of the PATRIOT Act is not related to terrorism, so it certainly is not making us safe. And there are continuing attempts for people to further erode the Bill of Rights using terrorism as the pretext even for measures that have very little to do with terrorism. I hope the American people will stay informed about this and resist it as much as possible."

A veil of secrecy

When members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked officials in the justice department about rumors of a Patriot Act II, they were told no such proposed legislation existed. A whistleblower proved that statement false by leaking a draft of the bill, then titled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, to the public last winter.

Key provisions include the following:

• The definition of terrorism, which many feel is already too broad, would be expanded such that anyone committing a crime -- perhaps even acts of civil disobedience -- to influence government policy could be charged as a terrorist and face wiretapping, asset forfeiture and loss of U.S. citizenship.

• The government would no longer have to reveal the identities of anyone -- even American citizens -- detained during the course of a terror investigation until after criminal charges have been filed, no matter how long the person is in custody.

• Laws that limit local police from spying on religious and political activity would be repealed.

• Law enforcement would be able to obtain credit records and library records without a warrant.

• The government would be able to set up wiretaps without any court approval for up to 15 days after a terrorist attack.

• The government would restrict the release of information about "worst-case scenarios" posed by chemical plants, factories and other facilities.

• The government would have the power to extradite Americans to foreign countries even when treaties don’t allow for it.

• Legal immigrants would no longer be guaranteed a fair deportation hearing and would lose the option of appealing their cases to federal court.

The response to Patriot Act II has been scathing, raising concerns among lawmakers, activists and civil libertarians of all political stripes.

Kopel is concerned about many of the proposed changes, particularly those that would deny Americans the right to challenge detainment, known as habeas corpus, and those that would extradite Americans to foreign countries or strip them of their citizenship.

"To say that the government of Kazakhstan, or some other despotism which happens to have friendly relations with America, can infringe on the rights of Americans is just outrageous," Kopel says.

The broadened definition of terrorism is also a concern for him.

"The definition of terrorism under federal law is already overly broad, and this would make it worse," he says.

He acknowledges the possibility that activists, such as those who participated in demonstrations against the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund in Seattle and Washington, D.C., could potentially be labeled terrorists.

"I think the thugs in Seattle and Washington, D.C., ought to be prosecuted, but we have existing laws on riots and assault and vandalism and similar things which are perfectly fine, and I don’t think you should lose your citizenship for participating in a riot," he says.

Activist Betty Ball says the use of anti-terrorist measures against activists would be nothing new.

"Scott McInnis was calling environmentalists ‘eco-terrorists’ long before 9/11," says Ball, a spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. "It’s just a continuation… The difference is before we had the Constitution. If they succeed, this (strips away aspects of) our Constitution."

Ball says Patriot Act II would have prevented Daryl Cherney and the daughters of deceased activist Judi Bari from suing the FBI for the smear campaign the agency launched against them after the two were nearly killed when a bomb planted under Bari’s car seat exploded.

Patriot Act II would likely also have resulted in the detainment of several Boulder activists following the firebombing of the Two Elks Lodge at Vail. Boulder activists had been protesting the ski area’s expansion in Vail just days prior to the fire. The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, at which an FBI agent was caught doing a "sneak and peak" at addresses and phone numbers, would have easily been the target of data gathering and wiretapping.

"If it weren’t so serious, it would be laughable, because it’s absolutely ludicrous to be going to extreme measures," Ball says.

The price of freedom

Tracking Patriot Act II isn’t going to be an easy job. Mitchell says the colloquial label "Patriot Act II" received such a bad response that the bill was repackaged, its provisions tucked into other legislation.

"Pieces are in the VICTORY Act," says Mitchell. "Pieces are in other legislation."

The VICTORY Act, not yet in final form, contains four Patriot Act II provisions. In addition, the VICTORY Act would redefine many drug crimes as terrorism, linking the war on drugs to the war on terror and replacing the phrase "drug crime" with "narcoterrorism."

Mitchell says the data-mining provisions of Patriot Act II are now part of CAPPS II, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System.

"CAPPS II is already being rushed through," Mitchell says. "That’s one of the worst. That’s the airline screening, which incorporates the data mining… Total Information Awareness. It’s just broken it up and relabeled it."

TIA, which was recently renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, is facing stiff opposition in Congress. It is a program, run by a secretive new government agency called the Information Awareness Office, the goal of which is to assemble a comprehensive computer database of human interactions and personal information in order to identify suspicious activity and individuals.

Mitchell says that the difficulty in trying to combat Patriot Act II is that its bits and pieces keep changing and shifting.

"We’re investigating and trying to stay on top of where all these pieces are coming through, and it’s sort of a continual assault, but it’s done under a veil of secrecy," he says.

Many critics argue that current laws ought to be adequate for the government to do its job against terrorism.

"I think we’re strong enough to be able to overcome this threat without in the process abrogating or narrowly limiting our freedoms," says Udall, who voted against the USAPA.

At the heart of objections against Patriot Act II is the concern that, once given power, government will abuse it.

"You make laws (keeping in mind) not just who’s in power today no matter how much you trust them, but you make laws for the long term," Kopel says. "When you have people like Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton get into power, there are people who will abuse power."

Kopel points out that laws restricting government activity arose out of known abuses.

"Those limits were put in place by many courts over the years in different jurisdictions based on specific findings of civil liberties abuses by those specific police departments," Kopel says.

Still, Kopel is hopeful that the potentially harmful provisions of Patriot Act II will never become law.

"I think to the extent that the media informs the public about this Patriot Act II, then they have some advance information if there’s some attempt to rush this through maybe after some future terrorist attack," he says.

Mitchell, on the front lines of confronting the proposed bills, is likewise hopeful.

"The tide is turning on this," he says. "I think we’re making headway. The longer that we keep up the public pressure on the PATRIOT Act, the less likely they are to get any parts of Patriot Act II in, and hopefully we can stop the second and beat the first."

Death Behind Bars

Charlene Marquez, 39, had a drug problem. It eventually killed her.

But unlike junkies who overdose in their homes, are killed in drug-related violence, or die of hypothermia on the streets, Marquez died in prison.

She was found dead in her cell early in the morning of Sept. 1, 2002, two days after her 39th birthday. An autopsy revealed bits of rubber and plastic in her stomach, the remains of a balloon that had been filled with heroin.

Her death highlights two serious problems, critics say. The first is the ease with which illegal drugs are smuggled into prison. It's a common problem across the country, one corrections personnel nationwide struggle to resolve.

But the second has a more local flavor: Colorado's failure to fund drug-treatment programs adequately inside and outside the prison system. And it's a problem that is about to grow worse, as the state Legislature makes significant budget cuts in human-services programs in light of the state's economic woes.

Body of Evidence

One of the downsides to death is that you leave your body behind, undefended.

Marquez's body was found in her cell at Denver Women's Correctional Facility at 6:20 a.m. on Sept. 1. It was photographed, fingerprinted, placed in a white body bag closed with a locking plastic seal labeled with the number 0209.

