top of page
Sharon Ravert (002).jpg



Memories Don’t Leave for the Holidays –
Remembering Our Family Members and Friends Behind Bars

By Yolande Cadore
November 2013

The holiday season is here. In millions of homes across the country – love ones are missing from the holiday celebrations; parents longing for the warm embrace of a son or daughter; sibling reminiscing of times past and children longing for 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 non- violent drug crime and she was worried scared – “would he 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 simple actions that many of us have engaged in at some point in our life. Today, there are thousands of young black men lingering in a jail or prison for simply possessing marijuana - a drug that is now legal to possess in 2 states – Washington and Colorado.

As a mother and advocate for drug policy reform – with a very heavy heart, I wish mothers and fathers – victims of the drug war a “happy” holidays, but can one truly have a “happy” holidays when there’s an empty chair or chairs at the family table? As the popular 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 Drug War – a war that has affected so many families through death and imprisonment – I am saddened by the overwhelming silence that exist 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 admonish you to think of a family member, neighbor, schoolmate, friend that is in prison or jailed for a non-violent drug crime 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 and spread the holiday cheer 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.


The following is a mother’s open-letter to Gabor Mate, MD, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction to challenge the idea that all addictive illness is informed by childhood trauma. 
Mother’s Day: 2013
Dear Dr Gabor Mate,
I am writing this open letter to you first of all to thank you for your compassion for individuals who suffer from addictive illness. I had the opportunity to watch your good work in the documentary, Raw Opium, and to see your accepting and abiding stance towards individuals who others often kick to the curb. I can’t thank you enough for championing the cause of harm reduction even taking on the Canadian government to see that persons with addictive illness receive the clinically-informed care and concern of which they are so worthy. I want you to know that I celebrate you and invite both my friends and patients to read your amazing book: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. I tell people that you will shock them with your brilliant and fresh views about how we must approach persons with addictive illness. (click link to continue) By Caroline Ridout Stewart, MA, MSW, LCSW President, A New PATH



The Stigma of Drug Overdose: A Mother’s Story
by NC Harm Reduction Coalition
March 19, 2013
Denise Cullen has lived through one of the worst tragedies a mother can experience – losing a child. But if there is anything worse than losing a child, it is losing a child to a drug overdose, because grief is accompanied by stigma and blame.
Denise lost her only son, Jeff, when he was 27 years old to a fatal combination of morphine and Xanax. She remembers him as “warm, open, loving, bright and stubborn. He had a huge laugh and a fabulous smile,” she says. He was also impulsive and suffered from ADD.
“We were very, very close,” Denise recalls. “Even during those horrible years [of drug use], he and I never became distant from each other. It was torturous at times but the one thing that was always, always apparent was that he loved his family and his family loved him. No matter what.”
Jeff began using drugs in the 9th grade, possibly to self-medicate his ADD. Over the next 12 years he experimented with a variety of drugs, including his final drug of choice, opiates. During those years, “Jeff tried so, so hard to stop,” says Denise. “He felt ‘broken’ and guilty for the hurt he inflicted on his parents. He once wrote about his ‘fairytale life’ that he had screwed up so badly, and his self-esteem was gone toward the end. But he always took total responsibility for what he did.”
For Denise, the pressure and fear of watching her only child battle addiction was “like a roller coaster with good periods and crashes. You learn to be hyper-vigilant, living always with fear. You have hope as well – as long as they are alive you have hope, but the sound of the phone ringing at night, or not hearing from them in a normal way is very difficult. It’s always in the back of your mind that your child could die in some way as a result of their addiction. You may think you can imagine it, that you are in a way prepared…but you are not.”....




