How far would you go to save your child from dying? Most of us would go pretty damn far -- but would you commit a crime that could land you in prison for the rest of your life, where you would then be unable to raise your child? That's the horrible dilemma that faced a man named Dicky Joe Jackson, sort of a real-life Walter White from Breaking Bad, who was convicted 18 years ago of selling methamphetamine to pay for his son's lifesaving operation. He will most likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Jackson had already been convicted of two rather minor drug offenses when he was arrested for transporting truckloads of meth. This time, he became a lifer.
One can argue that "nonviolent" crimes like selling drugs should not be given harsher sentences than those who rape or kill. But one can also argue that distributing a dangerously addictive drug like meth can cause who knows how many crimes and countless families to be torn apart due to their ravaging addictions.
But Jackson says he had good reason to do what he did -- he was trying to save his 2-year-old son, Cole, who was diagnosed with an extremely rare autoimmune disease that required a bone marrow transplant.
Jackson had recently lost his health insurance -- and therefore Cole didn't have any either. And the operation would have cost $250,000. Jackson says the family was given a choice: raise the money needed or bring Cole to hospice and let him die. What a nightmare.
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Jackson made the choice any father would: He tried to raise the money for the transplant. He sold all of his belongings. Celebrities donated memorabilia that he also sold. They were given $50,000 by a children's cancer charity, but ignored by the many others he applied to.
Eventually, Jackson had raised $150,000 but was still far short of the money needed (unfortunately this all happened before Internet fundraising became so popular). Additionally, Cole would need monthly hemoglobin transplants costing $3,700.
I assume that Jackson couldn't just take the money raised and buy health insurance because of Cole's pre-existing condition -- something that the Affordable Health Care Act has rectified. But it came too late for Jackson.
He told Salon magazine:
I was desperate. I had to get the money. Before I had kids, I’d never known there was a love like that. Once you have kids the whole game changes. There ain’t nothing you wouldn’t do for them especially if they’re sick.
And that "nothing" included taking up an offer from a local meth dealer to transport on his drives, as he was now working as a truck driver. After a year, Jackson was arrested. He was given three life sentences.
Even the prosecutor felt bad about it, saying:
I saw no indication that Mr. Jackson was violent, that he was any sort of large scale narcotics trafficker, or that he committed his crimes for any reason other than to get money to care for his gravely ill child.
Jackson made a huge mistake, but he wasn't thinking about anything but getting his child well. What parent wouldn't do the same? Perhaps thanks to Obamacare, we will live in a country where parents don't have to make agonizing decisions like this regarding their children's health.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't say what happened to Jackson's son or if he ever got the transplant.
Someone needs to let this man out of prison. He's been punished enough.
What would you have done?
Image via Tim Pearce Los Gatos/Flickr