Because she died under suspicious circumstances, her body was quickly given an autopsy. The medical examiner measured the length of her long, brown hair: 40 cm. He examined her genitals and reproductive organs, which were found to be normal with the exception of a tubal ligation done to prevent pregnancy.

He removed and weighed her brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. He cataloged the contents of her stomach and measured the depth of her subcutaneous abdominal fat.

He noted other things as well, details of a life now over. Marquez had blue flowers tattooed on her right thigh. The name "Andy" was tattooed on the back of her left wrist. There was a large surgery scar on her abdomen. She was missing several teeth. Her ears were pierced.

It was in her blood that the examiner found what he was looking for. Toxicology tests revealed a high level of morphine in her blood and a small amount of codeine in her bladder.

Based on test results, as well as the bits of rubber found in her stomach, the coroner drew a picture for investigators that looks something like this: Late on Aug. 31 or early on Sept. 1, Marquez swallowed a balloon of heroin. A short time later, the balloon ruptured, flooding her system with an overdose of heroin. She died quickly.

The body breaks heroin down into morphine, then codeine. Because her blood levels of morphine were so high and relatively little codeine was found, she died before her body could metabolize much of the drug.

"This doesn't look like injection, but rather ingestion," said Dr. Thomas Henry, who performed the autopsy.

Exactly how Marquez obtained the drug remains uncertain. An internal investigation continues in the Department of Corrections. Preliminary information from that investigation is unavailable to the public at this time for security reasons.

However, a DOC spokeswoman said Marquez had not left the prison, nor had she received visitors on Aug. 31. Those facts combined indicate she obtained the drug from a source within the prison.

The Forbidden Book

K. Hawkeye Gross used to smuggle drugs into the United States. He made a lot of money doing it. It finally caught up with the Boulder resident and pilot in 1978, however, when he was arrested with 1,130 pounds of marijuana.

He spent two years in Florida prisons and has since authored three books on his experiences, including Drug Smuggling: The Forbidden Book, a how-to guide for people interested in this dangerous but lucrative career (Paladin Press).

Gross says contraband, particularly cigarettes but also illegal drugs, form the backbone of the in-prison economy.

"The possibility is much greater of getting contraband into [state prisons] than at the county level," Gross said. Prisoners are often taken into the community for work during the day and can pre-arrange for friends or relatives to drop off banned goods or drugs in those locations.

Gross recalls a lifer who routinely smuggled Smirnoff vodka into prison using that technique.

"If you can get a bottle of Smirnoff in, you can get anything in," Gross said. But the primary source of drugs for prisoners in the Florida state system were prison guards.

"It was a big source of income for them," Gross said. "The guards -- that was their concession."

Most of them came from poorly educated, lower-income backgrounds -- not unlike the socioeconomic backgrounds of the prisoners -- and were able to vastly increase their incomes by selling drugs to prisoners.

The most common form of contraband was cigarettes, but marijuana was a popular second, often sold as tiny $1 "pin joints," Gross says. He himself traded cigarettes for fresh tomatoes and for a daily change of clean sheets. While he never saw anyone using heroin in prison, he knew inmates who used cocaine.

Gross has mixed feelings about the country's continuing war on drugs.

On the one hand, it presents an opportunity. "I just love knowing that with my skills and experience, if I decide to saddle up again, there's a million-dollar payday waiting for me," he said.

On the other hand, it's an enormous waste of money, he notes. About $50 billion in taxpayer money could be saved if the war on drugs ended. If marijuana were legalized and taxed like beer, Gross estimates another $50 billion would be generated. The combined $100 billion would be enough to provide free health care for every American, he says.

Most of all, the war on drugs is pointless, he says. Decades of increased law enforcement have shown that prohibition does not stop the demand for drugs nor their illegal importation, yet the effort continues.

"I absolutely guarantee you, I could smuggle in a load of marijuana if I wanted to," he said. "If there's something you can't stop, what's the point?"

Bringing It In

"We work our hardest to keep contraband out," said Allison Morgan, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. Still, some drugs make it inside through a variety of means.

Work crews made up of prisoners who leave the facility are one source, she says. Correctional officers also play a role.

"Staff bring it in," she noted. "I'm not going to run away from that. We work very hard to prevent that."

Sometimes a staff member will sell drugs for economic reasons, perhaps due to a personal financial crisis, she says. (Correctional officers, for example, start at a salary of about $31,000 in Colorado.)

At other times, staff persons might find themselves being manipulated by a prisoner who offers rewards or makes threats in order to obtain certain contraband.

The DOC provides intensive training -- 160 hours followed by a year of on-the-job training -- to help prepare officers for situations they might encounter and to prevent guards from being compromised by inmates, she says.

DOC also runs background checks on all staff, and potential employees are required to pass a urine test before being hired. Further, random urine tests are performed throughout the year.

But a urine test won't catch an officer who sells but doesn't use. "If they don't use it, they're going to come up clean. So hopefully through intelligence, we'll learn about that," she said.

The Colorado DOC does not make use of undercover officers, she says. However, each year, 50 percent of Colorado's more than 18,000 prisoners are randomly tested for drug use through urinalysis. About 3 percent of the population tests positive, a figure that is "very low," she says.

If testing reveals clusters of positive results, officials launch an investigation, which can include searches, more urine testing and surveillance. Oftentimes, inmates themselves will step forward with information, and their identities are protected.

In addition, DOC records all inmate phone calls, except those to attorneys, which are protected by law. Inmates are warned when they enter prison that their conversations will be monitored. "It's still amazing what they say in those conversations," Morgan said.

But the biggest risk to security in Colorado's prisons is visitors, she says. Last year, the DOC's prison complex in Cañon City, 40 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, received more than 55,000 visitors.

While maximum-security inmates are not allowed contact visits with friends and family, other inmates are allowed to be in the same room with their visitors.

They are strip-searched afterward, but some manage to conceal contraband inside their bodies, either swallowing them or inserting them into a body cavity. Body-cavity searches require a search warrant and probable cause and are therefore not performed routinely.

If urine tests show clusters of positive results in certain units, authorities might run a drug interdiction, searching the cars and personal possessions of visitors and making ion scans of their clothes and hands. "We recently had a grandma who was bringing it in," Morgan said.

Supply and Demand

While corrections officials and law enforcement work to contain the supply of drugs, prisoner-rights advocates and drug-treatment practitioners say the state would do well to look equally at the demand.

Colorado currently ranks dead last in state dollars spent in drug treatment. (The state is officially listed as 49th because Georgia state officials neglected to turn data in on time. However, had Georgia turned information in on time, Colorado would rank 50th.)

Research shows that for every $100 Colorado spends on the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, only 6 cents are spent on treatment programs, says Janet Wood, director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse division of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

That investment is about to drop as state budget problems, exacerbated by a sluggish economy, have resulted in budget cuts in drug-treatment programs, both in the prison system and outside.

This year, the DOC is expected to lose almost $270,000 of its $6.3 million drug and alcohol treatment budget. Additional funds are expected to be cut from parole and community corrections programs that provide essential follow-up treatment to help addicted inmates adjust to living outside an institution.

In Colorado, all inmates entering state prisons are evaluated for physical, mental-health, and drug and alcohol problems. Those needing no drug or alcohol intervention are designated as Treatment Level 1. Those with extreme needs are classified as Level 6.