Still Crazy after All These Years: A Mother’s View of Harm-reduction
By Caroline Ridout Stewart, LCSW
October 30, 2012
Okay folks, let me get this straight. My son suffers from addictive illness. He has been using a variety of mind-altering street drugs for over fifteen years and has been in residential treatment numerous times. He is, to put it mildly, no saint. However, when sober, he is kind to dogs and loves growing flowers and watching Forest Gump over and over again. When sober, he has the capacity for humor and he has the ability to walk in another man’s shoes. We call that empathy. When using, he stands at the precipice of hell. He is a lost soul. He has vicious scabs on his arms. He cannot sleep and he suffers chronic anxiety and self-loathing. He fears the unknown and shakes notably. He lies and has been known to steal. He has no survival instinct whatsoever. As I said, he is no saint. When using, he is tortured.
Two weeks ago, two months into a six-month residential drug and alcohol treatment program, my son was once again evicted onto the street by his “treatment” providers. He had arrived back late to his program after a long day having two teeth extracted. He appeared at the residential program around 6 PM and was drug-tested. The test results and the expulsion occurred several days after our son arrived home late to his program. The drug test results showed that our son had taken Vicodin (given to him by the dental clinic)and also had meth-amphetamine in his system. The meth; who knows where that came from? He acknowledged to the clinical program director that he had used meth. What remains unclear is whether or not my son’s program knew that he was having major dental work. The program made no arrangements to escort or shepherd him at this vulnerable time. He had achieved a higher level of freedom having been a model citizen of the clinical program for two months. As my husband so painfully said, “they gave him just enough rope to hang himself” which is sadly not an uncommon response to people in treatment for addiction. Sending him to a dental appointment with no escort was an important test and our son clearly failed. It appears that no one in the program noticed that our son was falling headlong again into the abyss. I, for one, noticed when we attended family meeting that he had not shaven for several days. Alas, in keeping with the program rules, our son was evicted from his therapeutic community. He was once again a bad person who chose to self-destruct. He was cast into the literal gutter to provide a bed for a more deserving soul: one who makes healthy choices.
And here is where the WTF moment occurs people. Please help me because I am so terribly confused. Is my son’s “condition” an illness or isn’t it? We are every last one of us playing this both ways; it is an illness when we need insurance funding and recognition of our best evidence-based therapeutic practices. It is an illness when our “clients” need medication which helps to stabilize their moods and encourages them to be more emotionally resilient and cooperative. It is an illness when we are trying to write papers about heritability and genetic markers. However, addiction becomes a moral failing and choice when we are bored with our clients and tired of their bad behavior. It is a choice when our clients are dirty and unattractive and have unsightly scabs on their arms. It is a choice when our clients need too much shepherding and we do not have the time, the money or the inclination. It is a choice when we have no state mandate to hold someone against their will even when they are dying right in front of our eyes. It is a choice because any dirty fool; any wretch can scrawl a filthy sign saying “Will work for food.”
So what’s the big issue here? Why bother to waste precious brain power mulling this one over? Perhaps it is because I am the total queen of co-dependency. Perhaps this whole question of harm-reduction is simply a fiction in the minds of neurotic, anxious mothers with attachment disorders. We are fools to really believe that our children suffer from illness. This belief in addiction as disease is just one more feminist conspiracy to relieve mothers of their much-deserved guilt. We enculturated our children to be weak, anti-social and to self-destruct. We are blinded by memories of toddler innocence and we have drunk the kool-aid and are blinded to the fact that our addicted children choose to remain addicted. We are incapable of accepting the truth that our children are simply bad, character-disordered people.
Alas, despite my husband’s frantic calls to the treatment program with ROI (Release of Information) in-hand, the clinical director did not return calls to my husband or me for several days. We actually attended a family therapy meeting at the facility the night before our son was evicted and there was no dialogue from the clinical staff about our pending family crisis. Yes, despite what they might think, their eviction of our son put our entire family into crisis because we love him and want the best for him and desperately needed their clinically-informed advice and advocacy at this heart-breaking time. We are truly no different from the family needing to talk with a mother’s oncologist about his decision to place her in hospice. We are desperate for information as we grieve and struggle to make logical and life-supporting decisions. If our son’s treatment providers knew what was coming down there was no warning. If they innocently embraced us not yet knowing of the tragic results of our son’s drug test, how callous, how cruel to kick our son to the curb the very next day with no warning and no transitional care. Furthermore, is their inclusion of a “family therapy group” in their program a ruse? We were simply a peripheral adjunct in our son’s life requiring no grief work or emotional support as our son is again thrown to the street? Where was the therapeutic plan; the new path?

