Richard Paey Speaks

An interview with the paraplegic man sentenced to 25 years in prison for treating his own pain.

In October of this year, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed a pardon for Richard Paey, a paraplegic with multiple sclerosis who had served nearly four years of a 25-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. Paey, who requires high-dose opioid therapy to treat pain brought on by his MS, a car accident, and a botched back surgery, was convicted of trafficking despite concessions from prosecutors that there was no evidence the painkillers in his possession were for anything other than his own use. When police came to arrest the wheel-chair bound Paey, they came with a full-on SWAT team, battering down the door and rushing into the home of the wheelchair-bound Paey, his optometrist wife, and their two schoolage children.

Prosecutors offered Paey a plea bargain, but he refused, insisting that he’d done nothing wrong, and that he shouldn’t have to plead guilty to a felony for treating his own pain. Paey was tried, convicted, and given a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence. While in prison, the state of Florida paid for a morphine pump that administered painkillers to Paey at rates higher than what the state convicted him of for possessing in the first place.

Crist and Florida’s pardon board issued Paey’s pardon after heavy media coverage of his case, including by 60 Minutes, and the New York Times, as well as by reason’s own Jacob Sullum and Radley Balko.

On November 13, reason senior editor Radley Balko interviewed Paey from his Florida home by phone.

reason: How is life since you’ve been released?

Richard Paey: It’s dreamlike. I have to catch myself now and then. Particularly when I wake up in the morning. I have to reorient where I am now with where I’ve been for almost four years. There are times when I’m not sure if I’m awake or still dreaming. In prison, you survive by developing routines. You stop thinking. The routine becomes your life. You follow set behaviors. I still engage in that when I wake up. It’s a different reality.

I didn’t do very well in prison. Fortunately, one of the prison doctors was very kind to me. He said he saw in me what he called “the consciousness of innocence.” It’s very dangerous. He said if you bring it into prison with you, you will have the most horrifying experience that a human being can possibly have. You won’t survive. You have to acclimate and accept your situation and not resist. You can’t keep holding on to your innocence. You have to let go of it and start acclimating.

But I wasn’t doing that. Apparently, he’d see this “consciousness of innocence” every now and then in a prison patient—people who clung to the idea that they were innocent, and might eventually get out. He said it will do more damage to you than any disease.

reason: How were you treated by other inmates?

Paey: Very well, actually. That was one surprise. I’d almost call it a shock. People I would never have associated with—people I’d have been afraid of if I’d seen them in a free-world environment on the street, people with tattoos, crazy hair, and so on—as I got to know them, and was accepted as one of them, they treated me very well. I never had the fear of violence form any of the other inmates. In fact, something else happened. It was the opposite. I found I had more fear of some of the officers who worked in the system and engaged in behaviors that we’d like to think don’t go on in the prison system.

There was an old Cuban man I met when I was transferred to the facility in Lake Butler. When I arrived there, he was the first person I met. He told me the difference between the American prison system and the prison system in Cuba: He said that in Cuba they hit you, but they hit you in front of everybody. He said in America, they beat you behind the building, or in a private room where no one is looking. He’d been in both, and he said that was the difference.

reason: Were you ever beaten?

Paey: I was frequently verbally abused. The older inmates tell me the outright physical abuse has tapered down. As far as physical abuse, there was one time I was hit by an officer. I had been shipped out from Zephyr Hills to Butler after my interview with John Tierney [of the New York Times]. When I got there, they put me in solitary confinement. When I kept collapsing, they had a medical doctor examine me, and he had them move me out of solitary and into a hospital.

So I was sleeping in my bed at around one o’clock in the morning. The lights were on—the lights are always on—and the shift officers were conducting their “shake down”—which means they come in and go through all of your belongings to search for contraband. It seemed to come out of nowhere, he had a radio in his hand, and he swung it down as hard as he could and he hit my legs with it. If I could have gotten out of bed and hit him, I would have. He said to me, “I just wanted to see if you had feeling in your legs.” He saw the wheelchair next to my bed, and that the sheet was covering my legs.

I was so furious. I refused to give him my name. I didn’t say a word. I was afraid if I spoke, I’d say something that would get him angrier. When he realized he wasn’t going to get a word out of me, he asked if I could talk. I didn’t answer. He said he was going to check to see if I could talk, and if he found out I could, he was going to send me back to confinement. The next day, I was transferred out of the hospital, and didn’t see that officer again.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    My only hope is that Charlie Crist will look at this case and rethink his position on the WoD.