About 75 percent of all DOC inmates have some level of drug or alcohol problem, Morgan says. But not all of those inmates have their needs met. A report published in December 2001 shows significant gaps between treatment needs of DOC inmates and available treatment services, particularly for levels 3, 4 and 6. (Level 5 treatment is not available within the system.)

For female inmates, no Level 2 treatment is available. According to the report, about 37 percent of female inmates in need of Level 4 treatment don't receive it, while a staggering 64 percent of women in need of the highest level of intervention don't receive needed services.

At Denver Women's Correctional Facility, where Charlene Marquez was incarcerated, there is a rare Level 6 program -- a therapeutic community -- as well as two Alcoholics Anonymous groups. There are no level 2, 3 or 4 programs available at the facility.

However, state law prevents DOC officials from revealing whether Marquez was receiving assistance through either program. Her needs, like those of other female inmates, may have been more acute than those of the average male inmate.

Research shows that most women in prison are victims of substantial physical and/or sexual abuse and have deep-seated emotional needs, Morgan says. DOC research shows that women who do have drug and alcohol problems typically need higher levels of treatment than male prisoners.

"That was one of the reasons we built Denver Women's," Morgan said. "I wish we could have a therapeutic community in every prison, but it's not financially realistic, so we try to prioritize."

The Impact of Prison

But some say prison is not conducive to recovery from addiction and that institutional drug-treatment programs face significant obstacles to success.

"Prison is not a therapeutic environment," said Christie Donner, co-coordinator of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a project of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

The coalition works with current and former inmates on issues ranging from parenting while in prison to navigating the prison system to parole problems, and also works to promote legislation that would reduce drug sentences and increase access to effective drug-treatment programs. Last year, it played a crucial role in the passage of the asset forfeiture bill, which requires a person be convicted of a crime before law enforcement can seize property or other assets.

Donner says less than half of prisoners who need help with drug and alcohol problems receive it. Most receive it shortly before their release date, after they've already become hardened from exposure to prison culture.

"People get warehoused for years, and when they get close to being released is when they're eligible for treatment," she said. "This notion that everyone who needs treatment gets it is not the truth. It's a very small percentage that are actually offered treatment."

Those who receive treatment often have a difficult time trusting therapists and prison staff, as their conversations are not confidential.

"People are afraid whatever they say can and will be used against them in a court of law, and it can be," Donner said. "It's not a safe environment, and I think that's a prerequisite for effective treatment."

Further, prison tends to have an impact on inmates' emotional well-being, giving them a tendency to shut down rather than open up. Even if inmates try to address their problems behind bars, the controlled prison environment is a sharp contrast to the world they meet when they're released.

"It's not a real-world environment," Donner said. "If we assumed prisons were a drug-free environment -- which they obviously are not with the death of Ms. Marquez -- forced abstinence is not the same thing as recovery."

Inmates must learn to cope with the challenges of life without drugs or alcohol. But that's much easier said than done. The world people leave behind when they're sentenced is often not the world they meet when they're released. About 90 percent of married inmates face divorce, many the loss of their children. If they have a felony record, they'll find it very difficult to find work or housing.

In addition, housing and educational loans available to others are not available to them, putting limitations on opportunities to improve themselves and their financial well-being.

"Unless people can access treatment on the outside as part of their recovery, their likelihood of succeeding is very small," Donner said. "I think we as a society don't appreciate the impact prison has on people."

Wood says prison treatment can be effective -- under certain circumstances. "There has been research on institutional treatment programs, but what the research shows is it has to be followed by aftercare in the community," Wood said.

"The reality is, in working with people who are trying to reintegrate, unless you have family or a support system, you're not going to make it," Donner said.

Society's Failures

Charlene Marquez was incarcerated on a four-year sentence in May 2000. She was released into community corrections -- a halfway house -- by September.

A year later, she was allowed to live on her own under intense supervision. But on March 13, 2002, she was returned to prison for a disciplinary infraction, Morgan says. Within six months, she was dead.

Did the Colorado correctional system fail Marquez?

"She's dead," Donner said. "How much more of a failure can there be? Part of the responsibility is hers, but part of the responsibility is ours.

"I wouldn't put all the responsibility on her shoulders because we could be doing things that are proven more effective."

The key to treating drug and alcohol problems effectively is to acknowledge them as medical and mental-health problems, she says. Colorado places too much emphasis on punishment and the criminal aspect of addiction and far too little on effective treatment.

The funding situation is so bad in Colorado with regard to both drug treatment and mental-health treatment that it should be considered a crisis, Donner says.

However, last year's legislative attempt to reduce some drug sentences and put that money toward treatment passed both houses of the state Legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Owens, who has repeatedly voiced his opposition to shortening drug sentences -- and his mistrust of drug-treatment programs.

"You lock people up in a cage in Cañon City and say the problem is solved," Donner said. "But it's not. The prison system becomes the dumping ground for all the areas where society is failing."

Pamela White is the editor of Boulder Weekly.

Locked Away to Die

Charlene Marquez, 39, had a drug problem. It eventually killed her. But unlike junkies who overdose in their homes, are killed in drug-related violence or die of hypothermia on the streets, Marquez died in prison.

She was found dead in her cell early in the morning of Sept. 1, 2002, two days after her 39th birthday. An autopsy revealed bits of rubber and plastic in her stomach, the remains of a balloon that had been filled with heroin.

Her death highlights two serious problems, critics say.

The first is the ease with which illegal drugs are smuggled into prison. It's a problem common to prisons across the country, one corrections personnel nationwide struggle to resolve.

But the second has a more local flavor: Colorado's failure to fund drug-treatment programs adequately inside and outside the prison system. And it's a problem that is about to grow worse, as the state legislature makes significant budget cuts in human-services programs in light of the state's economic woes.

Body of evidence

One of the down sides to death is that you leave your body behind, undefended.

Charlene's body was found in her cell at Denver Women's Correctional Facility at 6:20 a.m. on Sept. 1. It was photographed, fingerprinted, placed in a white body bag closed with a locking plastic seal labeled with the number 0209.

Because Charlene died under suspicious circumstances, her body was quickly given an autopsy.

The medical examiner measured the length of her long, brown hair: 40 cm. He examined her genitals and reproductive organs, which were found to be normal with the exception of a tubal ligation done to prevent pregnancy. He removed and weighed her brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. He catalogued the contents of her stomach and measured the depth of her subcutaneous abdominal fat.

He noted other things, as well, details of a life now over. Charlene had blue flowers tattooed on her right thigh. The name "Andy" was tattooed on the back of her left wrist. There was a large surgery scar on her abdomen. She was missing several teeth. Her ears were pierced.

It was in her blood that the examiner found what he was looking for. Toxicology tests revealed a high level of morphine in Charlene's blood and a small amount of codeine in her bladder. Based on test results, as well as the bits of rubber found in her stomach, the coroner drew a picture for investigators that looks something like this:

Late on Aug. 31 or early on Sept. 1, Charlene swallowed a balloon of heroin. A short time later, the balloon ruptured, flooding Charlene's system with an overdose of heroin. She died quickly. The body breaks heroin down into morphine, then codeine. Because her blood levels of morphine were so high and relatively little codeine was found, she died before her body could metabolize much of the drug.

