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She Spent Five Years in Prison for Depositing a Cannabis Check

On the Green Entrepreneur Podcast, Evelyn LaChapelle shares the harrowing tale of her cannabis conviction.

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Evelyn LaChapelle

I spent my first night in jail on suicide watch. 

After a jury found me guilty of conspiracy to distribute with the intent to sell marijuana, I was handcuffed, booked, and dressed out. This was absolutely absurd. After asking to undress, the guard handed a knee-length padded gown. “You should be happy that the gown is new and unworn,” he told me. That meant that the velcro that went up the front of the gown was unused and extra sharp. I was placed in a cell and began crying uncontrollably. This caught the attention of a mental health physician who put me on suicide watch. 

The cell had a metal bed frame but no bed mat, so I spent the night in a fetal position, completely undressed, under a padded gown, without any blanket to keep me warm in the freezing cage. When I woke up the next morning, the gown's velcro had scratched up my knees pretty badly. 

Before I could be released, I had to be checked out by the psychiatrist. She showed up that morning with a knock on the metal door. Through the window, she asked me how I was doing. I told her I loved it there, never wanted to leave, oh, and could I please have my underwear back. 

From that moment on, I learned how to control my emotions. I never wanted to cry myself back into suicide watch. In fact, controlling my emotions would become my most utilized tool in surviving prison. I used it for every holiday and birthday that I missed. I used it every time I had to walk back into prison after my daughter visited. It came in handy after those phone calls when my daughter would ask me to come home. She was only four and couldn’t understand that I was in a place I couldn’t leave. Gaining control of these emotions is less about control and more about suppression. I had to learn how to emotionally cut-off from the outside world or those emotions would get the best of me and make an already bad situation worse.  

Related: These 3 Marijuana Nonprofits Are Offering Real Responses To The Pandemic And Racial Injustice

Imprisoned, but for what?

What landed me in this terrible situation? The story begins 11 years ago. My co-defendant, Corvain Cooper, currently serving life in prison for cannabis conspiracy, was involved in a scheme to ship cannabis from California to North Carolina. In January 2009, he asked if I would allow the profits to be deposited into my bank account. Without much thought at all, I agreed. I deposited money for him for nine months. Corvain asked me to keep $200 every time I had to make a withdrawal, like a tip for making the bank trip. It never crossed my mind that this would be a federal crime.  

After my last deposit in September 2009, I moved on with my life. My daughter was born in October. I was married in 2010, graduated from the university in 2011, and started my career the next year as a sales and catering coordinator for a major hospitality chain. 

But in August of  2012, I was stopped by a local sheriff responding to a suspicious car in the neighborhood. He informed me that there was a warrant for my arrest issued from North Carolina. The officer cuffed me and took me into custody. I was released four days later on bond. But on October 18, 2013, I was found guilty by a jury in North Carolina sentenced to five years in prison. 

I was lucky. The US probation recommended a 24-year sentence, but the prosecutor told me that if I waived my rights to an appeal, he would suggest to the judge that I receive eight years. 

I was a first-time offender—a  mother with a daughter at home, looking at 24 years in prison. Of course, I waived my rights! So the judge cut me a break and gave me seven years and 3 months. 

Eighty-seven months doesn't seem so fortunate when you're incarcerated for a crime involving a drug that was recently deemed essential.

Related: 5 Inspiring Ways Cannabis Companies Are Helping During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Life in prison

After my sentencing, I spent 23 months in a cramped county jail that was really only meant to temporarily house inmates. Eventually, I was shipped off to federal prison. During this time I completed a 500-hour life skills/drug treatment program for which I received 12 months off my sentence. I also received another 12 months off of my sentence for good behavior. 

Prison life was not what I expected. I could move freely around the camp from 6 am until 10 pm count time. They served three very tasteless meals a day, but the food was still a 100 percent upgrade from the slop that was served during my two years in the county jail. The building looked like an open warehouse, divided into cubicles that had a bunk bed and a desk. From the top bunk, I could see everyone in the building.

The women population of Victorville Federal Prison camp lived in our own little bubble. We celebrated holidays and birthdays together. We made our meals together and enjoyed weekend movie nights. I kept thinking: If prison life could be so easy, why was I even there? Why have they ripped me from my family, my daughter, from my career to spend my days working on ceramic projects, walking on the track, crocheting, and worshipping in the chapel? It seemed like a waste of money and time. But this was how I spent my time for the remaining three years of the five I served.

After serving a total of five years incarcerated then five months in transitional in-home custody, I was released on February 1, 2019. Transitioning home continues to be a work in progress, and re-entry into the workforce has not come easy. I was fired from my first job when they found out about my conviction. A co-worker googled my name and read an article about my conviction before turning it over to Human Resources. It all felt hopeless to me.

Last Prisoner Project

But a few months after being asked to leave that job, I was introduced to the Last Prisoner Project. They have created a platform for me to share my story and bring awareness to the 40,000 other people who remain incarcerated for cannabis. It is a mission that I stand by. I do not easily enjoy my freedom without the thought of those who remain locked up. My co-defendant Corvain Cooper is currently serving a Life sentence for his participation in this conspiracy. 

The Last Prisoner Project is focused on their release, and I’m able to help them by putting a story and face to that mission. I never thought I would tell my story more than once. Little did I know that many opportunities to be heard would be coming my way. Every time I tell my story and feel heard, I heal just a little bit more from the trauma of incarceration. I hope and believe my daughter will finally begin her healing this year. 

As I write this portion of my story, I am just securing housing for us — almost two years after being released. She had to be without a mother for five years. For the two years I’ve been home, we have had to share a room and a bed. I believe that this year in our own home we will finally get the chance to get to know each other again. 

This experience in prison and our Federal Criminal System has changed me and my family forever. I have found my place in the legal industry at Vertosa, the company responsible for infusing many delicious CBD and THC-infused beverages. I’m their Community Engagement Manager, and I host a Live IGTV segment every Thursday called “The Heart of Cannabis”. The show's mission is to have an open discussion about normalizing cannabis consumption. 

I never imagined that I would have a place in the Legal industry. Now that I’m here, it feels like home — like I deserve to be here. I have no plans of slowing down. Being on Federal probation has many restrictions, so I’m not eligible for plant-touching businesses. But thankfully this industry is much larger than plant-touching opportunities. I'm currently in the process of launching a cannabis accessory line in March 2021. It will be called Eighty Seven for the time I sacrificed for this plant. 

Wish me luck. 

Related: I Smoked A Black Market Vape. This Is Why I'll Never Do It Again