A LETTER TO PAUL from Catherine, his cousin

Editor's note: 80% of the prison population nationwide are incarcerated for drug related offenses. Paul is one of them. Though the instances are real, names have been changed to protect all parties involved.

Dear Paul,

How are ya cousin? I guess that's a silly question seeing as you're in that place and everything. Wish there was something I could do for you but I know you lose all your rights in there and I don't have any right to help you either. Your Mom told me how you almost died of pneumonia cuz you had to work outside without a coat in winter. Geez Loueezze ... you'd think they could at least supply you with a coat! Your Mom got a call from another inmate telling her they wouldn't even let you see a nurse, let alone a doctor. She said they were trying to send you home in a box. I really had no idea how barbaric the prison system is. How did things ever get so crazy?

I have to say I was surprised to find out about your drug problem. I truly never thought of you as the type of guy. Too sweet, too smart. When I think back to when we were kids playing in the backyard, I think of us playing hide & seek and you pushing me on the swings. I remember us playing with your slot car set, racing each other and you saving the kitten from the bully down the street. Certainly not someone who would grow up to be a crack addict. This is not to say I haven't had my own set of problems. I wrestled with a drinking problem in my teens and early twenties. I attended AA meetings, the whole nine yards. I do remember crack addicts at some of the meetings. They were there as part of their probation requirements. It struck me that they were literally skin and bone. They took such an emotional beating from the AA people, I felt bad for them. It was sort of a "well I may be an alcoholic but at least I'm not a crack addict" attitude. Some people just need to feel superior to others I guess, to feel better about themselves.

I've been reading about crack and especially crank in the news a lot and it's so scary. I never realized the extent of it til now. I was just caught up in doing my day to day things, working and such. My office manager has a daughter who she says married rich and moved away ... everyone knows she's in prison because of her crack addiction.

I'm enclosing a photo of us back in 1971 I think. I hope you like it. Do you remember Dad taking this pic? It was when we lived in the same neighborhood and played together a lot. Well, I have to close for now. I'll write again and I hope you'll write me too. I'd love to hear from you!

Luv ya Cousin, Catherine

See Paul's reply