Barbra was addicted to meth as early as high school, and later, when she was struggling to support her daughter, her incarcerated husband encouraged her to sell meth to his friends. Although she claims she ended her ties with the conspiracy as soon as she earned enough to pay her bills – and that her involvement was minimal from the beginning – Barbra was ultimately held accountable for 108.9 kilograms of meth and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. President Obama granted Barbra a commutation on December 17, 2014, and she was released on June 12, 2015. Barbra shared her story at a briefing in Washington, D.C. Watch the event here.
Throughout her life, Barbra suffered abuse at the hands of the men in her life. After her parents divorced, her mother’s new boyfriend gave seven-year-old Barbra marijuana and let his friend molest her. A string of relationships with abusive men followed and Barbra plunged deeper into drug use.
In 1992, Barbra found herself desperate. Addicted to meth since high school, she was able to stay sober while pregnant. However, when Barbra 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, Barbra 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 Barbra. Barbra’s husband told her where to drop them off. When Barbra earned enough to pay her bills, she claims she ended her ties with the conspiracy. Barbra’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 Barbra’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 Barbra’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, Barbra 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 Barbra, and the culpability of Barbra’s husband. The government offered Barbra 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.
Barbra 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 Barbra’s minimal involvement, she received a sentence of 360 months, or 30 years, in federal prison.
Barbra’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 Barbra’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 Barbra: if she dropped her pending appeal, he would reduce her sentence to the mandatory 10 years. Unfortunately, it was too late for Barbra to withdraw the appeal.
A 30-year sentence, combined with a lifetime of abuse and addiction, culminated in a deep depression that caused Barbra 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. Barbra 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.” Barbra was also chosen to participate in the Choices program, where she speaks to teens about the dangers of drug abuse. Barbra 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.
Barbra has been in prison for nearly 20 years. Her daughter is now a young adult, having grown up without her mother by her side.
Name: Barbra Scrivner
Original 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
Original projected release date: March 17, 2019*
*On December 17, 2014, President Obama granted Barbra a commutation (reduction of sentence). She was released on June 12, 2015.
Nature of priors: Barbra’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, Barbra was charged with forgery after buying work clothes with a lost credit card. She pleaded guilty to all charges.