SKUNK MAGAZINE, APRIL 2011
by Angela Bacca with Eddy Lepp
In early October, 2010, I became the second person in two years to visit Eddy Lepp in Lompoc Federal Prison, near Santa Barbara, California.
I entered the main corridor, surrendered my ID and took off most of my clothing to be searched. The only items allowed when visiting a federal prisoner are one car key and a clear plastic bag full of quarters for the vending machines. I finished the pat down, put my shoes back on and then got in line to be “batched” to the visiting area. Five IDs at a time are given to the guard; a prisoner’s last name and 8-digit prison number are affixed to the top of the ID and scanned through a black light. The guard scanned the batch of IDs, “Who is visiting Mr. Lepp?” he asked. I told him that I was, he seemed shocked. He shook his head, “Mr. Lepp is a political prisoner, and he doesn’t belong in this place, with these people”. Now I was shocked, a federal prison guard just openly acknowledged that Eddy was a political prisoner, not a criminal, in the main corridor of one of the West Coast’s largest prison complexes.
As he brought us back to the visiting area, he spoke to me more about his reverence for Eddy, before wishing me luck and leaving me in the visitors courtyard, an elementary school-like patio with picnic tables and vending machines, except that it was cordoned off by two wire fences topped with barbed wire.
“Prison Visits: by Eddy Lepp
Visits are a wonderful thing. Sadly for most of us [inmates] they happen way too seldom.
In my case, it costs Linda [my wife] around $400 to come for a weekend, she has to save money for 3-4 months to be able to do it.
A friend of mine here has been in for 14 years with 6 left to go and has had 3 visits total– all from visitor groups!! (Groups who visit prisoners, mostly churches)
Visitors are only allowed 3 days a week [Sat-Mon]. Prisoners get 1 ten-minute phone call a day (300 total minutes a month). [Visiting hours and phone calls coupled with] other restrictions make it very hard to maintain a family. Children grow up and leave home many times while mommy and daddy go to prison.
For a country that encourages family values, we do little to encourage they last with outrageous sentences from the start.
HOW MUCH OF A THREAT ARE WE when 250 of us are guarded by a 5’4″, 150lb woman armed with nothing but her mouth and a bad attitude?
And while it is wonderful to get a visit, after the visit we must strip down and open all orifices– lift our sack and then squat and cough– fun!! You bet.
I knew Angela was coming but not when all day they call out over the PA names to the visiting room, your heart goes to your throat each and every time and then finally it is you. What a rush just to know someone, anyone, cares enough to drive out to this hole to see you! I cant explain how nice it was to speak to a beautiful young woman for a couple of hours and not be scared to death of saying the wrong thing. A slip in anyway with a female CO [correctional officer] is a one-way ticket to the hole [solitary confinement].
It was so nice to hear about the outside and what all of you are doing and not doing. I got a Payday bar, which I can’t get inside, and three Dr. Pepper’s.
Please write. Hope to see everyone soon” – Letter from Eddy, October 15
It is humbling to speak one on one with such a legendary and influential player in the medical marijuana movement, but to speak to one in orange vans and greasy khakis in a federal prison yard is a blunt reminder that even in California, medical marijuana really isn’t legal yet.
At one point, Eddy, a Vietnam War Veteran and Rastafarian Minister, had the largest public medical marijuana garden in the country. His farm in Lake County, California was home to 40,000+ plants of anywhere between 40-45 strains—all clearly visible from California State Highway 20– and planted according to state law under Proposition 215.
Lepp planted Eddy’s Medicinal Gardens in 2004, with the intention of providing low-to-no-cost, high quality medicine for anyone who needed it, regardless if they could afford it. By renting holes for $500 a season and providing renters with a mature plant at harvest, or a pound of marijuana, Lepp was able to not only provide his renters medicine, but also give it away for free to anyone in need.
People came from as far as five hours away to participate in Eddy’s Medicinal Gardens, all valid recommendations were documented, and State and County authorities were notified. According to Eddy’s friend and assistant, Erica Womachka, at one point up to 100-150 licensed patients were coming a day to sign up. The garden was advertised in the local newspaper and Eddy gave slideshow presentations to potential patients. While still giving away much of the medicine he grew for free, enough profit was generated from the gardens for Eddy and his crew to reinvest in the community.
“I can’t mention names but we gave several hundred people a home from 2000 until I lost the house. Some stayed a few weeks, some stayed for up to seven years. We took in men woman and children. We tried to help in any way we could. We bought hundreds of pairs of shoes and socks for local low-income children, cheerleader uniforms for the local high school, sponsored cars at the local speedway (as it is the center of family entertainment in Lake County), we paid for a coffin for a baby that died of SIDS, we also inspired others to do the same.” –Letter from Eddy, December 16th 2010
Lepp created the mass-scale garden many other cities have attempted while still maintaining the “non-profit” model set up in Proposition 215. The concept was simple yet revolutionary and it caught on—to the DEA. Lepp was raided in 2004. The plants were torn out, and Eddy was arrested. According to Womachka, the DEA counted 32,524 plants in the raid—before they stopped counting. Eddy was an embarrassment to the DEA, but most importantly, the Bush Administration.
“I knew I was taking some risk, but we did not believe we were breaking the law… All together, I have been told its my fault there are thousands of gardens now visible from Highway 101, Interstate 5 and the many roads tying into them. I guess it is all in how you look at it, I never wished to embarrass anyone. All we were trying to do was exercise our rights under the law. I am only sorry the government took that as an insult. The DEA made it very plain that embarrassment was what motivated them to raid the church and to do all the horrid things they did to get the warrants– which were all thrown out of court, by the way.
It was always about helping people as my faith directs me. We always had the best intentions and tried to show that we could do all of this without government aid or involvement. Had we been left alone we would have been successful. We removed almost 3000 possible crime sites and untold other problems by not having all those gardens in everyone’s’ back yards.” -Letter from Eddy, December 27, 2010
In May 2008, a jury found him guilty of conspiracy of cultivation with intent to distribute. Federal Judge Marilyn Patel noted that the ten-year mandatory minimum was “excessive” but sentenced him to it anyway. He was given until July to surrender himself to serve his sentence.
“We woke up at 4:30 am the day I surrendered myself to federal prison. We drove about an hour west to Santa Rosa, California to add several more cars to our caravan and a motor home that was specially designed for the trip. We met and picked up more people and cars as we traveled six hours down Highway 101 towards Lompoc. I am told there were 70-100 people in our caravan by the time we made it down, including Charles Lynch, Ed Disney and Nice Cream Steve. I went inside and asked when I had to turn myself in. They said I had a couple hours so we all stayed in the parking lot until 3:00pm. When I finally was admitted they took my back brace, cane, wedding ring, and everything else but my clothing (which they took as soon as I was inside).”
Eddy’s letters have documented what can only be seen as cruel and unusual punishment. Since my visit, Eddy was moved from the Low Security Prison to the Federal Prison Camp, still in Lompoc. The prison no longer has a record of my visit and I have not been approved to visit again. Eddy has filed and appeal which he of course hopes to win. Until then he spends his days writing and reading letters and counting down the days til his release, in 2018.
Every little bit helps, send Eddy a letter or donate to his tax-deductible defense fund through www.green-aid.com
Lompoc Federal Prison Camp
3705 West Farm Road
Lompoc, CA 93436