Incarceration to Liberation: Evelyn LaChapelle's Cannabis Redemption Story
Published on 4/26/21
Imagine going to jail for a harmless favor you did for a friend - just because it involved cannabis. This is precisely what happened to Evelyn LaChapelle when she helped a friend deposit cash for a cannabis operation before it was legalized in California. Sadly, Evelyn's story is one of many. In fact, over 40,000 prisoners sit in cells today for cannabis crimes - many of which have become legalized across the nation. Evelyn now works with Last Prisoner Project, an amazing organization dedicated to cannabis criminal justice reform. We believe it's incredibly important to share these stories, so we sat down to hear more about her incredible redemption.
WW: Hi Evelyn. Thanks for chatting with us today. The crime that you were arrested for feels like a situation that anyone could have found themselves in - helping a friend who needed a favor. Could you tell us a bit more about it, and your experience with arrest, trial and sentencing?
I allowed cannabis profits to be deposited into my bank account, that sounds like what people in this industry are doing all of the time. So my experience with arrest, trial and sentencing is just a look into how unjust our justice system really is. I was sentenced to 87 months in prison as a first-time nonviolent cannabis offender.
WW: What was your mindset in jail as you were first sentenced for those 87 months? Did it shift over time - especially as cannabis legalization grew around the country?
In the beginning after receiving those 87 months, I began to believe what the prosecution team had to say about me. That I was a criminal who committed an egregious act and deserved the time they had given me. Even during my incarceration, I held on to the belief that I had done something terribly wrong because that is the only way to explain why the federal government felt the need to take me away from my daughter. Then I came home and saw with my own eyes that the cannabis industry was booming, and could get it delivered to my door through an app. Then my guilt and shame turned to anger and sadness.
WW: Could you tell us a bit more about what it was like to leave jail and try to start a new life?
I left jail extremely optimistic that this was all behind me and I would ride off into the sunset of freedom. I was hired at the Omni hotels and then immediately fired after a co-worker googled my name and took what they found about my conviction to human resources. I tried to start a new life but found out pretty quickly that society was not prepared to have me back.
WW: What went through your mind after losing that job? What did you envision for your future at that point?
Short-term I envisioned myself working my 3 waitressing jobs. Long-term I knew I would be building my brand "87" - the eighty-seven is to represent the 87 months I was sentenced to in prison. So in hindsight losing that job gave me the push and platform to create my own path into the industry.
WW: How did you find yourself connected with Last Prisoner Project and eventually Vertosa?
Both of those things happened one shortly after the other. I was introduced to LPP through Corvain Cooper who was at the time serving a life sentence for Cannabis. My relationship with LPP was just to add a face to the 40k people currently incarcerated for cannabis. While sharing my story at a LPP event the CEO and CIO of Vertosa were in the audience and offered me my first position in the cannabis industry. Although I am no longer employed with Vertosa, I continue to host "The Heart of Cannabis" on their platform.
WW: Could you tell us a little more about your role at Last Prisoner Project?
I am the program associate at LPP. I built our new re-entry program to directly benefit our constituents. I also work on partnerships with brands who support our mission.
WW: What are some of the biggest challenges that previously incarcerated individuals face upon release?
So many, but starting with the basic needs, housing, clothing & food. If someone releases from prison without the support of family and loved ones, they are essentially coming home to nothing at all. Imagine starting from scratch as an adult without your basic needs being met but then told to find a job in two weeks or risk violating probation and going back to jail.
WW: It's amazing that you're working on your own brand within the cannabis industry - it really feels like you're taking back your power with it. Could you tell us a bit more about it?
My favorite part saved for the end of the conversation. 87 was established to provide quality consumption essentials to my patrons while amplifying the voice of the women who served time in prison for cannabis. 87 represents the number of months I was sentenced to Federal Prison. 87 is a story of defeat and victory. Prison didn't break me, it built me. Please stay connected at 87months.com and look for my cannabis essentials online and in your local dispensaries June 2021.
Please consider taking a moment to sign Last Prisoner Project's "A Time to Heal" petition to urge President Biden to grant federal cannabis clemency to those still in prison.