"This doesn't look like injection, but rather ingestion," says Dr. Thomas Henry, who performed the autopsy.

Exactly how Marquez obtained the drug remains uncertain. An internal investigation continues in the Department of Corrections. Preliminary information from that investigation is unavailable to the public at this time for security reasons.

However, a DOC spokeswoman said Charlene had not left the prison, nor had she received visitors on Aug. 31.

Those facts combined indicate Charlene obtained the drug from a source within the prison.

Drug economy

Pilot K. Hawkeye Gross used to smuggle drugs into the United States. He made a lot of money doing it. It finally caught up with the Boulder resident in 1978, however, when he was arrested with 1,130 pounds of marijuana. He spent two years in Florida prisons and has since authored three books on his experiences, including Drug Smuggling: The Forbidden Book, a how-to guide for people interested in this dangerous but lucrative career (Paladin Press).

Gross says contraband, particularly cigarettes but also illegal drugs, form the backbone of the in-prison economy.

"The possibility is much greater of getting contraband into (state prisons) than at the county level," Gross says.

Prisoners are often taken into the community for work during the day and can pre-arrange for friends or relatives to drop off banned goods or drugs in those locations. Gross recalls a lifer who routinely smuggled Smirnoff vodka into prison using that technique.

"If you can get a bottle of Smirnoff in, you can get anything in," Gross says.

But the primary source of drugs for prisoners in the Florida state system were prison guards.

"It was a big source of income for them," Gross says. "The guards -- that was their concession."

Most of the guards came from poorly educated, lower-income backgrounds?not unlike the socioeconomic backgrounds of the prisoners?and were able to vastly increase their incomes by selling drugs to prisoners.

The most common form of contraband was cigarettes, but marijuana was a popular second, often sold as tiny $1 "pin joints," Gross says.

He himself traded cigarettes for fresh tomatoes and for a daily change of clean sheets. While he never saw anyone using heroin in prison, he knew inmates who used cocaine.

Gross has mixed feelings about the war on drugs. On the one hand, it presents an opportunity.

"I just love knowing that with my skills and experience, if I decide to saddle up again, there's a million-dollar payday waiting for me," he says.

On the other hand, it's an enormous waste of money. About $50 billion in taxpayer money could be saved if the war on drugs ended. If marijuana were legalized and taxed like tea, Gross estimates another $50 billion would be generated. The combined $100 billion would be enough to provide free health care for every American, he says.

Most of all, the war on drugs is pointless, he says. Decades of increased law enforcement have shown that prohibition does not stop the demand for drugs nor their illegal importation, yet the effort continues.

"I absolutely guarantee you, I could smuggle in a load of marijuana if I wanted to," he says. "If there's something you can't stop, what's the point?"

Dope behind bars

"We work our hardest to keep contraband out," says Allison Morgan, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. Still, some drugs make it inside through a variety of means.

Work crews made up of prisoners who leave the facility are one source, she says. But correctional officers also play a role.

"Staff bring it in," she says. "I'm not going to run away from that. We work very hard to prevent that."

Sometimes a staff member will sell drugs for economic reasons, perhaps due to a personal financial crisis, she says.

Correctional officers in Colorado start at a salary of about $31,000.

At other times, a staff person might find themselves being manipulated by a prisoner who offers rewards or makes threats in order to obtain certain contraband. DOC provides intensive training?160 hours of training followed by year of on-the-job training?to help prepare officers for situations they might encounter and to prevent guards from being compromised by inmates, she says.

DOC runs background checks on all its staff, and potential employees are required to pass a urine test before being hired. Further, random urine tests are performed throughout the year. But a urine test won't catch an officer who sells but doesn't use.

"If they don't use it, they're going to come up clean. So hopefully through intelligence, we'll learn about that," she says.

Each year, 50 percent of Colorado's more than 18,000 prisoners are randomly tested for drug use through urinalysis. About 3 percent of the population tests positive, a figure which is "very low," she says. If testing reveals clusters of positive results, officials launch an investigation, which can include searches, more urine testing and surveillance. Oftentimes, inmates themselves will step forward with information, and their identities are protected. Colorado DOC does not make use of undercover officers, she says.

In addition, DOC records all inmate phone calls, except those to attorneys, which are protected by law. Inmates are warned when they enter prison that their conversations will be monitored.

"It's still amazing what they say in those conversations," Morgan says.

But the biggest risk to security in Colorado's prisons are visitors, she says. Last year, the East Canyon City complex received more than 55,000 visitors. While maximum security inmates are not allowed contact visits with friends and family, other inmates are allowed to be in the same room with their visitors. They are strip searched afterwards, but some manage to conceal contraband inside their bodies, either swallowing them or inserting them in a body cavity. Body-cavity searches require a search warrant and probable cause and are therefore not performed routinely.

If urine tests show clusters of positive results in certain units, authorities might run a drug interdiction, searching the cars and personal possessions of visitors and making ion scans of their clothes and hands.

"We recently had a grandma who was bringing it in," Morgan says.

Supply and demand

While corrections officials and law enforcement work to contain the supply of drugs, prisoner-rights advocates and drug-treatment practitioners say the state would do well to look equally at the demand.

Colorado ranks dead last in state dollars spent in drug treatment. (The state is officially listed as 49th because Georgia state officials neglected to turn data in on time. However, had Georgia turned information in on time, Colorado would rank 50th.)

Research shows that for every $100 Colorado spends on the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, only 6 cents are spent on treatment programs, says Janet Wood, director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse division of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

That investment is about to drop as state budget problem, exacerbated by a sluggish economy, have resulted in budget cuts in drug-treatment programs, both in the prison system and outside. The DOC is expected to lose almost $270,000 of its $6.3 million drug and alcohol treatment budget. Additional funds will be cut from parole and community corrections programs that provide essential follow-up treatment to help addicted inmates adjust to living outside an institution.

In Colorado, all inmates entering state prisons are evaluated for physical, mental health and drug and alcohol problems. Those needing no drug or alcohol intervention are designated as Treatment Level 1. Those with extreme needs are classified as Level 6.

About 75 percent of all DOC inmates have some level of drug or alcohol problem, Morgan says.

But not all of those inmates have their needs met. A report published in December 2001, shows significant gaps between treatment needs of DOC inmates and available treatment services, particularly for levels 3, 4 and 6. (Level 5 treatment is not available within the system.)

For female inmates, no Level 2 treatment is available. About 37 percent of female inmates in need of Level 4 treatment don't receive it, while a staggering 64 percent of women in need of the highest level of intervention don't receive needed services.

At Denver Women's Correctional Facility, where Charlene was incarcerated, there is a rare Level 6 program?a therapeutic community?as well as two Alcoholics Anonymous groups. There are no level 2, 3 or 4 programs available at the facility.

