Saint Louis, Mo. — Freshmen legislators are often tasked with sitting quietly in the back and learning the ropes before wading deep into a fight. But Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican, got waist-deep into a fight in his very first year in the Capitol and, thanks to an effort that was a long time coming, Dogan won.
In a move that surprised some, Gov. Jay Nixon announced last week that he was commuting the sentence of Jeff Mizankey, a 61-year-old Missouri man serving a life sentence for a non-violent marijuana arrest. Mizanksey was imprisoned in 1993 under Missouri’s three-strikes provisions. When he was arrested along with the buyer for purchasing several pounds of marijuana, it was his third non-violent marijuana arrest. Mizanskey was later sentenced to life in prison when he pled not guilty.
“It struck me as such an extreme case, the fact that he was the only Missourian serving life in prison for pot,” Dogan said. “It makes it pretty powerful when you realize we kind of overstepped the bounds of what normal people think of as a rational sentence.”
Dogan filed a bill that would have specifically targeted and freed Mizanskey, but told reporters earlier this year that the “best” solution was not for his bill to be successful, but was for Nixon to take action. Dogan circulated a letter supporting Mizanskey’s release that got signatures from more than two-thirds of the nearly 200 lawmakers in the Capitol.
Since then, Mizanskey’s family has become increasingly vocal about their father’s case, hoping it draws attention to the heavy-handed sentences often handed out to non-violent drug offenders. During his time in prison Mizanskey was never reprimanded for behavioral problems, but did suffer a broken leg, which was not properly set and has a large benign tumor on one arm that prison doctors refuse to remove.
Nixon did not pardon Mizanksey, but rather commuted his life sentence, making Mizanskey now eligible for parole sometime over the summer. His chances are good, considering the Board of Probation and Parole is loaded with Nixon appointees. Dogan said the “changing winds” on the marijuana issue and the tireless work of the Mizanskey family is ultimately what gave Mizanksey a chance at freedom.
“I think people are moving away from thinking we should just lock you up and throw away the ley for a non-violent pot offense,” Dogan said. “The guy has already served 21 years, which is more than rapists and murderers and people selling much more dangerous drugs.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.