Pubdate: Fri, 8 Jan 1999
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 1999 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas
Author: Bob Ray Sanders


As a 20-year-old man surrendered to a federal marshal in Sherman on
Tuesday, prepared to spend the next few years of his life in prison, he
remained positive, poised and stoic.

But his mother had a enough tears for both of them.

Neither Christopher Erik Cooper nor his mother, Sheila Cooper, had decided
what to tell 4-year-old Jared about where his older brother was going.

Jared had visited Chris many times at the House of Isaiah drug treatment
center in Mabank, which is run by former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Isaiah
Robertson. To Jared, though, that place was just "the ranch."

Sheila had been trying to think of what she would tell the inquisitive
child, who despite the age difference is very close to Chris. In the end,
she simply said, "Chris is going to be away for a long time."

As I mentioned in this column Wednesday, Chris pleaded guilty to a charge
of using a telephone to facilitate the distribution of heroin. That charge
carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Two other charges -- conspiracy to distribute heroin and knowingly
distributing heroin that resulted in the death of a user -- were dismissed.
Had he been convicted of either of those charges, he could have received up
to life in prison.

This young man, whom I first met when he was 9 or 10 years old, got caught
up in the Plano drug scene, became addicted and started hanging out with a
group of friends who ventured deeper into drug use.

Some of those friends died, including Milan Malina in 1997. Chris went with
Malina to purchase heroin the night before his death.

A series of drug-related deaths in Plano caused local and federal law
enforcement officials to initiate an extensive crackdown on drug
traffickers, dealers and users. Chris was among 29 people indicted on the
federal conspiracy charges stemming from the death of four young people.

The long arm of the law had gotten longer, reaching out to pull in almost
anyone who'd had contact with four people whose lives had been snuffed out
by the deadly heroin.

Although prosecutors called the drug-related deaths a "calculated and
coldblooded" conspiracy, the truth is that the young people like Chris who
have been charged with crimes are merely victims themselves. Any one of
them could have died from an overdose. Instead, they lived, so they must go
to jail.

Although Sheila says she grieves for her son -- those lost high school
years he spent doing drugs and now his impending imprisonment -- she
understands that many Plano parents would gladly trade places with her.

And Chris even argued with me when I suggested that he does not belong in
jail and that the law officers were overzealous and overreacted to a tragic

"Don't get me wrong," he began. "I hate being in the situation I'm in, but
I do understand the overreaction.

"I'm not innocent and I don't feel I should get off scot-free; I feel I
deserve some type of punishment. But I feel definitely, at first what they
were trying to give us [20 years to life], was way overreacting -- the rest
of my life for a few years of stupidity?"

Sheila said too many parents are naive about their children's drug use, and
Chris suggests that too many Plano parents are simply in denial.

"There are parents I know who've had a son or daughter die, and to this day
they say that was the first time they did drugs," Chris said. On the eve of
his surrender, he said that as soon as parents begin to see the signs, they
should not wait for the drug problem to get worse. They should start
talking to their children and, most of all, he said they need to listen to
their children.

Then there's the issue of drug treatment.

Just this week, Tarrant County announced that it had received a $1 million
state grant to establish a 14-bed residential drug treatment program for
youth. It's a start, but it's almost too little too late for some people.

There have to be more long-term programs for kids -- `all' kids. Far too
long, we've allowed law enforcement officials and politicians to convince
us that the only way to deal with the drug problem is to throw people in jail.

It's about time we seriously talked about early intervention and effective

We've got to do everything we can to help our kids, not destroy them.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. (817) 390-7775

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