    I keep hearing in the Florida media how wonderful the governor is, but this pardon is really the only thing I've seen from him that I agree with.

    Hopefully, a case like this will be enough to make Crist think, "hey, something wrong is going on here."

  • ||

    I think we need to make a new rule: No Balko posts until after noon. Or maybe it's better if we don't.

    This case is over, Crist will go back to beating the War drums.

  • ||

    I'd love to get a hold of some buccal swabs from Mr. Paey. I can almost guarantee there is a genetic explanation for his high-dose needs.

    I wonder how long it will take his family to recover from this? I imagine they never will, not completely.

  • ed||

    That's a truly horrifying account of Paey's ordeal. Has anyone contacted him regarding book or movie rights? It would make a compelling story and a powerful argument against the war on drugs. Not to mention helping his family financially. I hope something is in the works.

  • Russ 2000||

    Wow. Tobias Beecher and Augustus Hill all rolled into one.

    And the government is still jerking him around regarding his "benefits". He's due 4 years of benefits he didn't get while in prison, too.

  • ||

    This nightmare would shock Kafka. The story about the SS being unable to deal with a pardon really strikes a chord with me.

    Good thing poor Mr. Paey didnt have a dog for them to murder.

  • ||

    The sadistic treatment of prisoners is a grossly neglected issue. Those 'shocking' photos out of Abu Ghraib, were in no small part due to prison guards who has already learned to dehumanized the inmates here in the states. Unfortunately too many people think prison should be a living hell.

  • ||

    Speaking of Crist, the third paragraph of Radley's article begins,

    Christ and Florida's pardon board ...

    Unless Radley was trying make some pun-like comment with Crist as the saviour, I think it's a typo.

  • LarryA||

    Christ and Florida's pardon board issued...

    Well, I'd agree that He was probably involved, but I think you meant the governor.

    While we're at it, The fan they transfer you in has no air conditioning...

    Another good one.

    Dang. Two minutes late.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I don't want this to become a threadjack, because the Richard Paey story needs to be heard and discussed, but if someone out there knows how to block individual posters, could you share that information?

    I am f**king sick of Donderoooo, Edweirdo & TLB / Lonewacko.

  • ||

    Most enlightening quote:

    I found I had more fear of some of the officers who worked in the system and engaged in behaviors that we'd like to think don't go on in the prison system.

    I'm with Warren. No Radley posts until after Noontime. I'd at least like to keep my breakfast down.

  • ||

    Baked Penguin,

    Do what I do: whenever you see the name of a moron you skip over the post. It works quite well.

  • VM||


    Eric the 1/2 a Bee has a greasemonkey filter for Firefox that comes highly recommended.

  • BakedPenguin||

    tarran - that's what I've been doing, but when it gets to be page after page, it's hard to avoid, and keeping the conversational threads of non-idiots becomes difficult.

    Moose - thx. If you have a link, could you email me? If not, I'll ask Eric when I see him on a thread.

    Everyone, sorry for the threadjack, and congratulations to Richard Paey.

  • LibertyPlease||

    That's a truly horrifying account of Paey's ordeal. Has anyone contacted him regarding book or movie rights? It would make a compelling story and a powerful argument against the war on drugs. Not to mention helping his family financially. I hope something is in the works.

    A mainstream movie or documentary would do wonders for waking people up. The only results the WoD produces are constant tragedies.

  • ||

    BakedPenguin -

    If you haven't already gotten the link, send me an email and I'll direct you there (remember to remove the nospam bit from my email addy).

  • Girl Montag||

    ", but if someone out there knows how to block individual posters, could you share that information? "

    You sound like someone over at None of those people want to hear things they disagree with either.

  • ||

    I was hoping for some mention of the FLA supreme court judge who gave the dissenting opinion when Paey was sentenced.
    He happens to be the bro-in-law of an old college chum of mine.

  • ||

    Dan Umanoff, M.D.

    National Association for the Advancement and Advocacy of Addicts, Inc.

    Re: Richard Paey Speaks,

    This is a horrendous case with a good ending for Richard Paey at least, but not for the rest of the addicts in this country. The funny thing about this mess is that Richard understands that he went to prison because there are misunderstandings and misperceptions about addictions and drugs (the wrong addiction paradigm rules the world of drugs and addictions) but the people and groups who thankfully helped get him (one person out of a half-million addicts in jail) out of prison don't want to deal with this critical issue. They merely want to fight each individual case, most of which are lost or never done to begin with.

