On June 21, 2007 the New York State legislative session is expected to end without any reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. To most people it will not mean much. But to Veronica Flournoy it will.
Veronica spent eight years in prison for a first-time, nonviolent crime under New York's inhumane Rockefeller Drug Laws. Tragically, at the age of 39, Veronica is now dying. A spot discovered on her lung while in prison went untreated, which has led to cancer that spread to her brain. She had a terrible drug addiction that compelled her to deliver drugs for her boyfriend to fuel her habit. The district attorney's office pressured her to provide evidence against her boyfriend to help secure his conviction. Veronica was reluctant to cooperate out of fear for the safety of her family. The system rewarded her refusal to cooperate by throwing the book at her and handing her a sentence of 8-years-to-life.
She left behind her two-year-old daughter, Candance, and, while serving her sentence, she gave birth to her second daughter, Keyshana, who lived in the prison nursery until she was 13-months-old. Her elderly mother then cared for both children while Veronica did hard time at the Bedford Correctional Facility for women in upstate NY.
While in prison, Veronica overcame her personal demons and received the treatment she needed to deal with her drug addiction. Upon her release, Veronica reunited with her family and became a central figure in the Rockefeller reform movement. She worked hard to overturn the drug laws that had taken away her life as it had the many others that shared the "scarlet letter of addiction." Although struggling with her life as a single parent and having to bear the stigmatizing label of "ex-addict" and "ex-felon," she became a true champion of those with substance abuse problems who were sentenced to prison instead of treatment.
Her two daughters, now ages 10 and 12, along with her 84-year-old mother pray for a miracle. Their lives are in shambles---unable to support themselves, watching the life ebb away from a woman who was once so vibrant.
Just a few weeks ago, Veronica appeared on camera for a moving public service announcement calling on Gov. Spitzer to keep his word and deliver the reform he promised while campaigning for his governorship. Spitzer, who recently won his bid to become governor of New York, has sidestepped this issue since ascending to office, in line with the legacy of his predecessor, George Pataki, who danced around the issue of Rocky reform for more than nine years.
Veronica's story reminds us of the horrors of drug addiction. It destroys lives. But far worse is to condemn those with drug addictions to imprisonment, while withholding the treatment they so desperately need. Our prisons are filled with tens of thousands of individuals with all kinds of drug addictions and psychological problems. Addiction should not be treated as a criminal manner. Instead, we should treat addiction as a medical problem. Gov. Elliot Spitzer who has been silent on Rockefeller reform needs to address this issue now. No more stalling. No dancing around the issue. It is the least he can do for a dying woman, her heart-broken family, and the tens of thousands of others affected by these laws.