Victims of the HEA Drug Provision

    Kandice Hawes, Anaheim, CA – While working as an office assistant and attending school at Fullerton College, Ms. Hawes was arrested for marijuana possession. As a financial aid recipient, Hawes actually lost her aid during college and would therefore not be helped by any of the Drug Provision reforms currently pending in Congress except for Barney Frank’s full repeal bill. Speaking about the loss of financial aid, Hawes explained “that was one of the most depressing aspects of my unfortunate ordeal.” Without the scholarship she received from a private fund committed to granting scholarships to students affected by the Drug Provision, Hawes would have been unable to continue her education. A compassionate activist, today Kandice works ina doctors office and is the President of Orange County NORML.
    Marisa Garcia, Santa Fe Springs, CA- When Marisa Garcia received a ticket for a marijuana pipe found in her car, she never thought that it would cost her future financial aid. However, during the process of filing for aid for her upcoming freshman year at California State University-Fullerton she found out that this minor offense was enough to do just that. Being raised by a single mother with three siblings, losing financial aid posed a major challenge for Marisa. Luckily with help from her mother and extra hours at work she was able to cover the unexpectedly high costs of her education. Marisa is now a full-time sociology major at Fullerton and plays an active role in the campaign to repeal the Drug Provision.
    Donald Miller, Queens, NY – At 53 years old, Miller is a very atypical college student. Miller began showing signs of mental illness in his early teens. When his mother passed away when he was only 22, Miller went off his medications and drifted into decades of homelessness and addiction. After several convictions for crack-cocaine and a stint at Riker’s Island, he began tackling his addiction problems. Donald enrolled himself in several treatment programs and stopped using all drugs in 1998. Seeking to better himself through higher education, Miller soon encountered the HEA Drug Provision. Though Miller had self-enrolled in a successful drug treatment program, unbeknownst to him, it did not qualify under the treatment exemption of the Drug Provision and after completion he was still ineligible for federal financial aid. Thanks to a $2,000 grant from The John W. Perry Fund Miller was able to enroll in his first semester at York College where he is currently seeking a degree in environmental health science. 
    Cindi Ruiz, Mesquite, TX - Cindi Ruiz has been on her own since she was 13 years old. Growing up in such dire circumstances, she fell into a life of homelessness and drug abuse. Now 44, she has since recovered from addiction, and attends Eastfield Community College in Mesquite, Texas with the ultimate goal of becoming a social worker. However, because of several prior drug convictions (the most recent in 1997), Cindi has been indefinitely denied aid to go to college. She depends on the financial support of a friend to attend school part-time and acknowledges that with financial aid she might be able to attend full-time and obtain her degree that much more quickly.
      Sandra Kriszka, Oklahoma – This former financial aid recipient has learned to balance being a single mother of three children while pursuing her degree. The Northwestern Oklahoma State history major saw her college career threatened when a misdemeanor marijuana charge meant she would lose financial aid for a year. “I couldn’t afford my rent, which in turn meant I couldn’t afford to go to school,” Kriszka said. “I was nearly forced to drop out. Why wouldn’t the government want to help people with drug convictions go to school?” Being affected by the Drug Provision has inspired Sandra to forcefully lobby Congress to repeal this misguided law. 
    Michael Mayer, Nashville, TN – As a 19-year-old student caught up in a dormitory drug sting, Michael ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana charge, which was enough to cost him his financial aid. Though Mayer was enrolled at Quinnipac College in Connecticut at the time, he was forced to leave school because of the loss of aid. After getting a part-time job at Outback Steakhouse and a break from school, Mayer was able to enroll in Middle Tennessee State, which was closer to home and work. Mayer said the experience inspired his educational path; he now seeks a degree in Criminal Justice and Political Science. Mayer says the HEA Drug provision “almost cost me my future.” 
    Melanie Cavyell, Central Oregon – As a single mother, Melanie found it hard enough to make ends meet while attending Linn Benton Community College and receiving federal financial aid. With her college career threatened mid-course by a drug arrest and its unanticipated financial consequences, Melanie said she did not know how she was going to stay in school. With no other way to pay tuition, Melanie was devastated to find out that she had lost her eligibility for financial aid. “I’m a single mother and this was my only offense. I want to change my life so that I can make a better future for my daughter.” Like it has done to tens of thousands of other victims, the HEA Drug Provision frustrated that goal for Melanie. 
    Nicholas Haderlie, Wyoming – Not only did a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge land Nicholas Haderlie in jail for four months, but it also cost him his federal financial aid. The blow could have disrupted his education at the University of Wyoming, were it not for the help of the John W. Perry Fund. Many of the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the HEA drug provision since 2000 were caught up in the criminal justice system because of a simple marijuana possession charge as Nick was.
      Stephen Hanson, Brunswick, North Carolina – This 36-year-old father of six was forced to get a job in a fast food restaurant after a misdemeanor marijuana conviction cost him his financial aid. Hanson was one of the many victims who had never even heard of the HEA Drug Provision until he received his rejection letter for federal financial aid. “It’s like discrimination,” he said. “Isn’t it enough for them to punish me in the criminal justice system? Do they want people to better themselves or not?” Fortunately for Hanson, his financial aid officer, who also informed him he was no longer eligible for aid, knew about a private scholarship set up for victims of the HEA Drug Provision. After receiving the scholarship Hanson said, “When you can’t get financial aid for a year, every bit helps.”
    Anonymous, Simi Valley, CA – This young woman was studying Communications at Moorpark College when she lost her aid because of a methamphetamine conviction. Even though she completed a 90-day court ordered drug treatment program, she remains ineligible for financial aid. Juggling a full course-load with a full-time job as a receptionist at a mortgage company, she was unable to make up the shortfall resulting from the aid ban. Frustrated by the situation, she said, “It seems like the government’s against you, the cops are against you, you’re just a registered drug offender. I was running out of options because I made a mistake.” 
      Anonymous, Denver, CO – A 22-year old student double-majoring in Engineering Physics and Applied Mathematics cited possible professional problems if his plight were known to the public. After a traffic stop gone wrong, this student was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana and paraphernalia possession. The conviction cost him $400 in fines, 20 hours in community service, and the stigma of a drug conviction on his record. After honestly reporting his conviction on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, he soon realized he was also ineligible for financial aid. After being fired from his federal work-study job because of the HEA Drug Provision, even his advisor was frustrated to the point of calling their Member of Congress. After losing the aid he said, “My parents and I don’t have much money at all. Losing the aid to go to college was a real blow.”

If you've been a victim of the Higher Education Act Drug Provision, please contact us at:

Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR)
phone (202) 293-8340
fax (202) 293-8344
1623 Connecticut Avenue, NW 3rd floor
Washington, DC 20009

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