However, state law prevents DOC officials from revealing whether Charlene was receiving assistance through either program. Her needs, like those of other female inmates, may have been more acute than those of the average male inmate. Research shows that most women in prison are victims of substantial physical and/or sexual abuse and have deep-seated emotional needs, Morgan says. DOC research shows that women who do have drug and alcohol problems typically need higher levels of treatment than male prisoners.

"That was one of the reasons we built Denver Women's," Morgan says. "I wish we could have a therapeutic community in every prison, but it's not financially realistic, so we try to prioritize."

The impact of prison

But some say prison is not conducive to recovery from addiction and that institutional drug-treatment programs face significant obstacles to success.

"Prison is not a therapeutic environment," says Christie Donner, co-coordinator of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a project of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

The coalition works with current and former inmates on a host of issues ranging from parenting while in prison to navigating the prison system to parole problems. The coalition also works to promote legislation that would reduce drug sentences and increase access to effective drug-treatment programs. Last year, the organization played a crucial role in the passage of the asset forfeiture bill, which requires a person be convicted of a crime before law enforcement can seize property or other assets.

Donner says less than half of prisoners who need help with drug and alcohol problems receive it. Most receive it shortly before their release date, after they've already become hardened from exposure to prison culture.

"People get warehoused for years, and when they get close to being released is when they're eligible for treatment," Donner says. "This notion that everyone who needs treatment gets it is not the truth. It's a very small percentage that are actually offered treatment."

Those who receive treatment often have a difficult time trusting therapists and prison staff, as their conversations are not confidential.

"People are afraid whatever they say can and will be used against them in a court of law, and it can be," Donner says. "It's not a safe environment, and I think that's a prerequisite for effective treatment."

Further, prison tends to have an impact on inmates' emotional well-being, giving them a tendency to shut down rather than open up. Even if they try to address their problems behind bars, the controlled prison environment is a sharp contrast to the world they meet when they're released.

"It's not a real-world environment," Donner says. "If we assumed prisons were a drug-free environment?which they obviously are not with the death of Ms. Marquez?forced abstinence is not the same thing as recovery."

Inmates must learn to cope with the challenges of life without drugs or alcohol. But that's much easier said than done. The world people leave behind when they're sentenced is often not the world they meet when they're released. About 90 percent of married inmates face divorce, many the loss of their children. If they have a felony record, they'll find it very difficult to find work or housing. In addition, housing and educational loans available to others are not available to them, putting limitations on opportunities to improve themselves and their financial well-being.

"Unless people can access treatment on the outside as part of their recovery, their likelihood of succeeding is very small," Donner says. "I think we as a society don't appreciate the impact prison has on people."

Wood says prison treatment can be effective?under certain circumstances.

"There has been research on institutional treatment programs, but what the research shows is it has to be followed by aftercare in the community," Wood says.

Inmates who receive aftercare have a decent chance of repairing their lives, but those receiving treatment in prison and no aftercare exhibit the same kinds of behaviors and problems within 18 months of their release as those who received no treatment, she says.

"The reality is, in working with people who are trying to reintegrate, unless you have family or a support system, you're not going to make it," Donner says.

Society's failures

Charlene was incarcerated on a four-year sentence in May 2000. She was released into community corrections?a halfway house?by September. A year later, she was allowed to live on her own under intense supervision.

But on March 13, 2002, she was returned to prison for a disciplinary infraction, Morgan says.

Within six months, she was dead.

Did the Colorado correctional system fail Charlene Marquez?

"She's dead," Donner says. "How much more of a failure can there be? Part of the responsibility is hers, but part of the responsibility is ours. I wouldn't put all the responsibility on her shoulders because we could be doing things that are proven more effective."

The key to treating drug and alcohol problems effectively is to acknowledge them as medical and mental health problems, she says. Colorado places too much emphasis on punishment and the criminal aspect of addiction and far too little on effective treatment.

The funding situation is so bad in Colorado with regard to both drug treatment and mental health treatment that it should be considered a crisis, Donner says.

"The stick is bigger than the carrot," she says. "People with substance abuse problems are risking death. If that's not a deterrent, prison won't be."

Not only can drug addiction itself land a person in prison, but the normal recovery process, which includes relapses, is a criminal offense. People trying to work their way free of addiction find themselves in and out of prison and develop a sense of failure, Donner says.

"The criminal justice system just looks at what this person did on this day, and if they're guilty, they punish them," she says. "There are so many gaps in the social infrastructure."

Last year's legislative attempt to reduce some drug sentences and put that money toward treatment passed both houses of the state legislature but was vetoed by Governor Bill Owens, who has repeatedly voiced his opposition to shortening drug sentences?and his mistrust of drug-treatment programs.

"You lock people up in a cage in Canyon City and say the problem is solved," she says. "But it's not. The prison system becomes the dumping ground for all the areas where society is failing."

Where does Charlene fall into the picture?

"The bottom line is she's dead. She's just another victim of the drug war," Donner says. "The question that comes to mind is, 'Would Ms. Marquez be dead if she'd been in an inpatient treatment center instead of prison?'"

Hounding the Public

It doubles as a school and a pharmacy, of sorts -- a place to learn and buy cheap drugs, mostly marijuana, from some of the hippest kids in town. Longmont High School has a bad reputation.

In a quest to change that, Principal Mary White has turned students over to the dogs -- drug-sniffing, booze-niffing, gunpowder-sniffing dogs. Her actions represent a growing and prosperous trend among business leaders, educators and government bureaucrats who are using man's best friend to rid institutions of contraband. Soon, promises the executive of a company that trains and sells the dogs, working canines will be a common sight for ordinary, average Americans.

The fast times at Longmont High, once a secret, became well-known last year after police arrested an 18-year-old student who was reportedly dealing up to three pounds of marijuana each week to his fellow students. A subsequent survey of high school juniors in the St. Vrain Valley School District revealed that 53 percent of them admit to smoking pot -- 33 percent during the school day. On the heels of that bomb shell, Andy Hopping, the high school's student body vice president, went public with a desperate letter from a student who described Longmont High as "drug capital of the Front Range."

So in December, on the last day of school before winter break, White brought in the drug dogs that she says will become part of the scenery at her school. The dogs -- a chocolate lab, a yellow lab, a brown lab and a Jack Russell Terrier -- will patrol the campus randomly during surprise visits and let their handlers know which lockers and cars in the parking lot might contain drugs, alcohol or other contraband.

"When you get to the point that the education and prevention approach aren't enough, you have to go to a more restrictive measure," says White.

Her actions outraged some parents, teachers and students, who held a forum in November after hearing about the principal's plans. Critics complained of the invasion of privacy and lack of trust the dogs would represent. Some students promised that the dogs would drive a dangerous and destructive wedge between students and school administration.

White wasn't fazed, and she exhibits little concern for the privacy of students.

"I understand their point, but do you take action to protect the privacy of kids who are violating policies and laws, or do you take action to protect the interests of innocent kids who just want a decent and safe education?" White says. "I have to protect the interests of innocent students who expect and deserve a top-notch education."

Her viewpoint represents a growing philosophy among educators, judges and leaders of government and private institutions in a post-Columbine, post-Sept. 11 America. Contraband-sniffing dogs in public probably won't generate headlines and debate forums soon, as they'll likely be so common.

