7/18/01 New Mexico
By IVAN CHAVEZ, Associated Press Writer

Evelyn Sanchez, a terminally ill mother, fears she will never see her son again because of mandatory drug sentencing laws.

Her son, Junior, is in his 10th year of a 33-year-to-life sentence for a first-time drug offense.

"My son is thirty-three years old and I only have between six months to one year left to live because I'm suffering from cancer," said Sanchez, speaking in Spanish. "I don't know if I'll ever see my son."

She was one of a group of New York mothers in Albuquerque on Tuesdayannouncing their campaign to reform mandatory sentencing laws through lobbying and public awareness. Such laws force judges to hand out predeterminedsentences, without parole, to people convicted of certain crimes, particularly drug-related offenses.

The women, who call themselves "Mothers of the Disappeared," spoke at a news
conference with Gov. Gary Johnson.

"We are trying to change it (mandatory sentencing) throughout the 50 states because blacks and Hispanics are most affected by these laws while whites get less severe punishments," Sanchez said. "We are living 20 years behind. This is what was happening in the South during segregation."

Each of the six mothers present has or had a child in prison on drug charges.

"People need to start opening up their eyes because no one is speaking out, said Pastor Nazimova Varick, 58. "We want to change mandatory sentencing all across the board. Not just for the people of New York City but for all thenation."

Varick's son, Anthony, is in his 11th year of a 25 year-to-life sentence for a minor drug offense.

The group is funded by The William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice from New York City. Its director, Randy Credico, said the women have been the backbone in the movement to reform New York's drug laws.

"It is the mothers that are the best face for this issue," he said. "They've been a driving force in trying to reform mandatory sentencing laws."

Credico said the women will set up an office in Tulia, Texas, which is the scene of a 1999 drug sting in which 40 blacks were charged with cocaine distribution. The defendants in the case were convicted on the sole testimony of an undercover agent.

Credico said the agent had no evidence against the defendants and some of them received sentences of up to 99 years in jail.

At the news conference, the mothers praised Johnson for his efforts to change drug laws in New Mexico.

"If there is one word that epitomizes what it is we are doing in this country today regarding drugs and the laws against drugs it is hypocrisy," Johnson said. "Clearly, in my opinion, what we have in this country is that we have a health problem surrounding drugs."

Johnson added: "If we ever get around to changing the drug laws we will easily be able to shut down our private prisons in New Mexico."

The mothers said that because mandatory sentences tie a judge's hands, many first-time drug offenders are serving jail sentences that don't fit the crimes.

"I would like to see discretion put back in the hands of the sentencing judge," said Teresa Aviles. "My son had never been in trouble before in his life and basically what he received was a death sentence."

Her son died mysteriously eight years into a mandatory 23-year-sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.

"We need to start dealing with racial profiling. Most of the people that are going to jail in New York City are black and we as the 'Mothers of the Disappeared,' we're not going anyplace," Varick said. "We are here to stay and we are going to be traveling throughout all the United States saying enough is enough, and if people are not aware about the injustices we are going to start bringing the injustices to the table."