If we are talking about a medical program people; where is the ethical and clinically-informed transitional plan? Again, we cannot have this both ways; if we pride ourselves in our medically-informed approach to persons who misuse drugs and alcohol, how can we then with good conscience embrace archaic philosophies that tell us that our son needs to “hit his bottom” to recover. I am only guessing here but there seem to be only a few reasons why all of these programs throw our children out onto the street: they need the bed for healthier patients who have a better chance of recovery (think about the irony of this; the precious bed is reserved for the healthier client not those who are the sickest), they need to give the bed to a better-funded client, they need to extract the malignant patient because he or she might be contaminating other patients, they need the patient to ‘learn a lesson’ or ‘hit bottom’ or ‘come back when they are ready.’ People, we do not throw dogs onto the street if they are ill or especially when they have behaved badly. What’s clear to me is that for many or our addicted children, there are no moral lessons to learn, no coming back when they are more motivated, no huge lessons learned from hitting bottom. No, sadly, many of our children simply go away and die and relieve the treatment programs of any medical obligation to authentically save lives.
If I waved my magic wand, drug and alcohol residential programs would have “step up” and “step down” units like Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). Leaving the protective and caring environment of the treatment program would not be permitted unless the person left AMA (against medical advice). Think about it dear souls, there is no AMA with patients leaving treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. There is never any medical advice not to leave because the so-called providers want you to go if you are not getting better. They have succumbed to their counter-transference yearnings for compliant, validating patients who get better quickly and gratify the providers with their long-term sobriety success stories. In the best of all possible worlds, my son’s residential program would have put him into a more intensive, clinically-informed, wrap-around program subsequent to his relapse. They would have embraced him instead of throwing him away. Never again would one be thrown to the street with the cruel black trash-bags. They would have invited his father and me to join them in a deeply important clinical meeting to explore the best way to re-integrate him into the residential community or to go into a higher, more restrictive level of care. They would have approached the whole family and the whole person in lieu of easy solutions. Every residential program would have a fall-back intensive program for relapsing patients. There would be no “good (motivated)”clients and no “bad (unmotivated)” clients. All with serious addictive illness would be welcome. They would not see relapse as a moral failing. They would not see relapse as just another bed coming open for a more “worthy” client. What is sadly clear is that even the most informed clinical providers in drug and alcohol programs are hanging onto their ambivalence and intrusive doubt as to whether addiction really is a disease or rather is a moral failing. It’s time to make up your minds people. Stop seducing us with your high-minded medical rhetoric or embrace it. We and our vulnerable children can’t take the seduction any longer. We are worn thin with your do-gooder stance.



FORUM:Mother's Day: Tears & Triumphs
For most women, Mother's Day is a time to honor and celebrate motherhood. The family gathers for brunch or dinner and Mom is treated to some rest, relaxation and extra loving care. But, for countless other women, it also marks a day of grieving and loss.

For mothers whose sons or daughters are locked behind bars for petty drug offenses it is a day filled with frustration and emptiness. I have experienced many Mother's Days like this over the past decades, when my older son was incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.

At those times I wasn't clear where I belonged: visiting one son behind bars, or with the rest of my family coping with a heart torn in two. This year, I reflect on a trail of tears and triumphs, as both of my sons are alive and in recovery.

When we look at history, this celebration is also one of maternal strength and action. Mother's Day was started in North America as a response to the carnage and deaths from the Civil War. Mothers protested the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers.

In the 1930s, a group of mothers were instrumental in ending alcohol prohibition in the United States, because of the corruption, gangland violence and death that it caused.