Don't count on the limitations of over-burdened law enforcement to keep this practice in check. Despite what local newspapers reported, the Longmont drug dogs have nothing to do with police. Nor do most modern contraband-sniffing dogs. Rather, the dogs are owned and managed privately. They're part of a new industry that grew by leaps and bounds with every school shooting in the late 1990s, and has flourished even more since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Every time some kid makes the news for bringing a gun to school, our phones ring off the hook," says Mike Ferdinand, vice president of Interquest Detection Canines in Houston.

The Longmont High School dogs belong to a small company in Fort Collins called Sherlock Hounds, owned by former school teachers Nita Bitner and Beth Kelly. In addition to Longmont High, the business services schools in Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland, Gilcrest, Winsor and Fort Lupton. Bitner says she has spoken with the Boulder Valley School District about her services, but was told the board has more interest in security guards than in dogs.

The race to accommodate schools that want crime-sniffing dogs has Interquest aggressively selling franchises in all 50 states.

"I'd like to think that dogs will be common, in most schools, in the very near future," Ferdinand says. "Our experience is that once one school district in a region takes advantage of our services, it becomes a 'me too' phenomenon, and it dominoes through all the other schools in the area."

That has been the company's experience in Colorado. The Colorado franchise of Interquest is owned by Shane Kepler, in Colorado Springs. Kepler's franchise began two years ago with one school as a client. Today, says Ferdinand, the company has dogs sniffing the lockers and parked cars at several hundred schools belonging to about 25 school districts between Pueblo and south Denver. It's only a matter of time, Ferdinand says, before dogs walk the halls of most Colorado schools.

Ferdinand says he tried to interest administrators at Columbine High School in hiring contraband-sniffing dogs for two months before Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried out their killing spree. Students who play with gunpowder, says Ferdinand, are usually detected by Interquest's dogs for questioning by school officials.

The company has franchisees in 18 states so far, and Ferdinand says he has gained contracts since Sept. 11 to provide dogs for various facilities run by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Internal Revenue Service and a host of movie and television studios in southern California. Ferdinand is also receiving a barrage of inquiries from private business owners who wish dogs to keep their premises free of drugs, alcohol, guns and explosives.

The company sells its franchises to just about anyone with the money who gets along nicely with dogs. A franchise -- exclusive to one state in most cases -- costs anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000. For that cost, the franchisee receives a trained dog, training to handle the dog, and leads on thousands of potential customers. It's a small one-time fee, says Ferdinand, considering the fact that one dog generates between $60,000 and $90,000 each year. The overhead? Minimal.

"It costs a franchisee about $1,200 a year to maintain a dog, including food, water and veterinary bills," Ferdinand says.

Furthermore, a contraband-canine franchise may be relatively recession proof. It costs a school district $600 a day for each Interquest dog to sniff the lockers and parked cars. But the money doesn't come from the district's operating budget. Almost always, says Ferdinand, the dogs are paid for with federal funds from Title 4 -- better known as the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program.

"Most schools find that the (dog) program results in more funds coming to the school," Ferdinand says. "In most states, education funding is tied directly to average daily attendance. Administrators find that by reducing drug and alcohol problems, and reducing the fear about weapons, average drop-out rates go down and average daily attendance goes up. In most cases, the program more than pays for itself."

Ferdinand's getting rich off of hysteria over drugs, guns and terrorist bombs. Listening to him, however, one gets the impression he could care less about the cash. Rather, he's on a mission to right all that's wrong with society -- to save the children, to clean up the schools, to isolate and alienate the "druggies," to make the workplace a kinder, gentler, less fear-based environment.

His critics, however, aren't impressed. Drug-sniffing dogs are to civil libertarians, after all, the equivalent of rotting blood-soaked liver to hungry pit bulls.

"This war on drugs, and surveys show that most of the public concurs, is completely out of hand," says Carla Selby, chairwoman emeritus of the Boulder chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "So bringing that into our schools, in this exceedingly intrusive and terrifying manner, is absolutely outrageous. What kind of message are you teaching children who ought to be learning how to defend and uphold their constitutional rights against unlawful searches and seizures? These children ought to be learning, in order to be good citizens, that all people are innocent until proven guilty and that authorities need substantial evidence before searching them or questioning them as suspects. We are creating bad citizens with this -- people who will have no understanding of, nor respect for, their own autonomy and privacy let alone the rights of others."

The ACLU has sued on several occasions, saying the dogs violate the civil liberties of students. They've consistently lost in court, making case law on the subject perfectly clear: School administrators have every legal right to investigate lockers and cars with odor-sensitive dogs. Period.

"There's simply no question anymore," says G. Daniel Harden, professor of education law at Washburn University. "Dogs can be used to sniff inanimate objects anywhere in society, so they certainly can do so in schools. The air around a suitcase, a car, a locker -- even a person -- is open game. It's not considered invasive for an animal to sniff air, so no warrant is required."

Furthermore, Harden says, the expectation of privacy is far lower for juveniles in public schools than for adults in open society.

"Police need 'probable cause' to obtain a warrant and conduct a search of private property," Harden says. "School lockers are not private property. Furthermore, school administrators don't need probable cause. They need only 'reasonable suspicion' to conduct a search, and that's a far lower burden than probable cause."

Case law aside, Selby argues that it's simply unfair and indecent. Students shouldn't be needlessly invaded by dogs because someone might be using or selling drugs. It's not worth it, she says. Harden, a former high school administrator, concurs -- but with exceptions.

"The dogs are probably more disruptive and counter-productive than they're worth, if you're talking about a school in which a few students are using drugs out back," Harden says. "In that case, who cares? Let the druggies smoke, and focus your attention on helping the students who want to learn. If those potheads become a substantial and influential group in the school, however, and they're disrupting the mission of disciplined and rigorous education, then more dramatic steps must be taken."

One might expect Ferdinand -- in a quest to make a fortune off the noses of dogs -- would be happy to simply lean on his court victories and the legally sanctioned rights of principals over students. He's not. When confronted with concerns of civil liberties defenders, Ferdinand continues to insist that Interquest's dogs represent a moral crusade for all that's right and good -- up to and including the defense of civil liberties.

Without dogs, he argues, school administrators are forced to use biased information and their own human instincts to identify drug users and sellers. That system, he says, is inherently flawed by the limitations of human nature.

"Unlike a human, these dogs make no distinction between a black kid, a white kid, a yellow kid or a red kid," Ferdinand says. "The dogs make no assumptions about the valedictorian's car, and it's not inclined to target the black convertible Mustang at the corner of the lot where the druggies hang out. This is truly random, objective, unbiased detection. This takes the human element out and let's man's best friend solve a problem for him."

During the first sniffing operation at Longmont High, White says no drugs, guns nor contraband of any kind were found. Dogs didn't sniff the entire school, and focused only on parking lots and gym lockers. During future searches, White says, the dogs will be taken randomly to other parts of the school.

Most of the dogs used for sniffing operations have noses so sensitive they will signal trouble with a locker if it contains a jacket that has been subjected to marijuana smoke in the air. Or it will signal trouble with a car trunk that contains any remnants of gunpowder from a hunting trip.

