Pubdate: Sun, 28 Dec 2003
Source: News & Advance, The (VA)
Copyright: 2003 Media General
Author: Bill Freehling


PETERSBURG - A burning sensation sometimes creeps into the back of Henry 
Ruben Nelson II's throat. The ether taste takes him back to 1985, when the 
21-year-old started shooting cocaine into his bloodstream with an IV 
needle. "To this day I still want it," Nelson said 18 years later from a 
visitor's room at the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, his 
home of almost two years. "To this day I can still taste the cocaine." 
Marcellus Curtis Moss can relate.

By the time he started using cocaine around his 19th birthday, he had 
already served four years in prison. Before doing time, he drank and smoked 
pot. But his affinity for the white powder sent his life on a downward 
spiral that has landed him in prison for most of the past quarter-century. 
Like Nelson, memories of drug use often swim through Moss' mind. "The urge 
to use drugs is like a hunger that lies dormant within my thoughts," Moss 
wrote from Virginia's Deep Meadow Correctional Center. "As each day pass 
it's a struggle living with the desire for the hi that I've become so 
accustom to." Moss and Nelson have much in common.

Both Lynchburg men are 39. Both have young sons named for them. They're 
longtime drug addicts and have stolen to finance their habits.

They've sold drugs on occasion but are mostly just users.

They admit their guilt and blame themselves. They are also different - Moss 
black, unmarried and a seven-time prisoner; Nelson white, married and a 
first-timer. Both contacted The News & Advance by letter, wishing to give 
their opinion on how the criminal justice system deals with drug abusers. 
Through a series of phone, in-person and written interviews, each man told 
his life tale.
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Nelson was born Sept. 26, 1964, in Columbus, Ohio. A Morman, he moved to 
Lynchburg at age 10. In Columbus, he had been an all-star baseball pitcher, 
but he gave the sport up in the Hill City. While a freshman at Heritage 
High School, he started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol.

He'd sometimes shoplift the booze.

Staying out all night partying, his grades suffered.

He dropped out in 10th grade. Two years later he married his pregnant 
sweetheart, Christy. They've been married 21 years and have three kids. 
Nelson went through a variety of manual-labor jobs. He lost many of them 
because he'd show up hung over. When he started using cocaine in 1985, 
things turned for the worse.

He remembers the rush, a euphoria that lasted five seconds and then made 
him crave more. He sold marijuana, stole and lied, all to buy cocaine. 
After three months of daily use, he woke up one morning shaking out of 
control. He entered the Arise residential treatment center in Forest, where 
he spent three weeks. It didn't stick.

Someone broke into his home and stole his pit bull terriers. Fearing for 
his family's safety, he left Arise, determined never to shoot up again. He 
didn't. But a new form of the drug now appeared on the scene - crack 
cocaine. Nelson started smoking a lot of it, several times while working at 
factories with dangerous machinery. He'd get paid and intend to buy 
groceries for his family.

Instead, he'd take the whole paycheck and buy crack, coming home broke, 
miserable and without food. Around the same time, he fathered two children 
out of wedlock.

He stole his mother's bank card to get money for cocaine.

He's now behind about $38,000 in child support. "It's really a sickening 
story," Nelson said quietly. "A sickening life." He was a skilled worker, 

He welded the plumbing lines at a General Electric call center on Odd 
Fellows Road, and there were no leaks. In 1999, Nelson went to California 
to install conveyer belts for a food-processing company. He did well, 
working 18-hour days at $16 an hour. Methamphetamine, a speed-like drug 
he'd drop in his coffee every morning, helped get him through. Every three 
weeks he'd fly back to Virginia, bringing drugs with him each time. "I 
shouldn't have been on the road traveling," Nelson said. "Not with a wife 
and three children at home." When he came home for Thanksgiving in 2000, a 
friend asked him to carry a pound of methamphetamine - with a Lynchburg 
street value of about $20,000 - on the flight.

In exchange, Nelson would get $1,000 and an ounce, and his friend would 
deal the drugs. Word spread about the high-quality methamphetamine coming 
from California. A police informant heard the news and informed 
authorities. Nelson stepped off a plane at Lynchburg Regional Airport 
holding a CD case full of drugs.

