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Dear Judge,

Santa Claus is coming to town.

Holidays bring a lot of memories and song to my mind. I remember family gatherings, the family Christmas tree, preparations for New Years and most of all - the laughter, the hugs and kisses - my loved ones. Every year I pray this Christmas I will be going home, to fill the emptiness that my family has endured the last seven years.

My name is Maria Herrera. I am 26 years old now, serving a ten-year cocaine conspiracy charge. I wanted to write my story and hopes that it will reach my judge - and the youngsters out there who are confused and don't know where to go in life.

I was twenty when I was arrested, and unfamiliar with law. If I would have known that 10 years of my life would be taken, I wouldn't have become involved. When you are young you want the world, and don't give much thought to circumstances. We think that we will get away with it.

The easy way will only get you far for a little while, don't give the Feds your life and hurt your loved ones for years and years. The way our drug laws work - you will get more time than a murderer or rapist.

My sister, who is holding my niece in this picture, suffers from Lupus, a disease that is robbing her life. She has had it for five years and now is on dialysis machines three times a week. I recently found out that I am a compatible donor for my sister, meaning that I could be a kidney donor for her, and she could have a longer life, but I have lost every appeal so I am unable to help her.

I know that disasters and tragedies always happen in life, but I would think that the government would have some compassion in saving a life. I have done 6 1/2 more years than half my time, and I just cannot understand why they won't look further into this and see that I just want to save my sister's life. It's not about having my freedom any more.

I pray every night that my sister will hang on until I make it home, so we may spend another Christmas as a family again.

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