, Port Arthur, Texas

March 24, 2014

Sad story shared by too many

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — My son is going to prison for a long time and I won’t get to see him except in a crowded room with others coming at the same time to see their loved ones.

I know the scenario because it’s not the first time. Six years ago he served a year and a half in state jail. After he’d served his time, when his sister and I went to pick him up, he wanted Mexican food, so we obliged.

I can still hear my words of warning when he ordered a margarita. After all,  he’d been to state jail over driving while intoxicated charges.

“Don’t worry Mama, if it becomes a problem, I will stop. I’ve had a long time to think about the way I drank and feel like I can handle it,” he said.

I knew better then, and he knows better now.

Of course his drinking escalated, and so did his drug abuse.

He’d battled substance abuse problems since he was 14 or 15, and like they tell you in AA, it never gets easier. One never finds a successful way to be an alcoholic and/or drug addict.

My son, now 30, certainly did not.

He would steal from anyone to support his habit. It got so bad that the last time I moved, I would not tell him where I lived. He would call me at night, and many others I am certain, begging for a place to sleep — somewhere other than his car.

But, I’d been burned too many times. A pawned computer, my wedding ring from his deceased father stolen, cash, and even my car were among the things he took from me, so I’d learned I could not let him in the house.

He had become a thief, the person I locked doors at night to keep out. I could not let him in.

It made him angry, and broke my heart.

Last week in Carthage, Texas, he was sentenced to a total of nine years in prison for two separate drug and/or alcohol-related offenses, and he has another pending charge still to face in Orange County.

Carthage is my hometown, and I know with certainty the police, district attorney and the judge have been more than fair to him. They have given him chance after chance, and then some — all the while hoping he’d take those chances. But he never did.

Sadly, my story is not unique.

The prisons are full of inmates with substance abuse problems — most of which, like my son, likely had multiple chances before prison was the option of last resort.

I do not normally post things on Facebook that reveal too much of my private life, but did last week after I received word of the sentence. I am comforted by the many friends (some I knew before Michael was born) who put us in their prayers, and shared similar stories.

According to the website,, there are currently more than 2 million people in American prisons or jails, and approximately one quarter of those have been convicted of a drug offense.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s data indicates arrests made for drug-related crimes have increased more than 30 percent since April 1999 while arrests for drug possession alone have risen by nearly 32 percent during that time. In fiscal year 2011, about 30 percent of all incoming inmates (22,057 individuals) were imprisoned for a drug offense, and nearly 75 percent of those were sentenced for drug possession.

There are no easy answers to this problem that is plaguing our nation. Not only are our men and women trading their freedom for drugs and alcohol, families are torn apart in the process.

I am making plans to go see Michael before he is transferred out of Panola County, and can only hope that when he does pull chain, he won’t be sent too far away for me to make weekend trips to visit when my time and money allow.

And yes, I know the term “pull chain,” which means transferred (in his case) from county jail to the prison facility. I wish I did not know that term, but I do. I wish things were different, but they are not.

I can only hope and pray that he will use this time constructively, to reflect on his life and resolve to do something different.

When he does come home again, my door will be open to him once again, and I am praying it can remain that way. I am praying the words “I’ll have a margarita” are replaced with “That will be a sweet tea for me, please.”

Sherry Koonce is a reporter for the Port Arthur News. Contact her at