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A mother's story

By Jane Lozano, mother of a drug war prisoner

We went back and forth between several before deciding on what we thought was the most beautiful name conceivable. He would be named Zev, after his deceased paternal great grandfather, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who had come to this country penniless, yet managed to work tirelessly and eventually own his own tailor shop; and Joseph, after his maternal grandfather of Irish and American-Indian descent, who also had toiled mightily to escape poverty, and who was on the verge of economic success when, at the age of 28, he was suddenly killed by a drunken driver.

Our son was undeniably a representation of the great melting-pot philosophy; and he would become the finest exponent of all the virtues generations had transmitted to him. Such are the hopes and dreams of all new parents.

Today our son has another name. He is No. 697959, an inmate in the Texas Department of Corrections prison system.

The choices he made, the paths he took that led him here fade into obscurity now. Instead I remember when he was a newborn, and I held him to my nursing breast and dreamed of his perfect future. Like all new mothers, I wanted to protect my baby from anything harmful. I wanted to ensure that his life was well guided, secure and filled with every opportunity we could provide.

Today, I can no longer hold him close or protect him. In fact, for months all I could do was speak to him through a thick glass plate at the county jail. After his transfer to a state prison in Beaumont, after weeks of waiting to be cleared for visiting, I was finally allowed a contact visit. Once again I could hold him close, but only for a brief two hours. Then he had to return to an environment where a mother's arms offer no protection.

When I visit now, my eyes fill with tears-uncontrollable, unstoppable. Even now I blink to avoid the overflow of intense pain. How? How did we arrive in such a spot? Years of Jewish day school, Hebrew school, Bar Mitzvah, Little League, piano lessons, art lessons, vacations and educational travel failed to insulate him from the deceptive appeal of fast, easy money.

Moments come back now, and I remember that he was always in such a hurry; walking at nine months, bicycling with no training wheels at 4, his first job at 14, driving at 15. And maybe I was rushing, too. Two other sons followed his birth. I finished college and became a high school English teacher. When he was 8, his father and I divorced, but it was a peaceful parting of the ways. Zev always acted as chief protector of his brothers and somewhere along the way, I was lulled into believing that all was well.

The first time I went to visit him in a prison, I was apprehensive about the kind of people with whom I would come in contact. That fear soon vanished. I have had the opportunity to meet all types; rich, poor, middle-class, college educated, high school dropouts, black, white, Hispanic, Asian Indian, Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Hindu. Our prison system has become the new American "melting pot."

Forget my cries of "we don't belong here." I don't know who I thought "we" were, but "we" were certainly all here. The faces on the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, and children all bore the same marks of exhausted, worried love. Only the very young children seemed openly happy to see their loved ones. Perhaps this is because they do not have other memories.

Over and over I go through the baby books, the photograph albums, the report cards, certificates and awards. I look at his young face change through the years from baby to child to adolescent to young man.

Were there warning signs along the way? Yes, but nothing that at the time seemed dangerously threatening. Of course, looking back, looking back. Reflection, however, does not offer the opportunity to redo or undo. So, now I try to figure out if there is some way that I can help my son regain control over his life.

He is scheduled for parole in April 1996, and somehow, once again, I want to shelter and protect my child. I hold to the belief that, despite that, despite his falling, I can set him upright and guide his steps once more. Only this time we will not rush: I will not let go so soon.

Will it make a difference this time? I have no way of knowing; I only know that I have to try because I count myself fortunate. I have been given another chance. I still have hope.

A friend of my son was buried on the day my son was arrested, dead at 20 of a gunshot wound to his head. This was also a child I had watched grow up, with whom we had carpooled. His father had coached all three of my sons and had taught them as much about honor and glory as he had about baseball. His mother had been one of their first teachers-kind gentle, loving.

Since this young man's death, I have been unable to contact the parents. I have tried. I have picked up the phone to call, my pen to write, but I feel guilty somehow. How petty my grief is compared to theirs. So, I offer this promise instead: Somehow I will salvage my son for both our sons and thereby give thanks that I have been given a chance to prove that love conquers all to No. 697959.

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