Juanita Walker Cooper -- #88035-071

20 Years -- Heroin Conspiracy

Juanita Cooper, prisoner of the drug war
I am a 51-year-old black female from South Carolina. I was indicted in March 1992, on a non-violent drug charge (conspiracy). I went to trial in December and was found guilty. I was represented by a Federal Public Defender due to my indigent status. On August 4, 1993, I was sentenced to 20 years of incarceration in federal prison, with 10 years supervision upon my release. I have served over 10 years already.

My decline began in December 1992, when I agreed to measure, by the ounce, a half kilo of heroin, when it reached my hometown from Thailand. At first I was reluctant, then foolishly I consented. This was not a wise decision on my behalf.

The Federal Government confiscated the package and said it was a kilogram, not a half-kilogram. There were seven of us that had knowledge of the conspiracy. However, only four of us were indicted. Two were never indicted; the charges were dropped because one was an old man and a foreigner, and they could not get a translator. He was the man who was responsible for the drugs entering the country. His sister was the other person who didn't get indicted. I have three co-defendants.

In 1997, two were released because they satisfied the government. The remaining one is serving a life sentence. I was brought back to court in September 1996. I testified before the grand jury. I was told by the AUSA that maybe the judge would give me a sentence reduction as he did for my brother. Unfortunately, it never happened.

I returned to court again in March 2000, hoping that the government would live up to the promise they made when the investigation first begun. The judge denied my motion. The old AUSA said that I provided substantial assistance, but the new AUSA said it wasn't enough.

I've done time in several states including Kentucky, Texas, North Carolina and Florida. North Carolina being the closest to my home, only four hours away. After five months of being there they transferred me and twenty other women to Tallahassee, Florida for head count purposes.

My past work history was wide ranged, from Administrative Assistant to Photographer on special occasions. I had to support my daughters and I with absolutely no assistance from their father. I was always held accountable for our well being. Since being incarcerated I have worked for Landscape, as a Cook, Butcher, Orderly, a Tutor to foreign and illiterate inmates, a Warehouse Worker, Forklift Operator, and a Painter. I received a special recommendation from Food Service for Outstanding Performance as a Cook. I'm a Crochet Instructor, a Coordinator for the March of Dimes Walk-A-Thon, and The Guardian Ad Litem, a program for the needy. I crochet stockings for Christmas, hearts for Valentine, and baskets for Easter. I started a new project "HATS FOR THE HOLIDAYS" in which I'm committed to making over one hundred hats for needy kids. My other project is "HATS AND BOOTIES FOR PREMATURE BABIES". I also support Feed The Children with donations, and will also be sending hats for these children for the Christmas holiday as well. My ultimate goal is to work with the underprivileged when I go home. I look forward to working with individuals both young and elderly.

As for my rehabilitation, I've completed the 40 hour drug class, college level computer courses, and I'm currently in computer application. I have completed the GOALS Program, which is a 6 month residential program offered here at the camp. I have also completed masonry, tile setting, cabinet making, consumer credit, financial management, The Price of Living Free, Wellness and Fitness. Five co-workers and I were successful in a volunteer project for the community ball parks. We designed and painted over 250 signs of advertisement. I serve as Assistant Choir Director, and also as a member of the same choir.

I am a born again Christian. GOD is first in all that I do. I had to learn the hard way to put Him first in everything. As much as I try to stay busy, it does not fill the void of being absent from my family. There is no substitute or replacement for not being there, spending quality time with my loved ones, especially my grandchildren. I have three lovely grandchildren and another due in February. Unfortunately, I missed the birth of them all.

Juanita Cooper with her family
My family has suffered a great deal. Because of the travel distance, I don't get to see them very often; perhaps twice a year, which is better than not at all. But again, I made bad choices and no one else is to blame.

Many nights I lay awake and wish that I could undo the wrong I've done that's caused so much hurt. My youngest daughter is having a very difficult pregnancy. I pray and trust that all goes well. Nothing or no one is worth the heartache and pain we all suffer from the poor choices that I made.

My husband and I are now divorced. He was attacked and severely beaten and after two brain surgeries, he's paralyzed on one side. Although we are no longer married I would like to be able to help care for him when I am released. When I call and check on him, he doesn't even know who I am. However, I still call and pray with him and see if his condition has improved. Two and a half years later, he's not much better.

In August 1998, I lost my mother. I had not seen her since the day of my sentencing in August 1993. She has always been too sick to travel. I myself am currently being treated for glaucoma and hyperthroidism.

I've learned my lesson while in this valley, and I've grown into a better and much wiser individual. My apologies to all I've caused pain. This sentence cuts both ways. I've hurt those that I love as well as myself. But it is a lesson to be learned. The road to recovery is a long, gradual, and continuous journey, but I know by the grace of GOD I will make it, because His mercy is extended to us all. Please remember my family and I in your prayers. We are always in need of prayer.

I've been a mentor and mother figure to many of the younger women here. Hopefully, I can be a positive influence in the lives of those headed in this direction. From my experience as an inmate, absent wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend, I think that I can deter some if not all from choosing this path.

I've filed for presidential clemency. They say clemency is forgiveness. I pray that I find favor and forgiveness in the eyes of man, as I have in the eyes of GOD. May clemency be granted to me. It is in this valley that I've grown.