Barbara Scrivner

Post Date: December 17, 2014

Update: On December 17, 2014, President Obama granted Barbara a commutation (reduction of sentence)

Throughout her life, Barbara suffered abuse at the hands of the men in her life.  After her parents divorced, her mother’s new boyfriend gave seven-year-old Barbara marijuana and let his friend molest her. A string of relationships with abusive men followed and Barbara plunged deeper into drug use. 

1992 found Barbara desperate.  Addicted to meth since high school, she was able to stay sober while pregnant.  However, when Barbara had to quit work to care for her daughter, the bills began piling up. She qualified for welfare assistance and pawned her belongings but couldn’t make ends meet. When she was unable to pay her living expenses, Barbara sought help from her husband, Richard, a heroin addict who was in jail.  Richard insisted she sell methamphetamine for some of his friends—major manufacturers at the time—and she eventually agreed.  For a few weeks, the girlfriend of one of the manufacturers delivered the drugs to Barbara. Barbara’s husband told her where to drop them off.  When Barbara earned enough to pay her bills, she claims she ended her ties with the conspiracy.  Barbara’s husband, however, joined the conspiracy upon his release from prison and became a major distributor.

Later that year, police learned about the conspiracy from a confidential informant. A search of the residences of Barbara’s six codefendants produced a laboratory, firearms, packaging materials, scales, miscellaneous paperwork, $10,000 and a half-filled drum of nitroethane, along with other chemicals used to make meth. Only 18 grams of methamphetamine were actually discovered. At Barbara’s residence, however, authorities found only small Ziploc baggies, scales, miscellaneous drug paraphernalia and small trace quantities of a substance suspected to be methamphetamine.  
Initially, Barbara was not arrested with the other participants.  It was only after she refused to testify against the conspirators that she was indicted—one full year later—based on the testimony of the leader’s girlfriend, who had delivered drugs to Barbara, and the culpability of Barbara’s husband.  The government offered Barbara a plea bargain of 10 years in exchange for her cooperation.  Since she knew nothing about the conspiracy beyond her husband’s participation, she instead opted for a jury trial, not realizing the severity of the sentence awaiting her.  
Barbara was held accountable for 108.9 kilograms of meth: 93 kilograms extrapolated from the nitroethane in the drum and 15.9 kilograms that the government estimated the conspiracy distributed between July and November 1992. Despite Barbara’s minimal involvement, she received a sentence of 360 months, or 30 years, in federal prison. 
Barbara’s husband also received a 30-year sentence. The two conspiracy leaders were sentenced to life. The leader’s girlfriend who played “a key role in the conspiracy” received a ten-year sentence. Two other participants were sentenced to eight and five-year terms.
The severity of Barbara’s sentence would later come into question. In 1998, her prosecuting attorney was dismissed and, upon reviewing the old cases, new prosecutor Frank Noonan offered a deal to Barbara: if she dropped her pending appeal, he would reduce her sentence to the mandatory 10 years. Unfortunately, it was too late for Barbara to withdraw the appeal.
A 30-year sentence, combined with a lifetime of abuse and addiction, culminated in a deep depression that caused Barbara to jump from a 40-foot prison building. Miraculously, she survived her near fatal injuries and can walk again after numerous surgeries. Following her physical recovery, she committed herself to recovering psychologically. Barbara dealt with and overcame her mental health issues. She graduated from the Residential Drug Abuse Program and was selected to be a program mentor after proving to be “an excellent example for her peers.” Barbara was also chosen to participate in the Choices program, where she speaks to teens about the dangers of drug abuse. Barbara graduated with highest honors from courses in psychology and social work and sex and drug counseling and is pursuing a degree in Biblical Studies from Ames Christian University. 
Barbara has been in prison for nearly 20 years. Her daughter is now a young adult, having grown up without her mother by her side.

Listen to Barbara’s 2014 Here & Now radio interview:


The Facts: Barbara Scrivner
Sentence: 30 years 
Offense: Conspiracy to manufacture and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine 
Year sentenced: 1995 
Age at sentencing: 29 
Projected release date: Mar. 17, 2019 

Nature of priors: Barbara’s criminal record is closely tied to her addiction to methamphetamine. She was charged with three counts of second degree possession of a controlled substance in 1987 and 1989 as a result of her relationships with drug-dealing boyfriends. In 1989 and 1991, she stole a pair of sneakers and cigarettes while high on meth and was charged with third degree theft. In 1991, Barbara was charged with forgery after buying work clothes with a lost credit card. She pled guilty to all charges.