    The conversation went like this:

    "reason: Many people have compared your case to that of Rush Limbaugh. Some have said Limbaugh was let off because of his political affiliation. But reason's Jacob Sullum has suggested Limbaugh was let off because he played the drug warrior's game-he admitted he was an "addict," and took his punishment. But you refused to say you were an addict, or concede that you'd done anything wrong. You insisted you needed painkillers to live a normal life. Sullum believes that's why Limbaugh got a slap on the wrist, while you got 25 years.

    Paey: I think Sullum's take is pretty accurate. Mr. Limbaugh chose to label himself an addict. What I didn't understand when I went to trial is that there is a tremendous fear of addiction in this country. The prosecutor in my case didn't see me as a patient, despite incontrovertible evidence that I was indeed a patient with a long history of medical records showing that I needed this medication. In the prosecutor's mind, this was simply too much medication for one patient. He didn't want to hear about tolerance or high-dose therapy. The fact that I had taken the medication for more than a few years made me an addict in his mind. That became the prosecution's theme-that I was an "addict." He repeated the term "drug addict" eight times in his closing argument. He didn't call me a "chronic pain patient." Even though he was forced to recognize during the trial that I had legitimate medical problem, and had a legitimate medical history, I was still an "addict."

    This is a serious problem we have in this country-this fear of addiction, and how we perceive the use of prescription drugs. There are lots of myths and misconceptions out there.

    Whoever was counseling Rush Limbaugh gave him good advice. Admitting he was an addict played to his favor. I was convicted because the prosecutor hammered away at the jury that I was an addict and that my doctor was a pusher. I was sort of blindsided when the prosecutor started to make that argument-that I was nothing more than an addict. I can't think of a worse slur to attach to a person."

    I don't think Mr. Paey actually knows the science behind why "this is a serious problem." His supporters don't care why. I've argued this with them many times and, trust me, they don't care why. They refuse to even look into this argument. They choose to fight the policies rather than the theory, the theory that ensures this country will continue to persecute addicts and people they believe are addicts as well as demonize drugs. Many years ago I wrote an article about this for an anti-drug war conference: the drug war war, #4 at: [in this article the P/R - psychobabble/religious - paradigm is synonymous with the hijacked brain hypothesis, HBH, the current scientifically wrong addiction theory pushed by NIDA that supports the government's drug war and everything that happened to Mr. Paey)] The conference completely ignored this article and took the same tact as Paey's supporters - We don't care about the theory. We want to fight the policies. I never have understood this but this attitude is rampant in the anti-drug war community. The results of this attitude is the perpetuation of the HBH, the perpetaution of the misunderstanding and misperception of drugs and addicts, and the perpetuation of the mess in addictions, the drug war, and the demonization of drugs and addicts.

    My major article on the correct science of addictions is:

    Again, we have a choice. We can ignore the theory issue and fight policies, mostly losing, or we can join together and fight the theory war, win it, and have the policies automatically change to those we want.

    "Love is an action not a feeling.
    Integrity is an action not a thought.
    Anything less is too little." ---
    Dan F. Umanoff, M.D.
    Author of Hypoic's Handbook - The Hypoism Paradigm of Addiction.
    President and founder of The National Association for the Advancement and Advocacy of Addicts, Inc. (N4A), a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) organization of addicts for addicts offering free educational and legal services to discriminated against and abused addicts of all varieties, "substances" and "behavioral," and their families.
    8779 Misty Creek Dr.
    Sarasota, FL 34241

  • dbust1||

    In regards to Paey's treatment at the hands of sadistic guards, it was unquestionably horrible, and I think most would agree with that. But I would have a harder time feeling sorry for a child molester, rapist or multiple murderer (a la the Petit Family in CT) receiving the same treatment. Any thoughts out there?

  • matt||

    dbust1: reducing yourself to the level of a criminal is not the way to go. Just because someone committed a horrific, inexcuseable act does not mean their prison guards should assume the right/need to abuse them further.

    I don't think they have to be overly friendly, but methinks the "little man" syndrome that seems to plague others' accounts of prison guards and police officers could stand to go the way of the betamax.

  • ||

    Radley: 1,000 thanks for obtaining and publishing this important interview.

    Paey strikes me as someone who is remarkably poised, reflective, and fair-minded considering the horrible ordeal he went through.

    His case should become a rallying point to end the (at least) the worst excesses of the War on Drugs.

    I hope 60 Minutes does a follow-up and I hope his financial situation gets squared away.
    Also, I hope that Crist and McCollum get praise and are encouraged to ferret out injustice in the sentencing and treatment of prisoners.

