The Other Victims Of the War On Drugs

The Other Victims Of the War On Drugs
Posted by FoM on July 26, 2000 at 18:16:58 PT
By Ellis Henican
"At this age, I sure didn't expect to be raising two little girls," Eileen Flournoy was saying yesterday. "Not at 74, I didn't." But here she was, this sweet-faced woman on a bright summer day, at her little house in the Rockaways. The two girls were in the other room, playing on the sofa and watching television. Their grandmother was talking about her plans for the Republican National Convention-and talking about her hopes for a family senselessly busted up. 
Candace is 5 1/2. Keeshawna is almost 4. And their mother, Veronica Flournoy, 33, has numbers attached to her name as well. She is at the women's prison in Bedford Hills, yet another reminder of the so-called war on drugs, doing a sentence of 8 years to life. "My daughter was addicted to drugs, you know," said Eileen Flournoy. "She was an entirely different personality back then. Couldn't use her mental ability to see right from wrong." The older woman stopped her story long enough to shush the girls. "Candace, what did I tell you? I'm talking." Then she went on. "Of course, Veronica was arrested. July '96. Possession and sale of drugs. She fell under the mandatory law." At the time, Veronica Flournoy was pregnant with her second child. "They let her keep the baby in the facility for one year," her mother said. "After that, the baby was allowed to come home to me. I've had both the girls since then." This whole situation is so absurd as to be almost criminal. We have a Democratic candidate for president, Al Gore, who admits he violated the nation's drug laws by smoking marijuana in his younger days. He doesn't even deny inhaling. And on the Republican side we have a candidate, George W. Bush, who winks and nods about his own widely rumored history of drug use. He mentions unspecified "youthful indiscretions." These men are running at a time when 458,131 Americans are in prison for drug offenses, an 11-fold increase since 1980. That's according to a study put out yesterday by the Justice Policy Institute. This costs us all $9 billion a year, and the numbers are getting more skewed by the day. Every year since 1989, more people have gone to prison for drug offenses than for violent crimes. But the two candidates for president, despite their own biographies, say nothing about these ridiculous prison terms that do not stop the flow of drugs. And they say nothing about all the wrecked American lives. They want real family values? They should meet the Flournoys of Queens. "The girls know they are loved and all that," the grandmother said. "They just wish they could have their mother home. But she calls every second day and talks to them. I always had a picture of her on the wall. We look up and say, 'There's Mommy. She's talking to you. She's watching over us.' You have to keep the bond going." The girls are lucky Bedford Hills is just two hours away. "It's a lot more family orientated than I guess a lot of prisons are," the grandmother said. "We go up once a month on the bus for a trailer visit." In prison, the girls' mother has earned a bachelor of science degree through a program with Marymount College. She got a certificate as a New York State AIDS counselor. She's working on a master's now in religious studies. She's been training guide dogs for the blind. The girls are staying busy too. "I had Candace in Head Start," their grandmother said. "She went from there to kindergarten. Now she got a scholarship and she's going into the first grade at St. Camillus in Rockaway. She's a smart girl." Yesterday, she was taking Keeshawna to register for Head Start. And next week, as the Republicans gather in Philadelphia, Grandma Flournoy will be there, too. She will ride on a bus hired by the William Moses Kunstler Fund. She will join hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other victims of America's war on drugs. They will all be part of the giant "Shadow Convention" organized by the New York Lindesmith Center drug-policy institute and other groups. Their theme in Philadelphia is a big wink back at Bush. "His youthful indiscretions. Our shattered lives." The girls won't join her. They're off for a special visit with their mom. "There are these host families in Westchester," Eileen Flournoy said. "They offer to take one or two children who visit with their mothers in prison. My grandchildren will go up. Two of them. They'll visit their mother from the time they get there 'til 3:30 in the afternoon. It's beautiful. "The host family will take them home at night. And the next day, the family will bring them back again. That happens four days, and the next day they bring 'em home. "They treat them so wonderfully. They fell in love with Candace when she went up before. I hope they say the same thing about the little one. They can play beautifully together. Then, they're at war. You know how sisters are." Letters to the Editor Submissions: letters newsday.comPublished: July 26, 2000 - Wednesday - Page A 6  Copyright  Newsday, Inc. Produced by Newsday Electronic Publishing. Related Articles & Web Sites:The Shadow Conventions Policy Institute Conventions Articles On The Shadow Conventions: CannabisNews Articles On The Shadow Conventions:
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