t was a miracle morning for Michael Thompson, yet he couldn’t stop his anguished crying. As he spoke, the breath that escaped his black Covid mask formed icy curls in the air—it was that cold at 4 a.m. Thompson had just walked through the doors of the state prison in Jackson, Michigan. In his arms he held just the most minimal of belongings. And when a woman approached him gesturing for an embrace, it seemed he needed some time to make sure he knew her.
Thompson, 69, had lived within the walls of the prison for 23 years. His final arrest—for gun possession that arose from the sale of three pounds of marijuana—came in 1987. The things he had missed were innumerable, but when he finally composed himself enough to speak, in front of a documentary crew, family, his lawyer, and a small crowd of supporters, it was not of himself, but of others.
“I just hope someone can hear me that’s involved with prison reform to let them know a lot of things need to be done,” he said. “Those guys [left behind in prison] are human beings, and the way they’re treating them, it’s not good. So it’s not just about me. It’s about all those guys that need help. [The criminal justice reform people] need to quit talking, and start doing something about it.”
The men and women in Michigan who are currently serving life sentences for possession, selling, or growing/manufacturing marijuana are numerous, and country-wide that number jumps to 40,000. But many, like Thompson, were given sentences that don’t match their crimes and have lost years, if not decades, of their lives to an unjust system.
Some linger in prison with no hope of getting out. But some—like Thompson—have benefitted from surprise help: business owners within the cannabis industry that care about more than making profit. Military veteran Dana Schoched opened O2 Vape in Michigan, and here, she reflects on why she has turned her highly successful cannabis-supply business into an avenue for conscious capitalism.
Sensi: Tell us a little about your backstory.
Schoched: I was in pharma when the opiate crisis hit. I sold against pharma with a holistic pain med. I finally got tired of working for The Man and became a care-giver, with a commercial grow out of my house.
I’m a go-big-or-go-home kind of gal. When oils started coming on the scene, I was one of the first or second people to start selling batteries and cartridges. I started out of garage and built O2 Vape to what it is now—11 people on the payroll with full benefits, profit sharing, and 401K. I worked my ass off, and now even the big brands like Marley say, “We know who you are.”
Sensi: How did you get involved in the Last Prisoner Project (LPP is a non-profit dedicated to fostering cannabis criminal justice reform through legal intervention, public education, and legislative advocacy)?
Schoched: A client of mine, Ryan Bassore, was convicted for selling and incarcerated in the state of Michigan way back when. He asked if I was interested in getting involved, and in TK month/year, I donated $6,000. Ryan says I was the largest single donor of money they had gotten together. The funds went to legal fees for Michael Thompson and to help set him up when he got out of prison.
Sensi: Why is involvement important to you?
Schoched: I think it’s ludicrous that we have people rotting in prison for possession of a plant when you have rapists and murderers and pedophiles serving less time. So, over reefer madness, we’re destroying our community. We’ve had medical in Michigan since 2008—has that destroyed Michigan? What’s destroying it is people opting out of recreational sales.
Sensi: What does conscious capitalism mean to you?
Schoched: It’s in the definition (which is: Businesses should operate ethically while they pursue profits by serving all stakeholders involved including their employees, humanity, and the environment ). I think you have to make a profit as a business, obviously. But if you take some of your profits and go beyond that—it’s important. During the last year with Covid, there were a lot of people who got hurt financially, but a lot of people who also thrived. O2 Vape was one of the latter. We were pretty blessed. So I donated to LPP.
Sensi: Is that the only way you contribute?
Schoched: No, last year I also donated to an equestrian farm that works with vets, handicapped kids, and people with PTSD, and which had been in business for 20 years. I saw on the news that for the first time ever, they were in danger of closing and I couldn’t let that happen. They had a GoFundMe, but I didn’t want to donate that way. I reached out to them, saying I want to give you a pretty big check. I went to the farm, met the owner, did a thing with me presenting a check, and did a [matching funds] challenge, and they ended up staying open. I also donated to a couple of others.
Sensi: Do people now seek you out?
Schoched: I don’t know, because I’m not one of those “Oh, look what I did” kind of people. We put our donation to the farm on social media because we wanted people to match our donation. And we did promote the LPP donation, because that plays more in the cannabis industry. It’s a sore spot in the cannabis industry. I’m sure my clients think it’s cool—Dana helps veterans—but as far as LPP goes, we can’t do nothing when people have been so wrongly imprisoned.
Sensi: Have you met Michael Thompson?
Schoched: I was invited to meet him; we were going to go to the prison when he was released. But they found out a group, including Project Freedom, was going to picket so they changed his release time to 3 a.m. We were going to have a party for him too, but haven’t been able to do that yet.