Today, mothers are leading the charge to end the disastrous war on drugs and failed punitive prohibitionist policies that have wreaked such havoc on our families. Moms from across the nation are telling their stories to call attention to the tragic loss of lives and liberties caused by the drug war. Mothers are joining with cops and health care professionals to demand an end to these silent but deadly battles that are waged against our own people, and particularly against communities of color and poverty.  NORTH COUNTY TIMES By Gretchen Burns Bergman 05.2012



How the War on Drugs Destroyed My Family
By Joyce A. Rivera 5.10.12

The punishments my father, brother and sister experienced--arrest, incarceration and HIV/AIDS--for misusing a controlled substance caused a lifetime of grief for my family.

I will not push away a person who uses drugs. I do not agree with those who say drugs menace children and the majority of the people in the drug culture are criminals.

I devote my life to helping people find their way to health. Like any mother I am willing to give advice, and I’m willing to say “time out.” But I am not willing to call someone who has a dependency problem a criminal because they have contact with illegal drugs.
(Click to continue) AlterNet How the War on Drugs Destroyed My FamilyBy Joyce A. Rivera 5.10.12
















Moms decry family devastation caused by drug policies 

By Gretchen Burns Bergman 12.11.11

The holiday season is here. As the weather turns chilly and we move indoors to enjoy the warmth and safety of our homes and the closeness of family and friends, I am acutely aware of those not so fortunate: people who are out in the elements, either because of dire financial situations or mental and addictive illness.

This time of year is particularly difficult for those who must navigate the mighty and destructive waves of addiction. It‘s painful for families who are separated because of a loved one’s incarceration, whose young person is lost on the streets due to drug problems, whose children are in danger because of the violence of the drug cartels, or those who have lost a loved one to overdose. Often a family member is missing from the festivities because of stigma and shame.

At some point I stopped regarding the approach of Christmas with joyful anticipation and became filled with dread. It wasn’t after my father or my nephew died, because they were remembered and celebrated at the table, or even after the breakup of my first marriage. It was all of the times that my older son was absent because he was locked behind bars in that cold, concrete jungle, and I couldn’t figure out where I belonged … with him to somehow nurture and sustain him, or in the bosom of the rest of my family. It is the memories of holidays when one of my sons wasn’t included because he was lost in the maze of his addiction, and his name wasn’t even mentioned because of pain, discomfort and even judgment. Those omissions widened the hole in my heart. (Click to continue...)
UT SAN DIEGO Moms decry family devastation caused by drug policies 

By Gretchen Burns Bergman 12.11.11







The Science of Substance Abuse
The Empty Seat at the Holiday Table by Gretchen Burns Bergman

11.22.11 Gretchen Burns Bergman is Co-Founder and Executive Director of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) and lead organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs.















The Holiday season is upon us. At this time, when the weather turns chilly and we move indoors to enjoy the warmth and safety of our homes and the closeness of family and friends, I am acutely aware of those not so fortunate: people who are out in the elements, either because of dire financial situations or mental and addictive illness.

The Holidays are particularly difficult for those who must navigate the mighty and destructive waves of addiction. It is a painful time for families who are separated because of a loved one’s incarceration, whose young person is lost on the streets due to drug problems, whose children are in danger because of the violence of the drug cartels, or those who have lost a loved one to overdose. Often a family member is missing from the festivities because of stigma and shame. (Click to continue...)ADDICTION-DIRKH.BLOGSPOT.COM ADDICITON INBOX
The Empty Seat at the Holiday Table by Gretchen Burns Bergman 11.22.11





More Women Behind Bars
By GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN Letter to the Editor 8.15.11
“Mexico’s Drug War, Feminized” (news analysis, Sunday Review, Aug. 14) struck an emotional chord, illustrating that the war on drugs is being waged against women and families on both sides of the border.

Karla Solorio spoke for countless women in Mexico and the United States who have ended up in prison because of drug violations when she said: “I’m not someone with a family. I’m just a prisoner.”

