March 26, 2014

My son will soon ‘pull chain’ to a state prison

About 30 percent of all incoming Texas inmates are imprisoned for drug offenses.

My son is going to prison for a long time, and I won’t get to see him except in a crowded room with others coming at the same time to see their loved ones.

I know the scenario because it’s not the first time. Six years ago he served a year and a half in state jail.

After he’d served his time, when his sister and I went to pick him up, he wanted Tex-Mex food, so we obliged.

I can still hear my words of warning when he ordered a margarita. After all, he’d been to state jail over driving while intoxicated charges.

“Don’t worry, Mama. If it becomes a problem, I will stop. I’ve had a long time to think about the way I drank and feel like I can handle it,” he said.

I knew better then, and he knows better now.

Of course, his drinking escalated, and so did his drug abuse.

He’d battled substance abuse problems since he was 14 or 15, and like they tell you in AA, it never gets easier. One never finds a successful way to be an alcoholic and/or drug addict.

My son, now 30, certainly did not.

He would steal from anyone to support his habit. It got so bad that the last time I moved, I would not tell him where I lived.

I’d been burned too many times. A pawned computer, my wedding ring from his deceased father, cash and even my car were among the things he took from me, so I’d learned I could not let him in the house.

Last week in Carthage, he was sentenced to a total of nine years in prison for two separate drug and/or alcohol-related offenses, and he has another pending charge still to face in Orange County.

Carthage is my hometown, and I know with certainty the police, district attorney and the judge have been more than fair to him. They have given him chance after chance, and then some — all the while hoping he’d take those chances. But he never did.

Sadly, my story is not unique. Our prisons are full of inmates with substance abuse problems — most of whom, like my son, likely had multiple chances before prison became the option of last resort.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice data indicate arrests made for drug-related crimes have increased more than 30 percent since April 1999 while arrests for drug possession alone have risen by nearly 32 percent during that time.

In fiscal year 2011, about 30 percent of all incoming inmates (22,057 individuals) were imprisoned for a drug offense, and nearly 75 percent of those were sentenced for drug possession.

There are no easy answers to this problem that is plaguing our nation. Not only are our men and women trading their freedom for drugs and alcohol, families are torn apart in the process.

I am making plans to go see Michael before he is transferred out of Panola County, and can only hope that when he does pull chain, he won’t be sent too far away for me to make weekend trips to visit when my time and money allow.

And yes, I know the term “pull chain,” which means transferred (in his case) from county jail to the prison facility. I wish I did not know that term, but I do. I wish things were different, but they are not.

Sherry Koonce is a reporter for the Port Arthur News. skoonce@panews.com

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