The United States spends more than 50 billion dollars a year to arrest millions for the simple possession of drugs. Of these approximately 1.6 million arrests per year for drug crimes, more than 650,000 of those were for marijuana in 2016 — the same year thousands were making billions legally for the same thing. And it's no mediocre offense, either. The average term of incarceration for a marijuana case in federal prison is 7 years, a period of time devastating to the friends and families of the people who have had their lives upended by a (largely) non-violent offense.

One’s time, friends, family, loved ones, hopes, dreams, may never be the same.  

Kenneth Hutson — who now goes by "Broken" — went to prison twice in Indiana for simple possession of cannabis. One of those times he says he was only smoking a joint at a concert with some friends, something millions just like him have done every weekend for decades in America.

His story is a blunt reminder that Draconian marijuana laws still impact innumerable lives even though it's now legal in 29 states across the country.

Tell us about your life growing up.
"I was adopted by my dad when I was 2. I wasn't real close to my parents spiritually, but they always gave me the best of material items and experiences — probably to hide the fact they were miserable together at that time. Dad was a raging drunk. Parents divorced when i was 15. I started smoking cannabis to ease all the confusion I was experiencing. It was the best medicine I ever had in my body to be honest. I was able to be myself without worrying about my family splitting.

(Weed) allowed me to still be a kid in a sense. That's when people started labeling me, and the planet turned into a cold place to live; I was now a 'druggie.' The people closest to me swore that every mistake I made from there on out was because I smoked cannabis.

How did marijuana lead to your incarceration?
I was caught smoking 6 times, unfortunately. Never caught dealing, growing or transporting. Just smoking. And ultimately ended up in prison in Indiana 2 times for cannabis.The first time I went to prison I had already been caught for possession several times; going back to being a teenager when I was busted with a roach outside of a concert. Three of us were charged with possession. Three of us were incarcerated then for one roach.

What was your dream job / career path when you were incarcerated?
I wanted to follow my dad’s footsteps and become an extrusion engineer. But with a record of drug possession, that just wasn't realistic.

How did this affect your relationship with family, friends, girlfriend?
The biggest effect it had on me was when Indiana used my cannabis possession as leverage to take away my daughter. It’s been 11 years and she’s missed by everyone in her family.

What happened there, if you don't mind us asking?
I was in the middle of a divorce and my ex-wife was caught selling drugs; the state temporarily took my daughter pending investigations. My ex's mother didn’t want me to get custody of my daughter — so a lie was created.

I was never charged with a crime, state never picked up the case with charges for child endangerment, no hospital report to confirm allegations. They couldn't, and didn't, charge me with anything because I didn't do anything — and they had no evidence to charge me. Period.

They couldn’t charge me with the allegations — obviously bogus — so Vigo county went back on prior marijuana convictions of mine for pot and profiled me as a drug addict that was not competent enough to raise a child. I used marijuana as medication and that county shined a light on me that was invalid and untrue.

The end result is that I feel like I had my daughter kidnapped from me by the system. My ex has even admitted to the lies via email and social media messages. I took that evidence to a lawyer and was told it was past statute of limitations. The only way to revisit the case is though the Supreme Court of United States. To be seen in that type of venue, I’ll need a million voices behind me demanding justice.

Did you feel more like a victim or a criminal once you got to prison?
I felt like a criminal and a victim. It’s hard to describe. I knew it was B.S. that i was locked up for smoking cannabis, but at the same time, the authority around me kept telling me how bad pot was and how it’s a gateway to other things, how it was ruining my life, et cetera. I never understood how that was possible because medically speaking, cannabis was working very well for me.

What kind of facility were you held at?
I was held at the Hamilton County Jail until I was moved to a State RDC (reception diagnostic center) level 4 facility. Max Security 23/1.

Were there others with similar stories to you?
Many. Indiana prisons are a revolving door for weed offenders. Its sad how many families have been through this over a plant that holds so many medicinal potential and therapeutic properties.

What do you think of the idea of rehabilitation? Is that what happened to you?
No, if anything it lead me to smoke more to ease the tension and fears that were instilled in me.

What did you miss the most?
I miss the innocence that was taken from me. I miss the opportunities that were taken from me. But I miss my daughter the most.  

How long were you incarcerated?
I have been arrested 6 times for possession. 30 days, 3 months, and 6 months. Separate occasions.

How has that experience affected your overall well-being since prison?
I have faced a lot of judgment. The anxiety and fear of being sent to prison has definitely taken a long-term toll on me. I have since moved to Colorado and do not plan on leaving out of fear of not being able to medicate with cannabis.

How has it affected your day-to-day life?
I’m considered a criminal and convicted felon because of all of this. I had to be a secret smoker and hide my lifestyle until I moved to Colorado. But even today my family judges me and it’s difficult to find high-paying jobs.

Was it hard to start smoking weed again after it nearly ruined your life?
No way. I was nervous, of course, but cannabis was the only thing that eased my racing thoughts, anxiety and depression etc. I had to return to using it."

[cover photo provided by Kenneth Hutson]