Because of the war on drugs, fathers are absent from many neighborhoods, and now mothers are behind bars in shocking numbers as well. Who, then, is taking care of our children?

We need widespread drug policy reform to stop the violence, mass incarceration and devastating loss of lives and liberty. Women must use their voices to speak out to end this global destruction for the sake of all of our children...(click to continue) THE NEW YORK TIMES More Women Behind Bars By GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN Letter to the Editor by Aug 15, 2011



FORUM: A Mother's Day plea to end drug war
On June 13, 1971, I became a mother when my first son was born. Five days later, President Nixon declared the "war on drugs." Little did I know then that this war would be waged against families like mine for the next four decades.

On Mother's Day, I reflect on the joys and the challenges of motherhood, and I feel compelled to speak out against this silent but deadly war that has stealthily eaten away at the fabric of our lives. It has caused countless casualties, wasted taxpayer money, promoted discrimination against people of color, and taken away basic human liberties... A Mother's Day Plea to End Drug War By GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN | 05. 2011



Life on the Razor:
Why I am Joining Moms United to End the War on Drugs
I have to admit that I never bargained for being the mother of a heroin addict. Not me; I was the proverbial goody two-shoes. My own mother did not even have to ask me to do my homework. To the contrary, she used to come up to my room in the wee hours of the morning and beg me to stop studying and to go to bed. My parents set few limits with me because I was hard-wired to set my own. I am not bragging when I tell you that I have never even received a speeding ticket. I am in no way morally superior to anyone. I am, rather, sadly filled with terror of getting in trouble, any kind of trouble. Alas, my own beloved son is not wired like this at all. He has been using a full spectrum of street drugs since around the age of 14 and there is not a single day when his life is not filled with some tragic component of trouble. Clearly he and I are not copacetic...(click link to continue...)Life on the Razor: Why I am Joining Moms United to End the War on Drugs BY CAROLINE RIDOUT STEWART, LCSW, President of the Board, A New PATH



The War on Drugs 40 Years Later Punitive Drug Policies Don't Work

How do people who are essentially only harming themselves come to be treated as criminals? If our correction system was one time designed to rehabilitate, how have we drifted so far afield from this ideal? Where are the treatment centers, the rehabs, the hospitals?
After struggling side-by-side for nine agonizing years with my son, Ian, as he dealt with depression, self-mutilation, drug use, and repeated incarceration for simply self-medicating, I saw him begin to find inner strength, confidence, and stability despite the feeling that he was being hounded by probation. Three months into this period of growing self-esteem, however, he had one "dirty test" and decided that all was lost, that this time he would be sent to state prison—a threat that is held over the heads of the thousands who go through our court system for using drugs. He ended his life that day, at the tender age of 23...(click link to continue...)The War on Drugs 40 Years Later Punitive Drug Policies Don't Work BY SUZANNE RIORDAN 06.2011



Letter to the editor – May 2011
This coming June 17 will be the 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs declared under the Nixon administration. I had heard talk about the war on drugs, and I felt confident it could not affect me, or any of family members. How wrong I was!
Eight years later, on September 16, 1979, I gave birth to my third child, a son. I was excited because I wanted another son. He was adorable. I couldn't stop gazing at him in wonder. I had no idea then what the future had in store for my son...(click on link to continue)Letter to the editor – By Linda Orozco 05.2011



A mother's plea to end the war on drugs By RITA LOWENTHAL 5.9.11


Mother's Day just passed and I can't help recalling those times when my grown-up children were those adorable babies. I cherish those minutes that I held them high in the air and they made me laugh because they laughed — and my heart was so overflowing with love that it ached.
I had two perfect sons like that. The eldest came with built-in boundaries; he didn't think it was fun to run against a red light. My other son craved the excitement of taking chances; no staying in a playpen for him.(click on link to continue)A Mother's Plea to End the War on Drugs By Rita Lowenthal 05.2011




What Mother's Day Means to Me
By DIANE GOLDSTEIN Mother and LEAP Speaker 5.9.11
You might not expect a mom and former police officer to advocate legalizing marijuana but that’s just what I would like our elected officials to think about. On mother’s day each year I reflect back on my obligation as a mom and what it means to me, my son and to our communities.
Thoreau stated “Aim above morality, be not simply good, be good for something.




