Deedee Kirkwood is a 70-year old mother, grandmother, wife, artist, playwright, and cannabis activist. In 2012 she was producing her stage play, Toke, in Sacramento when she met activists from Americans for Safe Access. She was invited to an afternoon tea, and was devastated to discover that some in attendance were facing court cases for non-violent drug offenses that would tear their families apart. Further, she learned that there are were over fifty people serving life sentences for cannabis. Shocked and enraged by the injustice of life in prison for a miracle plant that is now legal in many states, she knew she had to take action. She started by sending birthday cards to pot prisoners. As she tells it, “Some wrote back and then I wrote back. These back and forths turned into relationships over the years with these lifers becoming like family.” Currently, she is corresponding with 30 pot prisoners.
She wanted to raise both public awareness and funds, to help make the lives of those incarcerated a little easier. She started a campaign called 31 Aprons for 31 Pot Lifers, sewing Pot Fairy aprons so that she could put money on the prisoners’ commissary accounts for necessities. Many people think prisoners have everything provided for them, but that is far from true. They are forced to work for pennies an hour, and must purchase things like soap, combs, toothbrushes, phone calls home, postage stamps, medical care, and palatable water. In addition to aprons, she now sells purses and necklaces, with the proceeds going directly to inmates.
Raising funds is pretty straightforward, but public awareness can be a challenge. As of her pen-pals, Craig Cesal says, “I believe the biggest hurdle we have as marijuana lifers, is that most people don’t even know, or don’t accept that there are first time offenders, such as me, sentenced to life without parole for marijuana. She sets a great stage, and puts in great effort to get us that attention, which is our only avenue to relief.” Ultimately, Deedee’s goal is to not only provide hope and financial support to pot lifers, but to “spread the word about their death sentences and join forces with others who want to offer support and work for change.”
When we learned of her mission, we knew we had to get involved and help in any way we can. The fact that there are non-violent cannabis offenders sentenced to die in prison is as unconscionable as it is heartbreaking. So in 2019 we opened a section of our dispensary as a Pot Lifers Museum & Boutique as a vivid reminder that cannabis prohibition is still alive and well. Visitors could read correspondence between Deedee and several prisoners, and see original artwork by self-taught painter and paraplegic prisoner Michael Pelletier. In addition to selling various items under the Pot Fairy line, Deedee has collaborated to launch Pot Fairy Originals, with her cute logo emblazoned on vintage tees and accessories. Proceeds have helped fund the commissary accounts of these drug POWs. While the exhibit is now over, we feel good about the awareness we raised and even better that many of our original pot lifers were granted clemency in 2020/2021.
Are you as outraged as we are? Want to get involved? Deedee is always looking for ideas that will further the cause, and volunteers to help improve the lives of cannabis prisoners, including the all-important task of corresponding with inmates. Writing letters may seem simple, but communicating and maintaining relationships with prisoners, who are often in despair and hopeless, is something even their loved ones and friends often struggle to do.