  • Russ 2000||

    Mr. Umanoff,

    They choose to fight the policies rather than the theory,

    I am not a scientist, so I can't argue for or against a theory. I CAN argue for or against policy.

    In my experience, people pick the policies they want first then go and find any theory, crackpot or not, to back them up. (I've been tangentially involved with the wrong-headed medical diagnosis of brown recluse spider bites. Getting doctors, who allegedly are scientists, to look at scientific data that disputes their diagnoses is akin to talking to a brick wall; it is even more futile to get elected officials to look at scientific data.)

    Arguing science with bureaucrats is a complete waste of time. You need to first get the scientific community on your side of the theory, the policymakers won't change their attitude toward HBH until the scientific community overwhelmingly disavows it. Good luck to you.

  • Paul||

    My only hope is that Charlie Crist will look at this case and rethink his position on the WoD.

    Yeah, right... anyhoo.

    So, what's up with the jury that handed down this conviction? And I haven't read the whole history on Paey, but he alluded to the fact that his doctor was painted with the "pusher" label by the prosecution. What happened to the doctor? I would assume that he got life in prison?

  • allan||

    I managed to win a very short free trip to Terminal Island federal back in the '80s for pissing off the feds by trespassing on a nuclear missile facility...

    There are indeed some scary guys inside. But Paey's observation is right on the money, what you are incarcerated for DOES matter. If you are in prison for fighting against the system the prisoners have a huge amount of respect for that.

    Outstanding interview, props to Radley and a big "welcome home" to Richard paey.

  • ||

    Our drug laws are evil. They are an affront to personal freedom, and they actively harm otherwise innocent people. Jury members have a moral duty to refuse to convict.

    And if the prosecution asks you beforehand if you believe in jury nullification, you must lie and say "Jury what? Never heard of it."

  • ||

    The courts should be required to advise juries of jury nullification.

  • ||

    Russ 2000

    In your comment above you said
    "I've been tangentially involved with the wrong-headed medical diagnosis of brown recluse spider bites."

    In what way? Down here in Georgia, everyone that comes in with an abscess (risin', boil, etc.) says they think they were bit by a spider, usually a brown recluse. This gets written down in their medical record (usually by the ED doc) and is so enshrined. I've only seen 2 that really met the physical exam criteria to really suspect a brown recluse. What's your experience?

  • ||


    Having trouble posting, so I'll make this short. My father was misdiagnosed - doctors wasted a full day treating a spider bite rather than leukemia (CMML). My sister is a director at Harvard Med School, mentioned it passing to a doc who said he just read an article regarding brown recluse misdiagnoses - we've been in contact with an entomologist who works tirelessly on the subject. Your experience sounds typical.

  • ||

    But there are other kinds of abuse that you wouldn't think about. There were only a handful of officers that were bad, but those few can really do a lot of harm. The kind of thing that goes on today is less noticeable, but it's damaging. Things like leaving the lights on 24 hours a day. I went more than 30 days in solitary where the lights were on the entire time. It was this callous indifference of a particular officer. And other things, like slamming the doors when they do security checks. They come by every hour and give your door a loud kick. When you're inside a cell and someone comes by and gives that big iron door a kick once an hour, the sound just ricochets between your ears. So systematic sleep deprivation is common. I would see men go into solitary and when they came out weeks later, their hair would be completely gray.

    Man this shit makes me angry.

  • Niels||

    Me to, it's not good.

  • ||

    I'm sorry, but it's high time we nuke Florida.

  • ||

    Florida is in a world of it's own, they're like that guy that sits at a green light daydreaming. I'll take any positive news outa my home state whenever I can. Reason is hard to come by, commonsense nearly impossible.

  • ||

    The war on drugs is so fucking sadistic it just makes me want to vomit.


