Former Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder and I have a history. Most would say it's a parallel relationship. Crocker was a "hang em' high" judge who was infamous for handing out stiff drug sentences under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. I served a 15 to life sentence under these laws. Crocker wrote a book, 25 to Life, that documents her career as a tough prosecutor and judge. I wrote a book, 15 to Life, a memoir about doing hard time under the harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws.
I met Snyder years ago when I was asked to be a guest on "Full Nelson," a talk show on Fox hosted by Rob Nelson. When I found out that she was also on the show I contacted Randy Credico, who co-founded the Mothers of the New York Disappeared with me. Our group advocated for those who had fallen through the cracks of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Many of us were deemed kingpins by individuals like Judge Snyder. But in reality many of us were not. One individual who Synder sentenced was Jose Garcia, who at 69 years old died in his prison cell in upstate New York. As a graduate of New York Theological Seminary, I was chosen to perform the eulogy in a special prayer we conducted in front of Governor Pataki's NYC office. Hundreds of people attended along with Jose's elderly wife Hilda. We all prayed that the Rockefeller Drug Laws would be reformed in the name of Jose Garcia.
I made a plan to put Judge Snyder in the hot seat and thought it would be a rare opportunity to confront her for her actions. I contacted the producer and asked him for three guest tickets to the show. I called Randy and asked him to bring two family members of loved ones who were sentenced by Judge Snyder to sit in the audience. Doreen Lamarca's brother, Mike Lamarca, was sentenced to 25 years to life. Evelyn Sanchez's son, Junior Gumbs, was sentenced to a 33 to life term under the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Snyder and I got into a heated debate on the show. Attempting to quell our differences, Rob Nelson turned to the audience for questions. Randy Credico raised his hand and furiously waved. He was chosen. My plan was working. Credico, who is now running against Charles Schumer for Senate next year, began a rant against Snyder, asking her why she had sentenced Doreen and Evelyn's loved ones to such an extraordinary amount of time behind bars. Ms. Sanchez, who was dying of cancer and had spent her life savings to obtain legal representation for her son, began to cry. Snyder turned red and was flabbergasted by the event. After the show she complained to producers that she was set up. The show never aired.
A few years later I did a pilot reality show about prison. One of the guests was Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder. She was rather cocky when she began bragging about how criminals called her "The Princess of Darkness." I remember asking her to explain her position on the Rockefeller Drug Laws. She said she supported 90 percent of them. At that time over 90 percent of those incarcerated were black and Latino. This alarmed me. I thought, "How could she support a law that was obviously racist?" It told me something about her.
Nowadays there is a new and improved Leslie Crocker Snyder. She is running for New York City District Attorney and, remarkably, now supports Rockefeller Drug Law reform. I almost fell off my chair when I heard this. She sounded nothing like the old "Princess of Darkness." Do I think Snyder really supports drug law reform? No, I don't. She knows that she needs the black and Latino vote. And she knows that public opinion has shifted, as the wastefulness and ineffectiveness of harsh sentences for drug law violations has been brought to light over the past decade. I guess running for a political office has a way of changing a person's thinking.
Anthony Papa is the author of "15 To Life" and a communication specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance Network.
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