"The dog sits down next to the locker, or car or object in question," Ferdinand says. "That tells the handler that something has been detected. Then the student is questioned by a member of the school administration. Many times the student has simply ridden to school in a car where other students were smoking a joint, and the smell got into his or her clothes."

The over-sensitivity of the dogs, says Ferdinand, serves to limit the size and influence of dope cliques.

"Once it becomes apparent to students that even being around marijuana smoke may trigger the dog's nose, then you see an interesting phenomenon take place," Ferdinand says. "Non-drug using students become more leery of taking a ride in that car with other students who smoke pot, because they know it might result in some explaining later that day. It causes an isolation of the druggies, and that prevents them from gaining influence and control."

If he's right, the hounding by dogs at Longmont High might someday remove the Rx logo that's entrenched in the school's public image.

"This is the least intrusive method of the intrusive methods out there," says Nita Bitner, of Sherlock Hounds. "I'd like to think kids will gain enough sense to someday put us out of business, but that's not likely. Soon, these programs will be in most schools."

Write to the author at letters@boulderweekly.com.

The Price of a Barrel of Oil

AKARAOLU, Nigeria -- Olimini sweats profusely in Chief Steward Job's unlit chamber. He sweats all the time, but his high animation and the humid murk of the oven-like room make the perspiration cascade from his body, soaking his white T-shirt and stinging his eyes. He doesn't sit; he bounces around the room like a trapped bat, arms gesticulating wildly, eyes ablaze, voice raised.

His raised voice is as much a matter of necessity as it is passion. Outside the mud hut it's almost impossible to talk. A roaring, dancing, twisting tongue of fire jets from the ground 700 yards from where we're sitting, a 300-foot natural-gas blowtorch lunging into the white African sky.

With ever-increasing passion, Olimini, the secretary for the local council of elders, voices villagers' frustrations with the gas flare and the oil company that put it there. Besides the constant heat and noise, the flare is also responsible for a wide range of health and environmental problems in Akaraolu. Everything from dead streams and empty forests to increased instances of miscarriage and lunacy can be attributed to the flare, says Olimini.

"Sometimes we'll move like a madman and men will lose their brains," Olimini says as he flits about the room.

Endless Days

Visiting reporters are the only people who are impressed by the gas flare. Residents of the village have long assimilated it into their lives. It has burned night and day nonstop for 30 years. They've gotten used to not sleeping well and not seeing the moon and the stars. They're accustomed to yelling at one another to be heard over its roar. And they've adapted to temperatures 10 to 30 degrees higher than normal. Closer to the flare, the heat becomes deadly. None of the village's residents under the age of 29 has known a dark and peaceful night's sleep.

The flare is owned by AgipPetroli S.p.A. of Italy, one of six multinational oil companies with operations in Nigeria that extract a combined average of two million barrels of crude oil a day from the Niger Delta region. Like the other companies, Agip finds it cheaper and easier to flare off the gas, a byproduct of oil drilling, than to capture it. Although Nigeria is believed to have the world's eighth largest reserve of natural gas, there's almost no market for the fuel in the country and no infrastructure to capture it and transport it for use somewhere else. So it burns relentlessly, morning, noon and night.

This is a source of great irony in places like Akaraolu. While oil that will eventually be fed into sport utility vehicles the world over is pumped from beneath their towns, flares light up the sky with wasted energy, a fraction of which could power their village forever. As it is, most villages in the oil-rich Niger Delta have no electricity, and it's sporadic at best in the handful of towns fortunate enough to be wired to the state power company. Even in large cities like Port Harcourt, the teeming capital of Rivers State, the Nigerian Electric Power Association can keep the lights on for only a few hours each day, with barely enough energy to power a 60-watt bulb. Everything is dim, and appliances function at half capacity, if they function at all. Rolling blackouts are the norm, and businesses without their own diesel generators don't stay open long in Nigeria.

There's one generator in Akaraolu and when there's gasoline to fuel it, it's used to operate the chief's air conditioner and a small refrigerator in a closet-like general store. The proprietor keeps Cokes and Nigerian-bottled Guinness stout on hand, a relief for visiting journalists not accustomed to the village's extreme heat.

The lack of gasoline or power in towns like Akaraolu, in spite of the icon of international energy consumption that's roaring on the village's outskirts, is surprising only to those unfamiliar with Nigeria's special breed of corruption and governmental incompetence.

Even though Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil producer, churning an average of two million barrels of crude from the region every day, 16 years of greedy and ruthless military dictators have squandered oil royalties on their own Swiss bank accounts rather than investing it for the nation's 123 million people. The result is an energy infrastructure that's either nonexistent or woefully inadequate. Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria's 18-month-old democracy-who was a military dictator himself in the late 1970s-won control of an oil-rich country so disorganized and politically backwards that it must import fuel. None of the conveniences taken for granted by foreign consumers of Nigeria's oil-telephones, reliable electricity and motor fuel-are readily available in Nigeria itself.

Thanks to heavy government subsidies, gasoline legally sold in Nigeria is among the cheapest in the world: 22 naira per liter, about 18 cents. But the price controls created a vibrant black market that makes it far more profitable for tanker-truck drivers to head to the Cameroon border rather than to the local filling stations. There, they can sell their entire load for up to 30 times the state-mandated rate. Such opportunists are rarely ever caught because anyone who may be in a position to catch them is usually in on the scheme for a cut of the profits. It's a man-made shortage where price regulation has nearly eliminated supply.

Since much of the fuel meant for the state-licensed pumping stations ends up on the black market, gas shortages are so common that cab drivers in Port Harcourt think nothing of parking their battered Peugeot 504s in a mile-long line at the filling station and walking home for the night. The gas used to fuel most cars and generators in Nigeria is sold by black-marketeers from jerry cans on the side of the highways, at prices inflated well beyond what anyone in impoverished places like Akaraolu can afford.

But the price of gasoline isn't measured in naira and dollars in such towns. It's measured in the sweaty, sickened faces of those who live there.

Tribalism and Skepticism

Nigerian oil villages aren't democracies. Reporters can't simply mingle with the villagers without first gaining the approval of the village chief, a series of negotiations that usually takes days. Akaraolu is no exception; pride runs deep, even though the 2,000 residents of the village of zinc-roofed mud huts have little to be proud of beyond simply surviving 30 years next to a nonstop inferno. Residents don't find it remarkable; the hordes of naked, malnourished children filling the streets have no concept of life without a screaming tower of fire raging in the background. The chief and the council of elders remember life before the fire however. They understand that life can be less painful. In our negotiations, the chief's major concern seems to be in finding out whether any good will come from allowing villagers to speak with an outsider.

"Why will anyone care?" Chief Job wants to know. Collapsed nearly supine in a battered green easy chair, wearing a white undershirt and threadbare pants, seemingly overcome by fatigue, he lets Olimini do most of the talking, preferring to stare at the outdated calendars ringing the walls of the chamber. From time to time, lizards darts across the walls from behind one calendar to another.

"What can you do for us?" he asks.

