(Part of a Series)
By Don Rush
It may sound strange, but for one man the trip to Lake Orion, Michigan, from Lake Orion, has been a long one. The road Larry K Drum has taken has been hard, winding and uphill.
Drum, an Eagle Scout, graduate of Lake Orion High School, member of the United States Marine Corps, father of two and former business man turned 68 this past June. He celebrated his birthday behind bars.
Drum is a prisoner at Macomb Regional Correctional Facility in New Haven. He is serving a life-sentence and two 10-20 year sentences (to be served one after the other) under Michigan’s old 650-lifer law. He was convicted for having 650 or more grams of a controlled substance (cocaine).
‘I was too trusting, that’s how I got hooked up. I knew it was wrong and I let it go on. I was naive, but I am guilty,? Drum said during a prison visit.
He’s been a prisoner for 14 and a half years — 11 years in Macomb, a couple in Adrian and one year in Jackson. Under the 650-lifer law there are still nearly 200 people imprisoned — of those, Larry is the eighth oldest.
Recently, Ione Drum (Larry’s mother) put it simply, ‘He’s done his time. Please let my son come home.?
Frail from a series of mini-strokes and hard of hearing, Ione turned 92 last month. She has penned a letter on her eldest son’s behalf to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. The Drum matriarch, together with youngest daughter Gayle Garcia of Lapeer, and longtime family friend, Susan Mascia of California, have made it their mission to free Larry.
They have fired off letters to local and state elected officials as well as to Rev. C. Michael Verschaeve at St. Joe’s Catholic Church in Lake Orion, and to the editors of several newspapers. They have even joined a legislative watchdog group called FAMM — Families Against Mandatory Minimums — to educate themselves on the law, how it has changed in regards to Larry’s case and where it might go in the future.
For them, the future is short — they want to get him home while his mother is alive. His father Lionel died on Sept. 26, 2000, while Larry was imprisoned.
‘He has two job offers and a home to go home to when he’s released,? Gayle said. ‘Our brother even built a swimming pool for the day Larry gets home. He knows Larry loves to swim.?
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‘It’s been hard,? Larry said of his life since 1992. ‘I read a lot — anything I can get my hands on. I know they have to have rules here, but to anybody with a little bit of intelligence it’s insulting. They treat you like a child.?
Every day after waking he goes to his ‘job? inside the prison grounds. He ‘stays out of trouble? by working maintenance.
A thin and trim 68-years-old, Larry looks a little worn out, but healthy. And like every other prisoner, looks to the day when he can go home. Under current law, he is up for parole for the life sentence in about 2 years — however, he still must serve out the two 10-20 year sentences consecutively.
Since he was imprisoned on January 21, 1992, the family has blown through nearly $20,000 for a number of different attorneys hired to free him. The first, his sister says, was ‘surprised? Larry wasn’t paroled after her argument. The second attorney took their money and did nothing.
‘We’ve asked for his records and haven’t got anything. We’ve asked the courts to see what he did for Larry. They don’t have anything either,? Gayle, the youngest of the Drum children, said.
As of printing, attorney Fred Miller of Oxford is investigating and reviewing court documents to see what options are left for Larry.
‘From all indications, he wasn’t the major player and he was an upstanding citizen with no priors,? Miller said, while acknowledging getting Larry out of prison won’t be easy.
So, now Larry wakes, works and waits in the cinder block and brick campus, surrounded by armed guards, tall fences and razor wire. He hopes the efforts of his family will bear fruit, and that maybe a day sooner, rather than latter he’ll return home to Lake Orion.
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For Larry and most others who grew up in the area in the 1940s and 1950s, the trip started out on the right foot. Lake Orion was small-town America during America’s post war boom.
‘Those were the good ol? days,? Larry remembered. ‘It was a good fun-loving life back in those days. You didn’t lock your doors. It was a more open society.?
Kids knew who they could trust and who to stay away from — and even if you started hanging with the wrong crowd there were neighbors and friends to bring you back into the fold.
Lifelong Orion area residents Lionel and Ione Drum had 10 children. Lionel was a machinist and taught the trade to his sons. Larry, the oldest, was born on June 25, 1937.
‘He was a good boy, very studious,? Ione said of her eldest. ‘He was always a big reader, inclined to be a loner. Very quiet.?
