A Letter to Mrs. Bush
I recently received a copy of a letter that was sent to the former First Lady, Barbara Bush. The letter was written by six mothers whose children are in jail because of the "war on drugs" - a "war" avidly supported by Barbara's son, George W., who is running for President. All six mothers are members of the Colville, Washington-based November Coalition. What follows is the full-text of the letter. You may find it as interesting and moving as I did.
"Dear Mrs. Bush - In recent weeks, your son, Texas Governor George W. Bush, has faced questions regarding his youthful drug use. Recently, you responded to the media onslaught regarding the matter, saying that possible illicit drug use by your son or any other candidate for political office in their youth is largely 'irrelevant.' You asked the media to stop 'trashing' candidates.
"We are mothers too, and we understand your maternal instinct to defend your son. We agree that a person should not have their integrity questioned, nor their future put in jeopardy, simply because of a youthful indiscretion involving an illicit substance. Young people, we all know, are prone to disregard risks to their health and safety. This is especially true when a young person is already abusing a drug like alcohol, as your son has bravely acknowledged doing in his own youth.
"Despite our sympathy for your position, we respectfully believe that Governor Bush implied past drug use, and his views about it, are extremely relevant for evaluating his sense of fairness and justice.
This is a different question from whether his drug use, if any, is by itself a disqualification from being president. We too do not think it is a disqualification.
"You see, our boys also committed 'youthful indiscretions.' But in their cases, the prosecutors and courts called them 'felonies.' They are each serving sentences of a decade or more (some far more) for their poor choices. But those bad choices didn't have to ruin their lives, or the lives of their families. Most young people mature, including those who act foolishly and self-destructively by using drugs. Most go on to become productive citizens - just like your son.
"Today, there are nearly 500,000 men and women serving time in America's prisons and jails for drug law offenses - overwhelmingly low-level, nonviolent offenses. Incarcerating these men and women costs taxpayers more than $10 billion annually. Most of these prisoners are poor, and increasingly non-white. Last year, more than 700,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession alone. These young people cannot apply for any job without disclosing their own 'youth indiscretions,' because their indiscretions became criminal records that are permanent. Many can never vote again, much less dream of running for public office.
"Youthful drug use, an issue that you and your son both claim is 'irrelevant' to the Governor's personal history, has been made permanently relevant to us by the drug polices of the federal government and the fifty states, including Texas. Our sons will have no second chances.
"Mrs. Bush, we suggest it is time that you have a mother-to-son talk with George Jr. Every mother wants her children to succeed and be healthy and happy. As mothers, we teach out children that equal protection under the law insures them that they can not be unfairly held back by accidents of birth, race, disability, class, gender, etc. Equal opportunity applies to all kids, even those who make youthful mistakes. "Please tell your son that not every child in America grew up with the many advantages that he has enjoyed. Share with him the reality that without the advantages of position and class - access to excellent attorneys, adequate educational and employment opportunities, etc. - hundreds of thousands of young men and former young men sit in our nation's prisons; many in Texas, many for nonviolent crimes. The essence of these crimes is that they were young and reckless, that they lacked faith in themselves or in their economic opportunities.
"Please remind him that hundreds of thousands of mothers, wives and children cry themselves to sleep at night, hoping and praying to live long enough to see their loved ones free. Please ask you son to promise you that if he becomes president, he will think long and hard about the injustices of our nation's longest war - the 'war on drugs.'
"We know in our hearts that you are profoundly proud of your children, Mrs. Bush. Perhaps you can convince George W. that if he becomes President he should give loving mothers, just like you, another chance to rekindle pride and hope in their children.
Sincerely, Mothers of Drug War Prisoners:
Marianne Bassett, Mattapoisett, MA; Susan Bobby, Valparaiso, IN; Diane Muscoreil, Wilson, NY; Virginia Traylor, Duncanville, TX; Nancy Wall, Merrit Island, FL; Carol A. Walt, Vista, CA."