It's hardly the selfish question it seems. Letters sent to Agip and the state government complaining about the flare are routinely ignored. Olimini suggests that the only way to get Agip's attention would be to seize the flow station and cut off production, but he said villagers are reluctant to take such drastic action, with good reason. Years earlier, some had blockaded the road leading to the flow station, refusing to leave until a meeting had been arranged with Agip officials.

Instead, the Mobile Police, the Nigerian government's feared rapid-reaction force-known locally as "Kill and Go" because of its scorched-earth operations against civilians in the Delta's Ogoniland in the mid 1990s-arrived within hours in armored vehicles. Several of the village men were arrested and spent months in detention, Olimini said.

The flare kept burning.

To date, the only thing anyone has done for the village looms over the opposite end of town like a cruel joke on stilts. When Agip built the flare and the flow station in 1972, it also built the village a water tower as a token of corporate good will.

"Undrinkable," says ByGod Abaligwe, a schoolteacher, with a dismissive wave of the hand toward the tower. The unlocked hatch at the top of the tower reveals water so thick with mud and rust that the equatorial sun at noon barely penetrates three inches.

Though the residents of Akaraolu had no say whatsoever in the location of Agip's facilities, they were initially pleased about the discovery of oil under their cassava fields.

"When they came in, we were happy," Olimini says. Villagers performed a ceremonial dance for company officials when they announced the opening of the flow station, because Agip would also build a road to the facility that would greatly improve transportation and trade between Akaraolu and neighboring villages. No one from the company explained what a "gas flare" was or what effects it would have on the villager's lives.

"They did not tell the chiefs that this is what the flare will do," says Adabu Ebere, "There was no education of the chief." Another of the town's schoolteachers, Ebere keeps an eye on manic children as they chase a soccer ball through a nearby field. Those too weak or ill to play sit in the cinder block shell of an unused building and watch.

Ebere stares at the twisting column of fire leaping above the tops of coconut trees like an orange tornado and says that no one has danced in joy in Akaraolu since it was ignited.

Moving Mountains

Villagers have all but given up on convincing the company to move the flare, so now they're asking the company to move the village. Again, the letters remain unanswered.

"Agip should relocate the community," Olimini said. "We'll live comfortably like an American guy two kilometers away. Five families have already moved there and many more are planning to leave. But it's expensive."

So, too, is staying. Air pollution from the flare stack erodes corrugated zinc rooftops more rapidly than in other Niger Delta communities. Many buildings, including one used by the school, have gaping rusted holes in the roofs that turn rooms into shower stalls during the six-month rainy season.

Sometimes the flare soars when a well taps into a reservoir of highly-pressurized gas, causing the ground to shake and walls to crack. Even the seemingly sturdy council chamber, where scrawled in chalk over the entryway is the observation "A hungry man is an angry man," is cracked and sagging.

No health studies have been done on the villagers to assess the dangers of living so close to the flare-Olimini says no doctor, Nigerian or otherwise, has ever visited the village-so it's difficult to judge how medically harmful the flare may be for those in Akaraolu. Residents have their opinions, however. Olimini says men sometimes urinate blood and many children have respiratory problems. The flare kills off fish and scares away game, he says, requiring extensive and arduous trade with neighboring villages so that Akaraolu residents can eat.

Like the letters from Chief Job, telephone messages left at Agip's Milan headquarter go unanswered, so there's no telling what the company's reaction is to Akaraolu's demands.

Global Waste

Mostly located in the Niger Delta, a 31,000-square-mile tropical area characterized by sensitive mangrove swamps, the precious oil of Nigeria coveted by SUV owners the world over resides with an estimated 124 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This small, ecologically-sensitive tropical wetland is criss-crossed with more than 5,000 kilometers of pipelines and is home to more than 90 flow stations and 900 producing oil wells. In other oil-producing countries, most of the gas associated with oil drilling is reinjected into the ground to keep the oil fields pressurized, making the crude easier to extract. Otherwise, it's captured and liquefied for sale on international or domestic markets. In the United States, where natural gas prices more than tripled in the past year, the burning gas of Akaraolu would be coveted heating fuel.

In Nigeria, however, 75 percent of the natural gas produced annually is wasted into the atmosphere. Few facilities in Nigeria use natural gas-and since the geography of the swampy region makes reinjection difficult and costly, the cheapest way to get rid of it is to burn it.

Each barrel of oil sucked from the ground for later use as refined gasoline in developed countries results in 703 cubic feet of wasted natural gas, according to a 1999 report by Shell. As the largest oil company operating in Nigeria, Shell does the lion's share of the flaring, operating 92 flare stacks in the delta. Shell alone flares one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, the energy equivalent of 180,000 barrels of oil.

Though it may be cheaper to burn it than use it, the practice is proving harmful far beyond the nearby villages. Burning natural gas produces methane and carbon dioxide, and the flares in the Niger Delta release 12 million tons and 35 million tons per year, respectively, according to World Bank estimates. Both gases are believed to contribute to global warming, and Nigeria releases a measurable percentage of the world's total output of greenhouse gases, according to a 1998 report by Human Rights Watch. Global warming may lead to rising sea levels, which would threaten every sea-level oil field and hamlet in the 40 miles between Port Harcourt and the coast.

There are signs that the gas flares won't roar in places like Akaraolu forever. Even though Shell predicted in its 1999 annual report that global demand for oil would rise by two million barrels a day in 2000-equal to Nigeria's daily output-rising consumer awareness is slowly creating markets for Nigeria's natural gas. Shell predicts that by 2020, up to 50 percent of the energy needs of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries-30 free-market member states-will be met by natural gas. Shell, Agip and TotalFinaElf have joined forces to open the Bonny Terminal Liquid Natural Gas facility on the Nigerian coast, with the goal of capturing and selling all the gas currently flared by 2008. The joint venture likes to tout its concern for the environment in making the $4 billion investment, but it's likely that nothing would have been done if the demand for cleaner-burning fuel hadn't resulted in new markets and long-term contracts with European countries.

Broken Promise

While the 2008 deadline is encouraging, people in Akaraolu are less than enthusiastic about the news. Such promises are nothing new. In 1988 the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation incorporated a natural gas company to develop facilities to use the gas, but to date the resulting projects use only some 5 percent of all natural gas produced in the region. Regulations meant to encourage oil companies to reduce or eliminate gas flares have been in place since 1969, but the fires still burn, mainly because the cost to the oil companies of turning off the flares far exceeds the fine for keeping them turned on. In 1998, the government fine for gas flaring was raised from a ludicrously low 4 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of gas to an only slightly-less-ludicrous 11 cents. To oil producers, it was merely an inflationary blip in the cost of doing business.

Until it makes economic sense for oil companies to replace firelight with starlight in Akaraolu, people like Saturday Olimini will continue to sweat, yell and pass blood.

Only when abrupt silence and pitch darkness engulf the village will anyone believe that the gas flare that has been a permanent fixture in their lives, is gone.

"As God has greeted man, because of this light, we cannot be happy again," Olimini said at the end of the day. "We suffer here. We plenty suffer."

Greg Campbell, former editor of Boulder Weekly, is a freelance journalist and author living in Longmont, Colorado. He is writing a book about the role of the diamond conflict in the Sierra Leone civil war.

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