Voice in the storm

Longstanding KZFR personality advocates for casualties of war on drugs

Sharon North on the air in KZFR’s new studio.

Sharon North on the air in KZFR’s new studio.

Photo By Jason cassidy

On the air: Shattered Lives, with Sharon North, airs Mondays, 5:30-6:00 p.m., on 90.1 FM, KZFR.

In contrast to some of the radio personalities at KZFR, Sharon North speaks softly. Every Monday evening for the past nine years, the reserved North has given a voice to the human casualties of America’s so-called war on drugs with her 30-minute Shattered Lives program on Chico’s community radio station.

Hers may be a quiet voice, but it resonates with first-hand experience.

In 1976, while attending Chico State, Sharon met her future husband, Craig North. The young couple moved around California for the next decade, got married, and in 1989 moved back to Chico to start a family.

Four years later, in 1993, Craig was arrested for cultivating marijuana. Facing a prison sentence of eight to 10 years, he instead pleaded guilty to use of a telecommunication device in commission of a felony (using a cell phone to make deals) and served a mandatory minimum sentence of four years.

During her husband’s incarceration, Sharon was pregnant and also had to take care of her 9-year-old son by herself. With her husband out of the financial picture, building low-income housing for a prison program, she had to go on welfare to make ends meet.

“When you have a loved one in prison, you do whatever you can just to get by,” she said. “The entire ordeal was very frustrating. Prison is not only a psychological ordeal, but an expensive ordeal as well. But my husband and I just kept telling each other, ‘They can take your time, but they can’t take your mind.’ ”

“It felt like a four-year time out,” said Craig. “I feared for my family’s well being, because they were the ones who were doing the real time, not me.”

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Sharon’s activism didn’t truly start until after her husband was released from prison. Over time, she heard of others in the community going through the same ordeal, facing the same practical challenges as well as confusion over mandatory minimum sentences.

Believing that it’s wrong for people to serve long prison sentences for committing nonviolent crimes, North decided to try to make a change. She contacted KZFR and proposed a show that would give support to those families dealing with similar situations, give an opportunity for people to call in and debate the issues, and interview those on the front lines on both sides of the government’s war on drugs.

“People often ask me, ‘Why?’ And I say I do it for families like my own,” North said. “I do it for children without parents, because it’s wrong. I sometimes get burned out, but I am quickly rejuvenated.

“The government’s war on drugs is not based on truth,” North added. “But a war based on prohibition, and prohibition is a failed policy.”

Along with starting Shattered Lives, North (who makes custom leather shoes for a living) volunteers for outreach programs like the Chowchilla Family Express, which is a network that sets up family visits for inmates at the women’s prison in Chowchilla.

One of her radio shows each month is also featured on the Families Against Mandatory Minimums Web site.

“These programs help put a face to the issue, and show the human being instead of the statistic in the issue,” North said.

Before every radio show, North plays the same song that she has been playing for years. The song is “Singer in the Storm,” by Holly Near. When asked if she herself believes that she is a singer in the storm, she beamed a warm smile, and her eyes brightened behind her glasses.

“Yes, yes I do,” North said. “I play that song for not only me, but for my guests and listeners as well because we are brave people. I have lived the storm.”