Two women victims of the drug war on our minds this week, one who went all the way to the Supreme Court and won, only to be murdered a few days ago, and one who suffered long years in prison under New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws and won her freedom, only to be vanquished by a cancer that grew untreated while she was behind bars.
Down in Deltona, Florida, Rockefeller drug law prisoner turned reform advocate Veronica Flournoy is in a hospice surrounded by family as she lies dying of cancer. The pains in her chest that prison doctors told her to ignore turned out to be lung cancer, which has now spread to her brain. She is 39.
When she was sent to prison doing eight-to-life, Flournoy already had a two-year-old daughter. Her second child was born in prison. When she got out, she collected her children and for an all too brief time was able to enjoy life with her family.
But she didn't forget the women she left behind in prison. She turned up at drug reform rallies. And she continues to fight the good fight. Even as she now lies dying, a public service announcement urging New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D) to live up to his promise to reform the Rockefeller laws is airing.
Meanwhile, in Columbia, South Carolina, Crystal Ferguson, the poor, black woman jailed for testing positive for cocaine when she gave birth to a daughter at a Charleston hospital in 1991, was killed along with one daughter in an arson fire last month. Another daughter, Virginia, the one born in 1991, was away at camp. Ferguson's lawsuit against the hospital, Ferguson v. City of Charleston, South Carolina, resulted in a finding that the drug testing of pregnant women without their consent amounted to an illegal search. The case also brought the complex issues of race, class, pregnancy, and drug use to national attention.
After the Supreme Court victory, Ferguson faded back into the shadow, quietly raising her two daughters in a mobile home in a modest neighborhood. Her surviving daughter, Virginia, told the State newspaper she didn't like to talk about her mother's case, but that her efforts to get out of a life of poverty had inspired her. "All you see is either homeless people or something. Nobody wants to try. She wasn't like that. She wanted to try," Virginia said. "But I guess it didn't work out."
Both will be missed.