Back records of the Lake Orion Review show in December of 1952, Larry received his Eagle Scout award from the Boys Scouts. In 1955, he graduated from high school.
After a trip to California to visit his ‘favorite aunt, Shirley? he joined the United States Marine Corps.
‘Aunt Shirley was a Marine, so that’s what I signed up for,? Larry said. During his two years of active duty Larry spent most the time on the island of Okinawa.
When he came home from the service he worked in his father’s shop. In 1965 he married Charlene. Soon they had two children. Lawrence, now 40 and living in Florida and Jason, 31, who lives in Michigan. By the 1980s, Larry owned his own auto supply shop — at one time employing 125 workers.
He and his brothers planned to make downtown Lake Orion exciting. They bought buildings to renovate. And, then the worm turned.
The Brothers Drum’s plans didn’t pan out — village officials didn’t like their ideas.
And, for Larry, the sky fell.
In 1983, he divorced his wife of nearly 20 years.
‘I think he was depressed,? Gayle recalled of her brother after the divorce. ‘He didn’t share much, but that’s what I think.
However, by 1986 he had moved to the swanky 555 Building on Old Woodward in downtown Birmingham. The 555 Building boasted apartments on the top floors and shops and restaurants on the ground. It was the high rent district. He met a new girl friend — dark-haired, beautiful Debbie. Larry describes her as a model. ‘There were pretty girls, lots of parties. That’s when I was introduced to John Martin,? Larry said. ‘And, that’s when things started to go downhill.?
Martin, Larry claims, introduced him to cocaine.
‘He was from Michigan, but lived in Florida — that’s where he got the cocaine. He didn’t have any other job I knew of except dealing. But, he wasn’t as big a fish as he claimed he was. When he came to Michigan, I let him and his girlfriend stay in my apartment’s spare bedroom,? Larry said — why not? Martin was a friend and a friend was somebody you could trust.
‘John always said, the number one rule was never to deal out of your own home,? Larry said with a wry smile, then added, ‘But, it was okay in mine.?
In June of 1986, Martin was the subject of a sting operation. The net swung out by the Oakland County Prosecutor’s and Sheriff’s departments was carried out by a small-time-user looking for a break from the law. Peter Sullivan caught Martin, and ‘as a bonus fish, me.?
‘I came home from work and was downstairs at Archibald’s having a drink. When I went upstairs, John and his girlfriend were there. I didn’t know he was back from Florida yet,? Larry recalled.
Soon, there was a knock on the door and Larry let Sullivan enter. Not long afterwards, the police arrived and arrested everybody with recordings from a wiretapped Sullivan and two kilos of coke as evidence.
As prescribed by law signed into effect in 1978 by then governor William Milliken, both Martin and Larry were given life sentences for having over 650 grams of a controlled substance. Martin’s attorney advocated a jury trial. Larry’s attorney — a friend of both he and Martin — told Larry to have a bench trial. A trial before just a judge, his attorney said, ‘didn’t believe in mandatory sentencing.?
In Martin’s case, the jury tacked on a lesser charge sentence for having 50 grams of coke. This was a 5-20 sentence to be served concurrently (at the same time).
For Larry, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Barry Howard (now retired) gave the maximum to Larry — two 10-20 year sentences to be served consecutively after the life sentence was up.
Today, Martin is free, having been paroled this past January. Larry’s hair grows long and gray in a small prison cell.
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Ione sits at home and shakes her head. ‘I know it’s the law, but I am sorry. I don’t believe in all this. It’s been a gross injustice all the way around. The judge repeatedly tried to talk Larry out of a bench trial. But Larry’s attorney insisted on it, so Larry went with him.?
Ione, of course is biased, if not a little bitter. While her son, according to court records is a onetime, nonviolent offender, has spent over 14 years in prison, the dealer is out. But, there is something more that preys on her mind.
On January 26, 1974, her daughter Shirley was murdered. Police found and courts prosecuted and sent to prison her killer — her husband. He was found guilty of homicide, murder in the second degree and by June 10, 1982 — after only six and a half years — was discharged from prison to carry on with his life. Freedom for him. Prison for her son.
Next: The law, Larry and what Families Against Mandatory Minimums has to say.
(Part of a Series)