The barefoot three-year-old in a faded pink dress comes running to her white-bearded grandfather, who’s sitting at a small desk table. She’s crying, pointing to the toes of her left foot, which she just scraped. The grandfather, Sam Girod, holds her in one arm, and reaches for a small bottle with the other. With his forefinger, he scoops some salve from the bottle and rubs it on the girl’s foot. She looks down, pacified, and scampers away to rejoin her siblings and cousins.
Yes, Girod nods when I inquire whether that little bottle is a leftover of “the” salve—the chickweed salve that led to him being charged with a variety of federal crimes in connection with mislabeling the salves and resisting searches by FDA agents, being convicted by a jury, and being sentenced to six years of prison time. It’s a sentence he is still serving, albeit the last year has been served under house arrest, thanks to the Covid pandemic, and the final year, ending next February, will likely be the same. Moreover, the sentence tacks on three years of probation once his prison sentence is over, which means his travel, employment and other activities will be supervised by a probation officer with the power to limit his movements. Overall, it’s a sentence he continues to bridle against, even though he’s now home at his tranquil 140-acre farm in lush rolling hills of northeast Kentucky.
Right now, he is focused on one main hindrance: “I just want to get rid of this thing,” he says, gesturing down at the black box attached to his ankle, plainly visible over a black boot. It’s a tracking device he’s required to wear 24/7 if he wants to keep his limited freedom. He’s limited to the confines of the farm, though things were loosened just recently when the prison system allowed him to venture outside the farm area one day a week, from 4-8 pm. He’s used his expanded freedom to go out with members of his family to a nearby Mexican restaurant for enchiladas and other concoctions, though he’s careful to telephone the halfway house supervising his release, to let its supervisors know when he’s leaving his farm, and when he’s departing the restaurant for home. He’s about to turn down a wedding invitation from a cousin in Indiana, because it would cause him to violate his house arrest rules. Federal prison officials “can pick me up at any time” and return him to prison, he says.
I visited Girod for a few days last week while on a trip to the area. He seems energetic and as animated and opinionated as ever about the case against him.
He spends at least some time each day following up on initiatives designed to either exonerate him or lessen his sentence. The main exoneration effort until a few months ago consisted of a push to get former President Trump to issue him a pardon. A friend had put him in touch with Trump re-election officials last summer. Girod submitted legal documents in connection with his case, along with a letter pleading his case, that he had never intentionally violated labeling and other rules of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration governing the sales of his salves.
He did receive a personally addressed note from the White House last fall saying that his application had been received and was being considered. It raised his hopes, but in the end, Trump left office without acting on the matter. Girod has tried filing a writ of habeas corpus (an explanation of why he was being held), but that didn’t go anywhere. In March, he sent a hand-written letter to John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by the former attorney general, William Barr, to investigate how the Russia disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential election got started; it’s not clear how Durham might get involved in Girod’s case, but as a connection to Trump, Girod figures Durham might be able or willing to help. Girod is also focused on using the GED education certificate (high school equivalency) he earned in prison to get his remaining jail time reduced; while he says he was told getting the GED would result in time taken off his sentence, in reality, it appears the federal prison system can’t or won’t grant more than 47 days of sentence reduction each year and, if most or all of that comes from good behavior, then no additional time is allowed from other activities (like the GED).
Girod has several incentives to get himself exonerated–convicted felons lose the right to vote and to own firearms.
When he’s not pursuing exoneration or sentence reduction, Girod is trying to generate some earnings. His salve business, which he says had provided a good living for his entire family for more than a decade, was decimated by the FDA enforcement actions against Girod, and he doesn’t dare try to resurrect it, for fear of trouble from the authorities. So he helps four of his sons, who run a business building minibarns (which are something like large sheds). He also sells a line of nutritional protein and vegetable powders to friends and family members. And he gets acquainted with all his new grandchildren, like the little girl with the scraped toes. He has 14 children, 10 of whom are married, and they produced 16 grandchildren for Girod while he was away.