Pubdate: Thu, 01 Mar 2001
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Amarillo Globe-News
Contact:  P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166
Fax: (806) 373-0810
Author: Debra Cochrain


FRITCH - On Feb. 18, I decided to take a drive to Tulia and meet some people.

I have been following the tale of the drug sting that occurred July 
23, 1999, and I realize how lucky my family has been.

I have a daughter with an addiction problem. She is about the same 
age as some of the "convicted felons" in the story. If the truth were 
known, my daughter's story is much worse, yet she was allowed 
probation - a short probation at that. Three years.

When my daughter completes her probation, her felony will be removed 
from her record. And today I am proud that she is in sobriety one 

I have firsthand experience that prison doesn't work for cases such 
as these. The only thing they learn in prison is anger and hate. Ask 
my daughter.

Kids with a drug problem don't need prison. They need love and 
compassion. And when they are in trouble, they'd better not live in 

I do not intend to make this column one of racial tone but rather one 
of questioning selective enforcement. It is rather shocking to me 
that several of the first-time non-violent offenders of Tulia 
received the maximum sentences.

I've read all about the undercover narcotics officer and other facts 
of the trials. I am confused, and frankly, quite frightened by it 
all. It really appears to me to be one big setup - the innocent sent 
away, with the name of the "drug war" applied.

What offense are they guilty of? Making a bad decision, such as we 
all did while growing up. There are great ways today to help young 
people. Incarceration is slow death, not help.

And so I decided that I needed to meet some of the people affected by 
this drug sting. One of the things that bothers me the most are the 
37 children of those incarcerated on this famous occasion. I had the 
extreme pleasure of meeting three of these children - very 
intelligent, big bright eyes, laughter like sunshine on a cloudy day. 
They could hardly be described as "crack babies."

Studies show that children who have parents incarcerated are six 
times more likely to be incarcerated themselves, compared to children 
who do not have parents in prison. Are we creating a prison class to 
replace the welfare class?

What are we telling our children? One bad decision in youth and we 
throw you away? That is what we are telling them.

I also had the pleasure of meeting some of the parents and 
grandparents affected. And I must say that I admire the bravery of 
all I met. I rather doubt if I would have the same strength. I rather 
doubt that I would have faith in anything or anyone at this point.

In today's legal climate, it could easily be your child.

Let me be the first to say that I understand why Tulia is afraid of 
drugs. And I understand why a sheriff would want to make a strong 
statement about drug trafficking on his watch. However, these young 
people were not "kingpins" but victims of the drug war.

What I do not understand is how a young man with absolutely no 
previous trouble with the law could be sentenced to 20 years based 
only on the word of a narcotics agent. No documentation was provided, 
neither written nor recorded.

Tulia loved this young man when he was a football star. But one 
mistake, and he's thrown away.

Nor do I understand how another young man, six months into sobriety 
at the time of his arrest, could also be given 12 years. This young 
man had two incidences of mischief that were non-drug related. We 
should be encouraging him and helping him, not sentencing him to 
prison. This former athlete of the year had made the decision to 
become a better parent, and now this parent is lost to his children. 
What kind of statement is that?

There are many more cases and many more questions. Forty damaged 
families. Will they heal and move on? How can they? Thrown out with 
the trash. That's what I see.

My final conclusion?

There is an extreme injustice that must be corrected so the sleepy 
town of Tulia can heal.
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