My First Mother's Day

My husband and I will welcome our first child at the end of this month. It’s a very exciting time – one filled with hopes for who our child will be and trepidation at what he will face in life. There are all the usual questions: will he be healthy? Will he be smart? Who will he grow up to be? And then there’s the concern that sometimes sneaks up on me when I least expect it: will he develop an alcohol or drug problem?
I’m not sure how many other moms-to-be have the same worry, but I doubt I’m alone. About 7.8 million Americans are in need of drug treatment, according to the 2009 U.S. National Survey of Drug Use and Health. And all of them belong to families – like mine...(click link to continue) My First Mothers Day By MARGARET DOOLEY-SAMMULI 05. 2011



Julia Negron: Time to say no to War on Drugs

By Julia Negron 5. 7.11

IMAGINE a world without the scourge of our current punitive drug policies. Imagine a world where we mothers no longer wait teary eyed in prison visiting lines, where our daughters live to gift us with happy grandchildren. Imagine our sons getting in trouble with drugs and getting saved because they are worth saving. Imagine borders where tourists bask in the sun without fear, and drug cartels' gunshots are replaced with lilting music. Imagine passionately wanting a better future for our children and grandchildren so that all humanity is treated with dignity and kindness. Imagine that billions in funding is funneled into education. Imagine that we stop fighting a war with ourselves...



Mother's Day Wish: Prevent Drug Overdoses
This is a difficult time for my family. There are several days like this one each year, days that should be happy ones but that I struggle with. Ever since my son, Jeff, died as a result of an overdose in 2008, this is one of those holidays that seem designed to remind me of what I've lost. But this particular Mother's Day is different. This year, I'm channeling that pain into a call to action. The drug war is a war on families. Hundreds of thousands of people are arrested each year for mere possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use. Many of them don't have a drug problem. Some, like my son, do. Most are arrested, shamed and stigmatized. If they are convicted, they may also face the life-long barriers that accompany a felony conviction. Few receive any help. (click link to continue)Mother's Day wish: Prevent Drug Overdoses By DENISE CULLEN 05. 2011



ALTER NET Mothers Day Plea to End the War on Drugs 

Holidays are a constant challenge after a loss, and Mother's Day can be especially difficult after the loss of a child. But this Mother’s Day holds special promise.
As a mother, I have had a close encounter with prohibition violence. My son was killed with a friend in a random crime committed by two juveniles involved in gang activity and illegal drug use. Holidays are a constant challenge after a loss, and Mother’s Day can be especially difficult after the loss of a child. But this Mother’s Day holds special promise.(click link to continue)Mothers Day Plea to End the War on Drugs By JOY STICKLAND 05. 2011



"He Joined A Gang, Began Selling Drugs & Was Shot at 13"


My father was working as a respiratory therapist in 1986 when a co-worker showed him a “cool, new way” to use cocaine. Since that time, he has been trapped in an endless cycle of drug abuse, recovery and relapse.His addiction to crack cocaine has had extreme consequences for our entire family. But despite what my family and I have endured, this Mothers Day holds special significance and promise for me. 
As his drug use spiraled out of control, my father held up a convenience store, flashing an unloaded handgun. He was presecuted and imprisoned in 1993. As a daddy’s girl and the oldest child, I remember my father before addiction ruled his life. While my younger siblings’ earliest memories of him are tainted by his drug abuse, I knew the real man and the potential he possessed. To see him diminished as a father and driven to steal money and property from loved ones, was devastating to me. There was constant anger and outrage in my family over his behavior. I remember his incarceration as a particularly shameful period for my family...(click to continue)"He Joined A Gang, Began Selling Drugs & Was Shot at 13" By KEEVY WILKERSON 05. 2011





















bottom of page