By Tom Kikuchi
About a week ago, my life partner, Stephanie Landa, and I received some bad news. A biopsy revealed a condition known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is enough to know that it is a type of cancer that is very painful and very deadly. Internet inquiries about non-Hodkins suggest that it is caused by the various contaminants in our environment. If this is true, it is quite puzzling to us how Stephanie could have been exposed to enough pollutants to trigger lymphoma. I have known Steph since the early 1970′s when she was the informal director of community gardens in a little beach town near Santa Barbara, California. I lived a couple of blocks away from Steph’s garden and was impressed by the quality, variety, attention-to-detail, and scale of the garden. It was about an acre and a half of meticulously weeded, organically fertilized, properly watered garden of just about every vegetable you can imagine. Most of the veggies are what we call heirloom varieties today. Even back then, hybrids had been making inroads into the American diet but heirlooms were still plentiful and easy to get. From Spring to late Fall, there was a cornucopia of fresh vegetables for anyone to gather free for the taking. As Steph moved on in life from those days, she always strived to eat and drink organically.
As the 21st century dawned, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe have all been subjected to changes, none of them any good. Almost everyone agrees that pesticides and industrial chemicals are harmful to human life. Yet, increasingly, it is harder and harder to avoid them in your day to day existence. Higher priced organic foods, quality bottled water, and a central air conditioner with special filtering can shield you from a high percentage of the pollution surrounding us. Those with the education and the means are doing these very things but for the rest of us, we make do. Stephanie was a moderate devotee of the vegan diet. Her cupboard was always stocked with copious amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables alongside the free range chicken and salmon. I remember her as being happy and healthy until that fateful day in July of 2002 when the police raided our city sanctioned medical grow facility. By 2005, much time, sweat, and treasure was expended fighting this case against the federal government but the end result was three and a half years in prison. Steph was released in 2009 after serving 41 months.
Those of you who have never been subjected to long term imprisonment can only imagine it from what the movies portray. Quite often, movies aren’t too far from the truth but what they never emphasize are the environmental conditons as a whole. The food in prison is as far removed from what you would consider eatable as possible. It somewhat resembles food in looks most of the time but I suspect many of the ingredients are tainted. The prison pantry is stocked by the lowest bidder who knows that consumer complaints will never make it past the prison gate. Thus, post dated, defective products are often in the recipes. Perhaps, they are oranges accidently sprayed with a noxious poison or maybe canned meat that is clearly marked “Not Fit For Human Consumption” on the crate.
I know many people who refuse to drink water straight from the tap. They do this with good reason as our water supply is clearly polluted if you ever take the time to review your local water report. Stephanie has been a devotee of bottled waters for over four decades. She was originally from the East Coast where the water was still good and sweet during her childhood. When she moved to Southern California during the mid 60′s, Steph was revolted by the taste of the tap water and started buying it by the bottle. In federal prison, there is a limit to the amount of water that a prisoner is allowed to purchase. A prison store is offered once a week where a case of water can be had if you have the money. While Steph generally had enough money on her books to afford this necessity, 8 quarts of quality water per week is not enough to keep properly hydrated. The rest of your daily water ration must be made up with prison tap water. Where Steph was imprisoned, the land is heavily pollluted from the agricultural industry. The pollutants seep into the groundwater which supplies the prison.
In any group of 250 random people, there are going to be at least a few who have serious, communicable illnesses. Think of all the different kinds of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that plagued your friends and family over the years. Then imagine being placed in a small, claustrophobic room with these sick people for forty-one months straight. To make it worse, there is a constant trickle of new people bringling new strains of diseases as the some of the old ones leave. Everything these sick people touch and the very air they breath can pass their illness. In prison, the air is stifling and recycled without filtration. A healthy individual can resist most of these bugs but the daily assault on the immune system has to wear it down, especially without proper nutritiion.
By 2010, Steph had been out of prison for about a year when she would periodically complain of a pain in her groin. She is a pretty tough woman so she would just gut it out and go about her business of ending cannabis prohibition until the pain would eventually go away. She also spent much of her time supporting others who have ended up in prison just because they love cannabis.
Ignoring the warning signs of the recurring pains and lengthening duration, Stephanie kept up her activist schedule until this April, 2013. She had been virtually bedridden for an entire month with increasing pain levels. I finally insisted that we go to an emergency hospital and now we know the hard news.
My logic may have flaws but it is my opinion that my Stephanie has been poisoned by the federal government while she was incarcerated. When I hugged her goodbye just before she drove to San Francisco to surrender herself to prison, I held a healthy, vibrant woman. Now just a few years later, she is fighting for her life.