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$25 can buy drugs or a lot of cotton candy
Photo by DanielBendjy on iStock

Anna, a fellow incarcerated friend of mine, was doing four years for drug charges. She had a 3-year-old son her parents were raising. Anna would call them often, promising her boy they would eventually be reunited. 

One day after talking to her son, Anna came to me crying. Her son had asked if she would be home soon. She made the usual promise that it wouldn’t be too much longer. Her son had asked if they could go to the carnival when she got home. 

“Yes, of course,” she told him.

Her son proudly shared he was saving up quarters to buy cotton candy. Anna’s heart broke thinking about how many quarters he would have to save, knowing how long it would take to keep her promise to her sweet son. We cried together and somehow we made it through the day. 

A few weeks later, Anna came to me again, but this time for advice. She had heard of some drugs for sale and wanted to buy them with her latest paycheck. It would leave her broke for the rest of the month, but Anna really wanted to get high. She felt she deserved a treat for her birthday. 

My head spun thinking about her 3-year-old son waiting for her. I, too, am a mother, with two sons. 

Then, before I realized what I was saying, I blurted out, “You’re grown and can make your own decisions, but think how much cotton candy $25 can buy!”

The statement was like a slap to her face. She caught her breath, turned around and walked away from me before I could take back what I said. I felt horrible. Who was I to judge her? 

I didn’t see Anna for several days. I wasn’t sure what choice she ended up making. I was miserable. Finally, Anna sat down at my table during dinner, looking sad. I smiled and greeted her without asking what decision she had made. It was none of my business. She volunteered the information anyway: Anna had not bought the drugs. 

“You were right, Candice,” she said. “It will buy a lot of cotton candy.”

Anna is now out, and it’s been years since I’ve seen her, but I sometimes receive letters from her. She lets me know she has stayed clean, even though she is often tempted. 

Anna and her son go to carnivals often, I imagine. She continues to thank me for reminding her what one moment of weakness almost cost her.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Candice Baughman is a writer incarcerated in Washington.