  • ||

    This is my first time here. As a wife of an inmate who has down 25 years of a 25 to life sentence I would like to tell you all that there is certainly alot of horrible abuse that comes from the officers. My husbands life was threatened by the officers because he faught for Native American spiritual rights. Yes, abuse is a common thing in Floridas prisons! The unfortunate ones are the ones without loved ones in the free world who watch and monitor and put up a fight. Inmates die due to medical cutting off their medications such s for diabeties. The food is slop! Anybody for potato salad with mayo! Mystery meat. Everything is watered down to save the State money. These human beings look like they live in a consentration camp! When an inmate is in confinement their given what is called "maagement loaf". This is where all the portions of a meal(for example: meat, starch, vegs, jello) are all ground together and served in a loaf. Not fit for an animal! The amount of food that you had on your Thanksgiving diner..that portion was enough to feed a man for one week! There is no air conditioning or heat unless it's in a private prison! Imagine that in Florida!Up in Northern Florida it does get very cold. Cel temps in the summer go well beyond the 100's.Animals have more rigts to not be left in hot cars, but these human beings are left to suffer. Animals have more rights than these human beings.They are dehumanized from the moment they walk in. The inmates have to help eachother.Then there is the issue of legalized slavery! These human beings are forced to work for private corporations, if they refuse they're beaten and put into confinement. The top pay is around 30 cents per hour. Not enough to even buy a soda if they thirst. Then there is the Parole Board...corruption at it's best!!! Only 1% of imates gets paroled per year! They only look at the ancient crimes, never at what accomplishments the inmate has done. The crime can never be changed! How do I know this? Not only do I speak to many inmates and do my husband was given a proposed release date of 2100 despite all of his accomplishments, of which they never even considered.I won't take up much more space here, but I assure you that our prison system is more horrible than you can ever imagine! So far what you have found is only scratching the surface. The abuse goes much deeper!

  • Dan Umanoff, M.D.||

    Russ: First of all, it's Dr. Umanoff. I'm a board certified internist. Next, you said - "You need to first get the scientific community on your side of the theory, the policymakers won't change their attitude toward HBH until the scientific community overwhelmingly disavows it. Good luck to you."
    Russ: I would agree with you except for one thing. That will never happen on its merits. The addiction community, the addiction science community, and the governmental science community (NIDA and NIAAA which dole out essentially all the research money to the science community) all know I am correct about the theory already. However, they don't want my theory. They want the HBH because it pays their bills and agrees with their morality. The entire field is bought and paid for by NIDA and the HBH. This is the biggest medical scandal of all time and is completely unknown by the public. There exists a massive industry based on the HBH which would evaporate under the correct theory of addiction causation. I call this industry the PIMMPAL Complex, similar to the military/industrial complex, which is pictured in the following article written years ago: (the problem is that Leshner was replaced but with someone a lot worse than him, Nora Volkow. Remember, Volkow was a political appointee not someone who earned her position by helping addicts in any way whatsoever.) The clinical addiction and addiction science communities will never change paradigms (theories) on their own because of these conflicts of interest. I've been working on this for the last 15 years and know this to be true. That is why I wrote you and your readers. Only when the people openly and forcefully confront the government with the correct science (which they can easily learn from my papers and book) and the fact that the governmental scientists are currently lying to them and the public about this science (why else would our policies be so immoral, inhumane, cruel, and ineffective?) will the correct addiction theory be allowed to exist. And only then will the correct, effective, humane, and helpful policies replace the current fascistic ones. I realize it seems like a difficult task for all of you but I will help. Whatever you need to learn I will teach you and your supporters. Otherwise, it's a lost cause and the crap will continue as it has for the last hundred years. The policy fight will fail under the HBH. Only the people can change this!

  • ||

    Dr. Umanoff, thank you for your thoughts. First, you are not an addiction specialist, so why are you portraying yourself as such? I personally have issue with physicians who have no practical experience in a field (do not deal with such patients regularly) pontificating theories as facts.

    The sad truth of the matter is that Richard Paey is not an addict. Richard Paey does have a physical dependence on the medications due to his ailment. Physical dependence and addiction is completely different. If you have a physicial dependence you need certain amounts to function. In Richard's case, he needs a specific amount to block his pain receptors. If Richard was an addict, he would have an uncontrollable need for more and more medication, not the case.

    Next thing you know, we are going to be provided the Harrison signs for drug seeking behavior by you. As a point of reference, Harrison stopped publishing these alleged drug signs or red flags as the DEA describes them, since they are junk science. tea leaf reading is better.

    As for policy, these cases need to be fought in the courts and around policy. Currently the CSA act is being used to control medical practices illegally. Medicine has always been regulated by the boards and the states, who have medical training and understanding. Now we have the FBI, DOJ, and DEA, three agencies with no understanding of medicine (unless they are med school flunkies) attempting to dictate medicine.

  • ||

    I saw the 60 Minutes and Penn & Teller shows about Paey. It actually took 3 trials over 10 years to convict Paey. The prosecutor reminds me of 'Jalvert' chasing Jean Val Jean (in a wheelchair)!

    Today he's running to be a Florida Judge.

    Figures. Power abused is epidemic in the Florida justice system.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.