A family destroyed

By Mildred Andrews

I am a 52-year-old minister's wife and mother of four sons. Three of my boys are now in prison, along with five of my brothers, a nephew, and one other relative. I'm writing this with much heartbreak. It's impossible to express the kind of pain I endure. How do you articulate what you feel when so many in your family have been railroaded into prison?

Two undercover police officers approached my youngest son and asked him to get them drugs, basically turning him into a drug dealer. After making enough buys from the police, they arrested him. My son was 20, had a job that paid him a little over minimum wage and he had just given up his car because his payment and insurance were too costly. He fell right into their trap.

The government claimed it was a twenty-five million-dollar drug ring, and yet we couldn't even afford to hire even one good criminal attorney. Four of my family members were given 10 years, two received sentences of 17 years and one was sentence to 20 years.

My loved ones reside in prisons in five states across this country. Our family waited for each one to leave, one by one, until they were all taken far from their homes and those that love them. Waiting for the phone call that would tell us where they had been sent and what federal prison they had been assigned was unbearable. One hears so many horror stories about prisons. That was the next emotional hurdle to cross-would those that I love be treated humanely?

The members of my family were indicted in August 1996 for what the government claims was a huge organization to sell and distribute drugs. Because of racism and unfairness in our 'criminal justice' system, their attorneys convinced all of them that it was better to take a plea bargain. Civil rights violations and perjury on the prosecution side were commonplace. These young men were already tried and convicted when the grand jury handed down the indictment. If my loved ones and others are going to spend 10 to 20 years in prison, let them do so because of facts and evidence, not paid testimony and hearsay.

The prosecution ran the courtroom, not the judge. The government used young white women, most who were mothers of young children, threatening them with prison and the loss of their children if they didn't cooperate and testify against my family. The women were all drug addicts, in and out of the system with more than their share of crimes.

My nephew, who had been in prison twice before, was set free when he agreed to testify against his family. More than one witness was paid money, some got reduced time, and others avoided indictment when they agreed to testify for the government. Congress and the Justice Department paved the way to bribery, threats, intimidation, reduced time for violent felons, perjury from public officials; all in the name of fighting the drug war.

On Feb 10, during President Clinton's impeachment hearing, Senator Tom Harkin said in his remarks, referring to Ken Starr, "One can not break the law to enforce the law." Let's ask ourselves what does that mean to our lawmakers?

America has not improved with its drug laws. We're putting all our young black men in prison; they fill them up as fast as they can be built. Big corporations have gotten into the act. They build them and open prison factories where inmates work for a fraction of minimum wage.

In some federal prisons, such as the ones that house my family, they are only paid five dollars a month. What's worse: being in slavery or in prison? This is just another way to keep them in bondage and something must be done to stop this madness.

Our President and elected officials have the nerve to talk about how other countries treat their citizens. They criticized South Africa, and now they're harping on human right's abuses in Kosovo and ethnic cleansing in far away places. What the government is doing to our sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands in this country is no different than what has happened in Kosovo.

If the government ever starts mass imprisonment of the middle and upper class whites, the majority will start demanding justice; until that day comes the United States government will continue to commit crimes and justify them with racist laws.

Our citizens need to wake up. If it can happen to my family and me, it can happen to you. This situation has drained our family mentally, physically, and financially. It is a struggle just trying to send a little money to my loved ones for personal needs and a few rare phone calls. The worst pain is wanting to visit my sons and brothers and not having the money to do it or the good health to travel the distance.

It's only God's grace and strength that keeps us fighting for their freedom. My prayers go out for all prisoners and their families. We must never give up.