Former Pot Prisoner Now Running For Tennessee Congress

Former Pot Prisoner Now Running For Tennessee Congress

Former public defender, Keeda Haynes, who spent nearly four years in federal prison for a marijuana-related felony, of which she says she was innocent, is running for Congress.

Taking on a nearly 20-year incumbent, Rep. Jim Cooper (D), Ms. Haynes hopes to become the first Black congresswoman from Tennessee. 

The last time Tennessee sent a Black person to Congress was in the 1990s.

Though Haynes’ district, which includes Nashville, is nearly 25% Black, they have never had a Black representative in Congress.

Haynes, 42, says her district is ready for change.

“I am running because looking around I can see that people that look like me, that have the same issues I have, we were not being represented in this district,” Haynes told HuffPost.

“It’s important to have someone in Congress that can view the policy from the lens of being formerly incarcerated, as a woman, an African American, saddled with student loan debt, from a working class family,” Haynes said.

Keeda Haynes: From Marijuana Bust to State Representative Candidate

Just weeks after graduating from Tennessee State University with a degree in criminal justice, Kenda Haynes was sent to prison on marijuana-related charges, though she protested her innocence from the beginning.

At age 19, an older man she was dating asked her to receive packages for his cell phone and beeper business but the packages ended up containing cannabis. Haynes and others were eventually indicted on conspiracy to distribute marijuana charges. She was acquitted of six charges, but found guilty of one felony: aiding and abetting the sale of marijuana.

After years of appeals, she was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 5 years in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal system.

When released in December 2006, Haynes earned a law degree and practiced as a public defender in Nashville for over six years.

“I refused to become a permanent casualty of the ill-begotten War on Drugs,” Haynes said on her webpage.

Her time in prison, as well as her experience defending others who have gotten caught up in the country’s racist criminal justice system, are exactly what would make her a great congresswoman, according to Haynes.

“The fight to end the inequalities of our racist criminal justice system is personal to me,” Haynes said.

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