When he was inches from picking up his 1-year-old son, police swarmed and 
arrested him. "As soon as they grabbed me I knew my ass was fried," he 
said. He was charged with two federal offenses: possession with intent to 
distribute and conspiracy to distribute. He gave investigators information 
on others involved in drugs, but most of the people he knew were just users 
- - not who the government wanted. He pleaded guilty to the possession charge 
in September 2001. In exchange, the conspiracy charge was dropped.

Four months later, he was sentenced to 87 months in prison and has been in 
Petersburg since April 2002. "I cried for probably a year (in prison)," 
Nelson said. He admits his guilt but thinks 87 months behind bars was a bit 
harsh for a first offense. His wife is sticking with him, but Nelson 
worries she might leave before his sentence is finished.

She visits Nelson with their three children - including a 4-year-old son 
who barely knows his father - but their time together is bittersweet. "When 
they walk out that door it's like a pain all over again," Nelson said. "But 
it's prison - that's what it's designed to do."
- --------------------------------
Moss was born seven months before Nelson. He spent a short time in 
Cleveland, but mostly grew up in Lynchburg. His grandmother and mother 
raised him, and his father was never involved. At 9, Moss got his first 
felony conviction for breaking and entering.

He was in and out of the Lynchburg Juvenile Detention Home. He finished one 
year at E.C. Glass High School before his first adult felony conviction for 
burglary at age 15. Moss smoked marijuana and drank before that 1979 
conviction. By the time he got out of maximum-security prison four years 
later, he had become an angry man. He started using cocaine heavily. He 
wasn't out long, going back to prison for receiving stolen property. 
Released in three years, he soon picked up a possession of cocaine charge 
that was overturned by an appeals court. When crack cocaine got popular in 
the late 1980s, Moss hit it hard. He didn't do anything "real low" to 
finance his drug habit.

He was never convicted of a violent crime, but he frequently stole. "This 
is why I've spent so much time in prison," he wrote in a letter. "I'll take 
a chance to gather the finance." While he was out, Moss had a number of 
jobs. He usually did construction, but troubles with the law kept the jobs 
temporary. Moss went back to prison for a 1990 burglary and grand larceny.

That same year his only daughter was born. Moss has seen her once - at a 
child support hearing in Danville. He got out in 1993 and was back in 
prison again that year for a burglary. He spent four years behind bars this 
time, and returned a year later when he violated his parole for failing two 
drug tests. He served 14 months for a 2001 petit larceny conviction, and 
was most recently sentenced to 20 months for violating the probation from 
the petit larceny.

Again he had failed a drug test, falling prey to his addiction. "I got a 
disease that needs to be successfully cured," Moss said during a brief 
interview at the Lynchburg Adult Detention Center. He was sent to the 
Virginia Department of Corrections the day after that interview. Moss has 
had many girlfriends, but the relationships have ended when he has gone to 

That's made him kind of a loner. He has used his time behind bars 
productively at times.

He earned his GED. His smooth writing style, notwithstanding the spelling 
and grammatical mistakes, belies his lack of education. Now, he's in a 
privacy-free, dormitory setting with 100 men on each side. A television is 
tuned in to ESPN, with soap operas playing during the week. "For me though 
it's a part of life I've grown accustom too," he wrote. "I just long for 
freedom and another chance at life." Moss wishes there was more focus on 
drug treatment.

He fears he'll return to the street, go back to drugs and land in prison 
once again. But he isn't looking for pity. "I blame me for this hell I'm 
having to endure," he wrote. "I write not for sympathy because I don't need 
that, but for a community of people just like me, a drug addict, that care 
and can help." Moss' release is scheduled for next Aug. 23. He wants to 
take care of his kids and live a life without drugs and prison.
- ------------------------------------------------
Nelson's release date isn't until 2009, but he may be out by 2007 if he 
stays trouble-free and completes a nine-month drug rehabilitation program 
run by the Bureau of Prisons. He hopes to get a steady job, but he worries 
nobody will hire an ex-con and he'll end up 60 and broke.

He dreams of hitting the lottery, buying land on a lake and building a 
house for his family. Mostly, he thinks about his wife and is thankful she 
has stuck with him. He hopes he can help raise the kids and become more 
than just a stranger to the 4-year-old son who bears his name. There will 
be no more drug-inspired trips to California, he says. Family will come 
first, and money will go to food and bills. "I should have been doing that 
from the beginning," he said soon before the two hours allotted for this 
visit ended. "You don't know what you've got until it's gone."
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