The holiday season is here. In millions of homes across the country, loved ones are missing from holiday celebrations, parents are longing for the warm embrace of a son or daughter, siblings are reminiscing of times past, and children are longing for their moms and dads.
For millions of families, a loved one is currently in jail or prison. A few years ago, while working in Harlem, I came across one such mother who spent numerous holidays without her only son – he was awaiting sentencing in Pennsylvania for a nonviolent drug offense. She was worried, scared and wondered if he would ever come home. Unfortunately, this is the question on the minds of millions of family members as we begin this holiday season.
This Thanksgiving, as we give thanks for the many blessings and mercies bestowed on our families – let us turn our silence and shame into love and compassion for those who cannot be with their families because they are victims of our callous criminal justice system. Many brothers, sisters and family members are torn away from their families for minor infractions that many of us have engaged in at some point in our life.
Even though public opinion has shifted dramatically against the war on drugs, and Colorado and Washington are moving forward with marijuana legalization, hundreds of thousands of young black men linger behind bars for nothing more than a drug law violation every year.
With a very heavy heart, as a mother and advocate for drug policy reform, I wish other mothers and fathers who are victims of the drug war a “happy” holidays – but can one truly have a “happy” holidays when there’s an empty chair at the family table? As the Johnny Bristol song reminds us, “memories don’t leave like people like do – they always stay with you whether they’ve been good or bad.” But somehow, we have found a way to hide the memories and presence of our loved ones who are in prison or in treatment in a very dark and murky place.
As a member of Moms United to End the War on Drugs, I am saddened by the overwhelming silence that exists regarding the number of Americans who are in prisons instead of with their families during a time when most of us are talking about spending time with our loved ones.
This holiday season, as we prepare to bask in the warmth and love of family and friends, I encourage you to think of a family member, neighbor, schoolmate or friend that is behind bars for a nonviolent drug offense or who was a victim of our misguided drug war.
If you are a family member or friend of someone who is currently in prison, jail or in a treatment facility this holiday season – you are not alone. Let us join our hearts by bringing back the memories of our beloveds into our homes and keeping them forever in our hearts – especially during this time of year. And, as we look forward to a bright and prosperous 2014, let us collectively wish and work for more humane, just and compassionate drug policies.
Yolande Cadore is the director of strategic partnerships for the Drug Policy Alliance.