Several years ago, when I lived in a low-income, mostly Hispanic neighborhood on Staten Island, New York, my nearest neighbors were an oddly configured family which consisted of two brothers, raising two children, a girl and a boy who were their niece and nephew. At the time I first met them the girl was about eight years old and the boy a few years younger. I wondered idly what had happened to the parents. Finally, someone told me that their mother was dead and their father was in jail for dealing drugs. This was nothing tremendously out of the ordinary for that sort of neighborhood and its inhabitants. and I didn't think about it a lot.

The two brothers had very little money, were constantly behind in their rent, took occasional odd jobs, eked; a rather common story.

A year or so after I moved there, one of the brothers came upstairs to see me, clearly upset. He told me his jailed brother was dying of AIDS. I got more of the story. The details of the story went like this: Luis, a small, gentle, friendly man, his wife, and their two children (the children I have been telling you about) had been living not far away in the same neighborhood. One day, one of his friends came to him and asked him to keep a few boxes for him until he, or someone, called for them; he was going somewhere, moving, he just couldn't fit them into his car. Luis readily agreed because Luis was an agreeable, friendly man, because the poor know they have to help one another, and because and he was under some particular obligation to the friend as well. It didn't seem like a big deal.

What Luis didn't know was that the boxes contained illegal drugs. The person who gave him the boxes secretly belonged to a gang who had set up a substantial deal, but they didn't trust the other party, who, they suspected, might be the police. So their strategy was to deliver the drugs by leaving them with a naive third party. When arrangements had been made for payment, the buyer would be told where the product was and could go pick it up.

It turned out that the gang's suspicions were correct; the other party were, indeed, the police. They went to Luis's house, picked up the boxes, and arrested Luis and his family. The children went into whatever hell the city provides for abandoned minors, and the couple went to jail, into the jaws of the machinery of what is called the 'justice system' by some.

At one point in the subsequent processes of torment, the police decided that if Luis would plead guilty and admit responsibility for the drugs, they would release his wife and children. As there was certainly no use protesting his innocence, that is what Luis did. The police kept their word on this occasion; Luis was sent to prison for a long term, but his wife and children were released.

This turned out not to be such a good thing, however. The gang believed that Luis had cooperated with the police and betrayed them, and that they had escaped arrest themselves only through their great acuity, dispatch, and ruthlessness. They decided to punish Luis. They could not easily reach him in prison, however, so they murdered his wife instead, an execution-style shooting. They probably would have murdered the children, but as it happened the children were visiting a relative when their mother was slaughtered in her home, and the gang was unwilling to press their luck -- although there was certainly no indication that the police would do much of anything about it anyway; it was a 'drug-related killing' and nothing for respectable people to worry about.

Meanwhile, in prison, Luis's youth, good looks, slight build, and amiable temper attracted an unfortunate sort of attention. After suitable beatings to soften him up, he was repeatedly raped by larger, stronger, uglier, more brutal men, some of whom were HIV-positive. Unsurprisingly, he contracted the disease himself. In prison, however, he received no treatment. After all, he was a drug dealer. Finally, when he began to show symptoms of the disease, thus becoming an inconvience to the prison administrators, he was released, so that he could go home and die. Between the AIDS, the beatings, the rapes, the prison environment, and so on, he was by now pretty weak.

I finally met him at this time. I was going down the stairs and he was coming up, step by careful step. In spite of all he had been through, he remained an amiable, cheerful person, even if he was quite a bit slower going up and down the stairs then I imagine he had been a few years before. A brother introduced me. Having caught his breath, Luis took care to thank me very graciously for some minor favors I had done for his brothers and his children, and hoped we would meet again at a better time.

Not long after that he was taken away to a hospital or hospice and of course I never saw him again.

I think of Luis now and then. I thought of him when the president was asked if he would not do something about the Drug War, and he laughed. It was Luis he was laughing at.

1FreeWorld 2013