Report from the Washington Post, October 31, 2015
In Portland, Ore.
When the judge entered the wood-paneled courtroom to begin the sentencing hearing this fall, 19-year-old Morgan Brittain was the only one who didn’t stand. She remained seated in her wheelchair in the front row.
Brittain looked in many ways like the girl she once was: Nike sneakers with hot pink laces, nails painted maroon and silver. She still had the slender frame of the dancer and runner she was before she overdosed two years ago on a half a gram of heroin she split with a friend.
UNWINDING THE DRUG WAR:
This story is the seventh in a continuing series about the legacy of the war on drugs and efforts to reduce the nation’s prison population.
Click to read Part I: The painful price of aging in prison
Click to read Part II: Against his better judgment
Click to read Part III: From a first arrest to a life sentence
Click to read Part IV: Unlikely allies push for sentencing reform
Click to read Part V: Out of prison, slow steps to freedom
Click to read Part VI: In Calif., A ‘virtual get-out-of-jail-free card’
The drugs had done serious harm. A younger cousin had to read Brittain’s statement to the judge on her behalf:
“I constantly feel like a burden on everyone because of all the things I can’t do: walk, talk easily, feed myself, bathe myself, drive, draw or even write this statement out. . . . The damage it has caused to my family and I is too much to even begin to describe.”
Brittain and her family had come to court to face German Tovar-Ramos, a man authorities described as a key supplier in the organization that sold the heroin to Brittain’s friend.
Within days, police arrested Tovar-Ramos because investigators and prosecutors had threatened people on lower rungs of the organization with stiff mandatory sentences: A girl is on life-support, they said; help us get to the higher-level traffickers, or you could end up in federal court facing 20 years in prison.